Saturday, September 2, 2017

Living through Hurricane Harvey

An anonymous reader has been keeping us posting about enduring the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. He (or she) left two long follow-ups this morning. I didn't want them to get buried in the comments, so I'm posting them here. His/her posts contain valuable real-life lessons on living through a disaster.

As a side note, President Trump has declared tomorrow, September 3, to be a Day of Prayer for the hurricane victims and the rescue and relief operations. Please participate.

Here is the anonymous reader's story:

August 26
We live on the south side of Houston. Thankfully it has just been bands of rain that come and go. It helped that the ground was dry when the rain began. Now that it is soaked, flooding is likely. We are prepared to hunker down for as long as needed. Cities further down the coast took a hard hit.

August 27
It is now much worse in Houston. We have moved all valuables upstairs in anticipation of water entering the house. It came within 2 inches last night. The water went down and now the rain has begun again. The creeks our at record highs. Houses that have never flooded before are flooding. A friend of mine had to be rescued by a boat. The water at an intersection outside of our neighborhood has water up to a person's chest! An 18 wheeler is stuck in it. We will be fine as long as the water doesn't make it up to the 2nd floor. We have moved our food and water up there. I am about to make several loaves of bread while I still can.

September 2
Family is safe and cleanup is well underway. You think you are prepared for anything, but then something turns up missing. We had flood insurance, high ground, sandbags, and a wet vac ... until the wet vac went missing. We still haven't found it and have no idea where it went. With the wet vac missing, backup plan #2 - a pet vac that can hold about 2 cups of water ( = insufficient). Hand water pump with 36" hose ( = good for holes in dirt, but not for cleaning up water on a wood floor). Towels ( = have to wash and dry later given that the incoming water would be cow poo, human septic contaminated, dirt water ... make sure to have plenty of bleach or powdered sodium hypochlorite (aka pool shock)). ...the thoughts went down hill from there.

Fortunately, we didn't get water in our house, although other family members did. Family heirloom quilts were soaked in the aforementioned cow poo water because it was done by relatives who were freaking out about water rushing in under doors and thresholds. It was done without thinking about the necessary cleaning process afterwards.

It was a fantastic lesson in crisis stress and the proverbial shattering of peace of mind. When it happens to you, it is far different than seeing it online or watching it on TV. There is a saying that nothing teaches like experience. This was no exception. It was also a good lesson in the reality of life that no matter how well prepared you are or think you might be for anything, you aren't. It’s that simple.

Prior to the flood (48" of water in 6 days – yep, almost a whole year's worth for us in just a week), we had a couple of other preparedness lessons in failure this summer.

We had tomato gnat maggots infest a quart jar of pressure canned bacon this summer. I canned it 3 years ago as a test of what was possible and was also collecting data on longevity. Those tomato gnats found an entry point in the pressure sealed lid (the physics of it still eludes me) and they multiplied prolifically. Lots of lessons in food storage in that little ordeal.

The best education came from a couple of elderly relatives who said that our family generally kept 2 years ahead in terms of food storage (canning, etc) and that by year 3 the only thing that would be in the pantry was jelly from that year. Anything older than that couldn't be trusted. Cleanliness was everything in a world without antibiotics and nothing was ever given over to chance where food was concerned.

All of the lessons and experiences this year have made me realize that even the most prepared among us still can't hold a candle to our not-so-distant ancestors who lived off the land. Many of us are relearning commonplace skills of a bygone era.

Disasters of our own making are just as bad as natural disasters. You will be physically and psychologically affected by both.

The spirit of community and thankfulness to God is strong where I live. Neighbors help neighbors. People pull together. Even so, our collective memories are short and it is easy to slip back into the selfishness of the disposable culture we live in. The normalcy of going back to work was striking after experiencing the flooding. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said it best, that we'd be returning to "a new normal." That statement caught my attention. I am no longer phased by a 4-6" rainfall. I will not even blink at a 10" rainfall. I don't know what would phase me now, given what we've been through. Maybe 18" would make me do a double take or sit me down to think. That in and of itself is psychologically interesting, because my entire world-view of "normal" has changed. I can't begin to imagine what would change in the face of civil strife or other kinds of disasters.

I made a joke at one point during the storm about this is what Noah must have felt like – being prepared to ride out the floods. At the time, we didn't know how bad it would be. It just kept raining. It rained for 6 days with Harvey. Allison in 2001 lasted 15 days, but we only received about 30" of rain. Floods and disasters happen. It’s part of the cycle of nature. But, the duration can have a dramatic effect on your psyche as well as your property. Places that didn't flood then, flooded this time. I do not know what challenges we'll face next, but we'll continue to strive to be prepared.

