Here’s a tip – grab a cuppa, this is gonna be a long one. It’s been almost two weeks since hurricane Harvey hit the great state of Texas and I still keep bursting in to tears every time I look at my Facebook feed, or try and write this damn blog post – so, please, be gentle with me. I’m a sensitive and fragile soul right now.
Unless you witnessed it first hand? I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you there was a time in my life that I didn’t love Houston as I do now, because, to look at me, you’d see me sharing about forty thousand Houston/Texas/Flood related posts on my Facebook page every day. You’d hear me whining, daily, weekly – sometimes by the minute, about how much I miss my home, my people, my life there.
Yes, while I’m Irish and lived here in N. Ireland for most of my life, my heart just isn’t here. I won’t apologise for it, and I’m growing *really* tired of defending it.
‘Ireland is your home’.
No. Houston is my home, Texas is my home. It always will be. And now that I mention it? After my month-long trip to the states last month, I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘wow, Houston really IS your home, isn’t it?’, yes, it is.
But I haven’t always liked it, in actual fact, I all-but hated the place when I first moved there.
In September 2008, I hopped a plane to H-town for my first trip. A two-week visit with Colin for business. There’d been whispers of a transfer, but at this stage it was still two-week business trips every now and then across the Atlantic. So, off I went excited at the prospect of two weeks in Houston.
We arrived on the first company-approved flight in to the city after Hurricane Ike. Having never experienced a hurricane before, I was clueless, but it wasn’t long before we saw the devastation around us. Glass and dead birds littered the streets, Target and Walmart had no water, milk or toilet paper, roads were flooded, we went in to Ihop for food and were presented with a printed piece of paper, informing us that due to the hurricane and the inability to get supplies in to the city, they were serving a restricted menu ‘this is the stuff we can serve you based on the supplies and staff we have available’ type deal. I remember sitting in the restaurant wondering why in the name of all that is Holy, would I even consider moving to somewhere that could be so cripplingly devastated by a bit of wind and rain.
(I can feel the eye-rolls and abuse from my Texas peeps already happening here)
We’d missed the storm and were just in town for the aftermath, the inherent definition of ‘blow-ins’ as we say here in Ireland.
I didn’t understand.
I didn’t understand that Hurricane Ike was a tropical cyclone – the costliest tropical cyclone on record in Texas. The third-costliest of ANY Atlantic hurricane to date (coming in behind Sandy and Katrina) and taking at least 195 lives.
I didn’t understand that winds reached up to 145mph.
I didn’t understand the term Category 4 Hurricane.
I didn’t understand how quickly this place floods, or the devastation flooding can do – to people, to lives, to infrastructure.
I just didn’t understand.
That is, until 2009. Another two-week trip to Houston. Col was moving out ahead of me, and I was over on break from uni for two weeks to do some house hunting, furniture and car shopping, and we got caught in one of the worst storms I’ve seen. We were heading up I45N towards Gallery furniture, the weather got so bad, we had to pull off the main road and in to a car park at a paint store, where we sat in our car for over six hours – with no water, no food, no phone signal (we pretty much spent our time in the car sleeping, and watching cars attempt to wade their way out of the parking lots and through the over-the-car-bonnet-deep water on the feeder road, to get back up on to the main road). It was also at this point that I first discovered the Houston spirit, the Southern Hospitality and the pulling together that Texas is somewhat renowned for.
I needed to pee.
In Ireland, most toilets are for customers only, in the US, many major shops have toilets in store, I held it as long as I could and waited for a lull in the absolute chucking-it-down rain before I darted in, ready to beg and plead to use the toilet. When I walked in, the staff had laid out tea, coffee, lemonade and snacks on a table. They’d pulled out every chair they could find and sat it round the table and a handful of people, like Col and I who had been stranded in the carpark, were taking refuge of the storm, having a drink, using the facilities and just having a chat to a group of strangers in the same position as they were.
It wasn’t a hurricane, it may not even have been a tropical storm, I can’t remember, but I watched devastation, confusion and was living the impact, first hand, of severe flooding in the greater Houston area. At this point, I once again questioned my sanity, and wondered why I’d want to move somewhere that had such poor drainage and was seemingly prone to this type of weather. But once I saw the positivity of the people and how quickly the city rebounded from, what at home would have been a rather devastating flood, I was given hope.
And so, in June of 2009, a couple months after Col made the move, I hopped a plane to join him. From the second I landed in Newark Intl airport, I was miserable. I was put on a tourist visa without us knowing, I’d spent ‘too much’ time in the states prior to my visa being issued and I was quizzed for a while as to why I needed to be in the states and then told in no uncertain terms that I had to change my departure date from the US, by 24 hours. Yep. We had to pay to change my flight home for Winter Graduation at Uni, by 24 hours, because they said so. I had just left my friends, family and the comfort of home to become an expat in the states, filled with excitement, and I was greeted by, ‘you need to leave by this date, or else and if you leave in the meantime, you can’t come back’. I was heartbroken.
Once here? Having no kids to meet parents at school drop offs and events, having no dogs to meet fellow dog owners at the dog park and no car to drive myself anywhere, I spent most of my time at home, alone, staring at four walls. I’ve said it many times over the years, that the more you sit staring at four walls, the more you find wrong with them. I was depressed, miserable and Col didn’t know what he was coming home to most days – he even sat in the driveway a couple evenings when he got home from work, just to have a few minutes quiet, in case he got home to my fury-filled, tear-streaked self. I don’t blame him – I was a bit psycho, right enough.
