Heartbreaking and heartwarming — helping out after Hurricane Harvey

I live in Houston, which received over 50 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey between August 25, when it made landfall in Texas, and August 29. On Friday, August 25, I used Facebook’s Safety Check feature to notify my friends that I was safe. Earlier in the day, I had filled my car with gas, my bathtub with water, my freezer with ice cubes and my cupboards with food. Then I hunkered down to wait for the rain to stop.

I was lucky. I live near the Galleria mall, in a neighborhood that was relatively untouched. Other than a tree down in the dog run behind my apartment building and a stuck window shade, I had no damage.

But elsewhere in and around Houston, many people weren’t so lucky.

Take Meyerland, a section of Houston located on the banks of Brays Bayou, which is home to much of Houston’s Jewish community. I lived in this area, one of the worst hit by flooding, for ten years. A photograph of a street corner in Meyerland, under at least five feet of water, has circulated on the Internet and on Fox News. Three of Houston’s largest synagogues, a home for the elderly, and the Jewish Community Center suffered severe water damage.

Today I drove back to Meyerland to help an old family friend, Eric Bishop, whose house was flooded. He and his wife Rachel had to be airlifted to safety on Sunday, August 27, when the water level inside the house rose to four feet.

The Bishops climbed onto countertops while awaiting rescue. Their cars were both waterlogged and will have to be totaled. Luckily, they were able to locate emergency housing for themselves, their two children, and their dogs. (My personal thanks — and best wishes — to the Bishop family for allowing me to share their story in this column.)

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Getting to Meyerland wasn’t easy. The water levels have gone down and traffic levels have returned to normal, but all traffic lights in the area are malfunctioning. There were long lines of cars at each intersection.

Then there was the need to find a place to park my car. Flood wreckage lines the streets, which is being picked up by dump trucks. The city has requested that curbsides next to trash piles be kept clear. I had to park some distance away from my destination in order to leave the street clear next to piles of trash.

As the water receded inside the house, it left mold on nearly everything, which necessitated wearing gloves and masks inside the house. All the furniture inside the house had to be discarded, as did nearly all the other contents. Only a few things could be saved, including clothes and dishes.

As Eric says, “I had to watch a dump truck carry away a lifetime of memories.”

This was a tragedy, but it was also a heartwarming experience. A number of other friends have been coming to the Bishops’ house to assist with the cleanup, including old friends of mine as well as new friends who came to Houston in 2005 from New Orleans seeking shelter from Hurricane Katrina.

Similar phenomena are occurring all over Houston and southeast Texas. Those of us who live here and survived Harvey are grateful for the help we’ve received and are receiving.

Charity Navigator lists a number of organizations to which relief donations may be made, including

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Most charitable organizations serving the Houston area are no longer accepting donations of clothing other than underwear and diapers, which are highly sought. They advise that cash is the most appreciated donation at this time. Donors are advised to contribute to reputable organizations and to watch out for scammers.

Both George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Hobby Airport have reopened with limited operations, but many roads remain closed and will for an indefinite time to come.

But Houston is beginning to recover. I saw a FedEx truck drive past the Bishops’ house today – the most encouraging sign of positive things to come.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Thanks for sharing your story. Really glad you are okay! And thanks for the reminder about the scammers who always crawl out of the woodwork to prey on the most vulnerable whenever there’s a disaster. The only way to fight them is education, so their income source dries up.

  • Altosk

    Glad to hear you are ok. I’m out in Fort Bend and had a bit of trouble from the Brazos, but all is well.
    I’m currently trying to research the tow laws and max fees because one of my neighbors things she was gouged.

  • Alan Gore

    This has happened to us twice, in different houses. A flood destroys everything you have. For a fire too be as destructive, it would have to burn away unchecked in the way few fires ever do.

    Homeowner insurance operates like the airlines in one respect: if a flood occurs because of weather as in Houston, rather than something happening inside the house, you’re not covered. Many of those people in Houston will have to just abandon their homes and get re-established somewhere else.

  • Kerr

    Was she towed from her home or a freeway? A friend was driving on 610 late Saturday night and had to abandon his vehicle as both his exit and the freeway were flooded. By the time he picked up his car Wednesday, the bill was $330.

  • Altosk

    The neighborhood was under mandatory evac, car was where the sheriff told her to put it b/c the driveway was full. Some tow company picked it up, didn’t notify. She called this place, he said “my brother might have it.” Called the “brother’s” number, did a whole bunch of back and forth between him and the brother. When she finally got down there, she discovered the brothers share a lot and they jacked up some storage fees while each other were “looking for it.”

    Pure scum.

  • Bill___A

    Glad you are okay. It is certainly a major and tragic disaster. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • cscasi

    Report it to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. It might take a while, but it just may look into your complaint and if justice is warranted, hand it out to that company.