Our new wet vac was ordered online because many building supply stores are still closed due to flooded roads or flood damage. Postal service resumed today, so we are hoping that the wet vac arrives sometime next week. There is another storm, south of Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic, that looks to be in position to move into the Gulf in a week or so if it holds together.

I'm tired and still a bit shell shocked. It has only been a week since the storm made landfall and it seems like a month. The good news is that the waters have receded and the mudbugs (crawfish) are busy making their mud towers, which drain the land. There is no rain in the forecast for the next 10 days. Whoo-hoo. There is a lot to reflect on and lots of people to pray for and to help.

We were very, very lucky. Family whose houses were flooded have started the cleanup process. For others, there is a long road ahead. The city of Beaumont is still without water (120K people). Over 400K FEMA claims have been filed and the number is rising daily. Over 400K National Flood Insurance Program claims are anticipated. The number of dead and missing continues to rise. The organophosphate releases in the multiple chemical explosions at the Arkema plant in Crosby have released heavy-duty volatile mutagens and caustic irritants into the air which will eventually get into the water and the Gulf. The long-term environmental impact of life along the Gulf Coast has not even been contemplated.

Nature will fix herself. She always does. The lessons of Harvey will provide a lot of food for thought for a long time. One overarching lesson that is crystal clear to me is that if one survives a TEOTWAWKI event, it will be just the beginning of the tribulation. It will take a very strong will, a solid community of neighbors, and a stalwart belief in God to get us through on a daily basis.

I have realized that the media darling snowflakes will melt completely in the first month, if not sooner. They are no longer worthy of a nanosecond of my time or energy. It is the "redneck/ Cajun/ camo-wearing/ deer-and-duck-hunting army of common folk" who arrived to help (on their own time/dime) who deserve our thoughts, thanks, and our prayers. Those brave souls probably won't receive much more than a thanks and hug from someone they rescued. So, please remember them in your prayers. You likely won't see many news stories about them, but they are incredible people. They have certainly left me humbled.

God bless you for your strength and diligence in keeping up your blog. We all wish you and your family the very best. Warn your youngest about the Navy hazing rituals when she first crosses the equator. We hope that your oldest daughter is also doing well. Love Mr. Darcy. He is cuter than a bug's ear. Thanks for thinking about all of us. We love to read your blog and keep up with all of the wonderful things you and Don do. Thanks so much for letting us share your experiences. God Bless!


  1. This reader is an amazing writer and truly a Godly strong individual. I wish their family the best. WE could all take a good lesson from her experience.

  2. What a wonderful sharing of a very tragic event. I was raised in Corpus Christi and before my mom died she lived in Rockport. Many wonderful memories of vacations shared with her there. I have family living in Houston and Conroe and they fortunately were spared flooding. I have tried to carry the "Texas can-do" spirit with me and live by the ethically and morally strong values I learned being raised a Texan........your word is your bond, I look you in the eyes when we talk and my hand shake is firm and a promise that will not be broken. If you need a hand, here is mine and it makes no difference your race, color or reed. Being a Texan is a state of mind and I was so proud to see that shared time and time again to the rest of the world by the volunteers who came to assist those who needed them.

  3. That is the type of comment that has real value. They have actually lived it not just thought about it. One of the reasons that I have always liked Fer Fals writings, he lived it!

  4. i'm on the edge of the disaster, halfway between houston and corpus christie. the flooding brazos got within a half mile of my house, but we only lost electricity for a few hours, even the internet has kept connected, it's amazing.

    less amazing? being the small amount of high ground around flooding to the north, south, east and west. all of the bugs came here, we've gone through 3 cans of wasp spray in the last 2 days. who preps wasp spray? i will now! then there are the fire ants, the roaches, the rats, and the frogs.

    1. a spray bottle with a little Dawn dishsoap and water will work very well on fire ants. Kills on contact.

      Kathy in Mississippi

    2. This is fascinating to me! I never thought of those creatures seeking a high, dry place! Wow and what you must be going through with them. Makes me think of the Biblical plagues. Thank you so much for sharing this. Gives me a lot to think about & plan for!!

  5. Wonderful, insightful letter. Thanks for sharing

  6. My brother-in-law and nephew are using their boat to rescue people and animals in the the Brazoria County area right now. There is widespread flooding in this area because of the rivers rising. Donna in Texas

  7. I agree with all of this. We too went through Harvey, just outside of Houston in a rural community. We had to evacuate for a few days and the one road into our area was under water for a day so we were homebound. We certainly learned a lot about preparedness. God has been great, people have been great. I've learned that even with the best preparations, people still need people.

