By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – The tragedy unfolding in Houston and surrounding areas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey is difficult to watch. Forecasters are predicting flooding of “Biblical proportions” that will be ongoing throughout the week. The devastation is hard to imagine.
The city of Houston accepted many refugees from Hurricane Katrina who are now reliving the nightmare.
As of Sunday afternoon, parts of Houston had taken on over 27” of rain; social media was filled with photos of flooded interstates, impassible roads, and desperate animals caught in the flood.
As the storm approached the coast as a Category 3 on Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott urged anyone who could evacuate to do so immediately. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday tweeted “please think twice before trying to leave Houston en masse,” sending mixed signals to local residents. For that, Turner is coming under fire by some. The mayor defends his decision, saying that evacuation would have created a traffic nightmare.
By early Sunday, over 2,000 rescues had been executed as people went to their attics then to the roofs of their homes to wait for help.
Just as they did in the August 2016 Louisiana flooding, the Cajun Navy jumped into action and by Sunday afternoon The Texas Navy had been organized as citizen assistance became a critical component in the rescue efforts. These citizen rescue groups coordinate with local officials and work with them rather than outside of them to maximize efficiency and to not hamper official rescues. What the Cajun Navy is doing, still, in response to the Louisiana 2016 flooding has been amazing and now Texas is hopefully going to benefit from their experience and aid.
The Cajun Navy mobilized and headed to the Houston area Sunday afternoon. If you want to listen in to the Cajun Navy as they work go here for instructions to download Glympse and Zello which works like a walkie-talkie. You may need a password for the Zello Cajun Navy channel; if asked, the password is “help”. You can go to the Cajun Navy page for more details. I spent a while Sunday afternoon listening in as calls went out for fuel, gasoline, water, and baby formula in Dickinson, Texas. The coordination of the group is impressive to listen to, but chitchat is not encouraged. You are asked not to speak unless you are actively rescuing, have a boat, or are mapping.
The Cajun Relief foundation set up a CrowdFunding site after the Baton Rouge floods last year that is still helping desperate flood victims when the federal government only fiddled and lagged in their response. A similar site should soon be developed for Texas victims as soon as needs are assessed.
Within moments after the creation of the Texas Navy Facebook page, people began reporting locations of stranded people and animals. A call went out for flat-bottom boats and soon volunteers from all over Louisiana and other areas began mobilizing to Texas.
Another Facebook group, Hurricane Harvey Animal Rescue, was formed for animal rescue and shelter needs.
A haunting image appeared on social media Sunday of women in a Dickinson, Texas nursing home, sitting helplessly as water rose around them. Many doubted the validity of the photo because it was so horrible, but the truth of the photo was confirmed and the women were airlifted to safety.
Late Sunday afternoon the city of Dallas made plans to open the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center to house another 5,000 evacuees in addition to the other shelters currently open in the city.
The flooding will be a problem even after the storm moves on, of course. Rivers, creeks, and runoff will keep water levels high for some time throughout the affected areas.
There are ways that you can help from wherever you are. Obvious organizations are the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. But don’t forget the animal rescue groups that are transporting and housing animals, keeping them safe until they can be reclaimed by owners. One of those is Austin Pets Alive and they could really use your donations. NOLA has a growing list of hospitals, shelters, and charities that need help.
WFAA-TV streamed live on Sunday as school buses were mobilized to evacuate people from areas in south Texas from Galveston to Houston.
Early Sunday afternoon Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, a Level 1 trauma center, was being evacuated and was taking on water in the basement. Houston Hobby Airport was closed until perhaps Wednesday as runways flooded. George Bush International Airport also closed. Thousands of travelers were stranded as all flights were cancelled.
KHOU news in Houston began flooding Sunday morning and had to evacuate the station; WFAA TV in Dallas began broadcasting KHOU’s ongoing coverage.
Meanwhile, New Orleans was bracing for up to 8” of rain from Harvey and Mitch Landrieu is still trying to get pumps up and running in the city after the last flood debacle a couple of weeks ago. Mayor Landrieu held a press conference Sunday afternoon to assure residents that the city is ready for any flooding and reminded residents not to drive through flooded roads.
President Trump has announced that he will travel to Houston and other nearby cities on Tuesday.
Without question this has been and will continue to be a terrible disaster for some time to come. Rains will continue throughout the week and will begin moving toward north Louisiana by the end of the week.
Please continue to keep Texas and Louisiana in your prayers and donate where you can.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.