  • cscasi

    That is sad, but true. I imagine more than just a few will walk away from their mortgages, leaving it to the banks/financial companies to deal with and probably ending up with the federal government having to step in with our tax dollars to help.
    I know many people have problems with being able to handle their bills and live from paycheck to paycheck, but this is a “terrible” reminder that spending hard earned money for flood insurance when you live in areas where there is a possibility flooding can and does happen, is necessary to protect one’s self and family. Otherwise, one can lose everything. Most people do not have a spare $100,000/$200,000?$300,000 to dole out to tear down and rebuild a home.
    I hope assistance will be made available, but I am afraid that it will not be enough and so many will have to move and start over; if they can.
    I wish all these folks well and we can all pray for the best.

  • The Original Joe S

    Generator! Surge Suppressors! Electric Companies can’t be relied upon all the time…….

  • The Original Joe S

    and up and in? It is to be hoped!

    If the Sheriff told them where to park, and the towing scum took it, maybe it’s car theft?

  • Travelnut

    So glad to hear you are okay! I’m in San Antonio, and we feel your pain.

  • Kerr

    Just when you think that industry can’t get any lower. What a bunch of BS.

  • Altosk

    A group of Irish Travellers already tried scamming some people in my neighborhood. They were chased out. Hopefully they went back to White Settlement*. Fort Worth can keep its trash.

    *Yes, before anyone says “racism” that is the name of the town the Irish Traveller families live in. It’s a ‘burb of Fort Worth. Google it.

  • Annie M

    Your story brought back memories of my experience in Sandy. Unless you have been through seeing almost everything you own on a curbside, you don’t know what a devastating feeling it is. And then to have a few take advantage of people in desperate situations is worse. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • MarkKelling

    Glad to hear you survived mostly intact.

    I was there in Houston for the past 2 weeks. Lived through it. Only damage to my and my family’s stuff was the side review mirror on my brother’s car that was knocked off by flying debris from a nearby tornado. The house came close to getting wet, but we were very lucky as were most of the families in my part of town and suffered no flood related damage. Didn’t even lose power, but the city water coming out of the pipes looked mighty murky for a while. My thanks go out to the little local burger joint that somehow managed to say open through it all, serving up burgers and whatever else they could find with a smile (and at normal menu prices!) while all else including grocery stores and restaurants were closed. That would be Mytiburger on W43rd.

    I was there because a family member was having surgery at M D Anderson Thursday before the storm. We asked for it to be postponed (could have been as it wasn’t super urgent), but they went ahead with it. Family member is doing fine and was released that Friday before the storm really hit Houston, we just had an extreme amount of difficulty in getting him back for his post-op visit. Managed to get there Wednesday by driving a long way around to avoid the flooding.

    Things are still scary around parts of Houston. I had cops pull guns on me while trying to get to the pharmacy where my family member’s prescriptions were ready to pick up. The tiny villages along Buffalo Bayou have their own police forces and they were not letting anybody through their road blocks who didn’t live there. I simply asked one of the officers how I could get where I needed to be.

    I just to back to Denver about an hour before posting this. The United flight schedule is still sketchy at best with more flights being cancelled than flying out of IAH. I was rescheduled 6 times before I got a seat on a plane that actually went anywhere. Not really complaining as my leaving Houston was only slightly inconvenienced and delayed 2 days from my original schedule and I am just happy they found a seat for me. You should see the International departures where no one could leave for a week. It is pure chaos.

  • MarkKelling

    Glad to hear you made it through it and all is well.

  • MarkKelling

    Unfortunately there are many many people in the Houston area who wanted flood insurance but could not afford it due to the fact that their houses ended up being within the higher risk flood plains. I have flood insurance on my properties there, but none have ever flooded so it is relatively inexpensive.

    Local news interviewed one family who has a house right on a river and it has flooded out 5 times. They said even FEMA would not pay them anything after the 3rd flood. They just keep rebuilding because they can’t sell the property and simply don’t have enough money to buy something else while still making payments on the flooded property.

  • Altosk

    Some guys and I chased off some “pickers” from a friend’s neighborhood that was fully flooded out.

    These vultures hang around and wait while people mud out, and then take anything they think could be valuable from the curb pile. My friend’s wife was nearly in tears as these losers were picking through the stuff we had just taken out of her house. Seriously, these people are about as low as the tow companies…

    …and what are you going to do with a wet, flood water soaked, sofa anyway?

  • PsyGuy

    That is awesome, I hope Irma doesn’t hit as well.

  • PsyGuy

    Take them to small claims court, ask for a jury.

  • PsyGuy

    There is no such thing as too low.

  • PsyGuy

    The type of flood insurance you are referencing is not actually a product you can buy at anything you would consider a reasonable price.

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