  8. Thank you for posting this. Looks like there's a long road ahead to recovery, but it's good to hear that folks are pulling together.

  9. OUTSTANDING mini-journal. For most of us, our preps would not survive an epic flood like this. Sobering, What would I do? What would you do? Thanks to the writer, and thanks to you for sharing. Hugs to the heroes who jumped in to rescue and help.

  10. My heart goes out to those who are suffering as a result of Harvey. I cannot begin to imagine what they are experiencing. But I want them to know that if I lived there, and I was in the position to do so, I would be out in some form or other to help those in need. Which brings me to my point. Like the reader pointed out, there are a lot of "common folk" there selflessly and tirelessly working on behalf of the victims of this natural disaster. Yes, but let's not use this as an opportunity to wedge yet another political divide. They are there because they live there. If a disaster of this magnitude happened in someplace like San Francisco for example, you would see a whole different group of heroes--ones who look nothing like the ones in Texas. I'm willing to bet the liberal snowflakes would be out in full force. Are the volunteers who are out risking life and limb in service of others heroes? Absolutely! They deserve all of our gratitude--hugs and all...

  11. Well written and excellent account. We are in Central Texas and went through the preparation in the event that it was worse than it was. The two things I would not have anticipated were the run on water right before Friday and the "Gas Shortage" that happened after it hit 4-5 days after the storm hit Houston. Being prepared includes trying to be ahead of the thinking curve as well.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. My area has provided lots of help. Physical presence, supplies, food, boats, etc. Still lots of work to do. Keep praying. Margie in sw Arkansas.

  13. I think I am ready, but after reading this story, I'm rethinking everything.

  14. The scale of the rainfall was breathtaking. We received nearly 24 inches of rain in two days which means it rained for two days straight, no let up. When the stormed passed after the fourth day, we were up over thirty four inches of rain on our side of town.

    We get a lot of rain in and around Houston so flooding is normal, an inconvenience at worst. However, Harvey was a whole other topic. Initial reports called for 15 to 20 inches of rain. Granted that is a lot of rain but we’ve got it was the collective attitude. Then as that number rose, most started wondering what we were getting ourselves into. Once we started talking about numbers above 30 inches (Tropical Storm Allison), real concern set in. I urge everyone to think about weather forecasts. We were prepared for 20 inches of rain; no one I know was even mentally preparing for nearly 50 inches of rain. The difference in the two numbers is impossible to conceive without witnessing it for yourself. Hearing reports of it being a 1,000 year storm sorta gives you a sense of the scale, sorta.

    As we said it is a learning experience and each time out of the gates makes you that little bit better and wiser.

    On a practical note you really need to stay out of the flood waters as best you can. I had one small cut on my foot and it became infected in short order. There are all kinds of hazards in the water – chemicals, critters, and unseen debris. We had little choice as we were trying to secure portions of our roof which after three days of intense rain and wind where leaking in various spots. Floating fire ants are a hell unto themselves. Their dirt mounds float on the floodwaters and if you aren’t paying close attention, can wrap around your legs and then you have the dang things marching up and down your legs as you do a painful jig trying to get them off. Entertaining to watch the dance probably but a miserable experience. I have young kids and I wish I had given more thought to hunkering down in a closet in the dark without power during five plus hours of tornado warnings. As their stress level rose, it was a chore to manage them with grace and kindness. I had not considered the primal response even a young child would have to a catastrophic event. I made a break in the warnings to grab some personal items to create a calming space in the closet. A picnic lunch of PBJs and juice boxes brought everyone down from the tree and made the last part of the experience at least bearable. It may sound silly and like I am a slave to my kids but calm children and adults respond more quickly to directions than mentally numb and stressed ones.

  15. (I'm not sure how to contact you, other than in the comments. I don't know that this is the right place to comment, but I'm needing some advice from others who have experience.) I am in the process of planning an outdoor kitchen and a screened-in porch, which I will be starting in a few weeks (hopefully). I want an area to relax, read, and enjoy the weather and scenery. I also want an outdoor kitchen, including a wood-fired oven. Do you or any of your readers have any experience with an outdoor kitchen? What advice would you give me? I want to learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. Harvey and Irma have made me want to start the process soon. Thanks for your help.

  16. The stores didn't restock nearly as fast as they usually do after a bad storm. There were shortages of eggs, bread, and some fresh processed meats like breakfast sausage and other diary items like yogurt. The water restocked very, very quickly. I was surprised since I'm close but part of the Harvey disaster and we were still not completely full even a week afterwards.