That’s how long it took me to acclimate to H-town. I came ‘home’ to Ireland for Christmas in 2009 and found myself missing Home. It was a weird sensation, one I hadn’t expected. And, when I returned in January 2010, everything just suddenly fell in to place. I found my groove, came in to my own, started to lay down roots and blossom.
Something an old friend, Cindy, (who is sadly no longer with us), used to say resonates with me til this day, ‘Bloom where you are planted Las,’ she’d say to me. And so, I did. And Houston has been home ever since.
As the old adage goes, ‘I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quickly as I could’, that’s me. And when it came time to leave? I cried the entire flight to the UK, and beyond. I didn’t want to move, to Ireland, to India, to anywhere. Ok – maybe I wanted a new house within Houston, but beyond that, I didn’t want to move.
So you can perhaps imagine how difficult and traumatic it was to open Facebook (I almost said, ‘to turn on the news and see’ – but we all know, most people now get their news from their Facebook feed 😉 LOL!) and see that my home of seven and a half years, was about to be ravaged by a Category 4 Hurricane. Harvey. Even the name makes me mad to type, I find myself thumping the letters out on the keyboard in rage.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week? You’ll have read about the sheer devastation across the gulf-coast region of Texas, from Victoria to Houston, Rockport to Beaumont, Port Arthur to Conroe, to Corpus Christi.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week? You’ll have seen many homes and businesses levelled, many more partially, or completely submerged in flood water. You’ll have seen footage of people and animals, on top of houses and cars awaiting rescue. You’ll have seen the footage of the buildings in ruin, of cars stranded, of people flocking to shelters by the hundreds.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen my Facebook feed, saturated with stories shared, statistics on the storm, hero stories, cries for help – rescues, donations and volunteering.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen ugly tears of joy shed for the first glimpse of sun in the state post-storm.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you’ll have seen crisis, tragedy, and disaster. But, aside from the stress, worry, some weird form of ‘survivors guilt’ at not being there and suffering through it with friends, side-by-side, what you’ll have ALSO seen? Is the best that humanity has to offer, you’ll have seen kindness, compassion, selflessness. You’ll have seen community spirit that rivals none other, you’ll have seen incredible fundraising efforts and people rallying around Texas like I’ve never seen.
You’ll have seen, hope.
Ok, let’s throw some stats in here – so you can gain some perspective on precisely how messed up this freakin’ storm was. 53 counties affected by Harvey, over 11.5 million people, that’s 46% of the population of Texas.
By August 29th, there were 86 TRILLION litres of water dumped on the Gulf Coast – with a predicted 95 trillion being the final count – Katrina? Yeah, she brought 30 Trillion with her. That’s an estimated 56 inches of rain in 4 days. In short? Harvey is a dick.
There have been around 50 confirmed deaths – including a Houston PD officer, there are also a number of people still missing.
More than 48,700 homes were affected by Harvey throughout the state, including over 1,000 that were completely destroyed and more than 17,000 that sustained major damage; approximately 32,000 sustained minor damage. Nearly 700 businesses were damaged and over 300,000 people were left without electricity. Preliminary estimates of economic losses range from $10 billion to $160 billion, with a large portion of losses sustained by uninsured homeowners
Several tornadoes were spawned in the area, one of which damaged or destroyed the roofs of dozens of homes in Sienna Plantation – Sienna Plantation is a subdivision a couple miles away from my old house in Missouri City. If we were still on Edgewood drive (and we didn’t evacuate before the storm hit) – our home of seven and a half years? We’d have been under mandatory evacuation, days after the hurricane hit. And would likely have been stranded and unable to adhere to the mandatory evac because that area doesn’t take heavy flooding well at all.
In short? Lots of rain, lots of flooding, lots of damage. Catastrophic. Horrible. Life changing. Life destroying. Deadly. Some folks lost everything. BUT. (And this is a BIG but. And this is an emotional but. And this is a but that I’ve been procrastinating over writing about, because it’s a but that’s had me in hysterical, ugly tears for a week or so now.) there has been light.
Light? I hear you ask? Yes, there has been light.
There has been hope and have been heroes.
There has been overwhelming selfless, benevolent, humanitarian, noble, generous, open-handed, self-sacrificing people who have done nothing short of AMAZING things for the disaster relief effort in the Lone Star State. From pizza place workers paddling kayaks through flood waters to deliver free pizzas, to high school sports teams volunteering in grocery stores to help with bag packing, shelf stacking and helping people carry their stuff to people’s cars, to bakers stranded in a Mexican bakery baking food with almost every supply they had on hand, through the night to give to victims, you name it – Texas has it. The outpour of support from across the country for Texas, has been incredible – there’s even been a contingent of vessels come across from Louisiana to help rescue people from their homes – it’s amazing.
Aaaand here’s where we get choked up and feel-y, cause I’m about to tell you about some of them.
“The Worst times, bring out the best in people”
Where can you donate? youcaring.com/JJWatt
Firstly? Lemme tell you about my boy JJ – some of you are probably like ‘huh? Who? That dude from the HEB ads’, yes, the guy what plays for the Houston Texans? He’s a Texas treasure (which is ironic since he’s a Wisconsin boy) and he’s an all-out freakin’ hero!
He started an online fundraiser, almost as soon as the hurricane hit, his goal? $200,000, and he got the ball rolling with a whopping $100k donation from his own pocket. His goal was smashed in a matter of hours – in fact, we all blinked and he’d hit a million, he upped the goal by one million at a time, until he got to six million and decided that he’d rely on the ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ adage, and aim for ten million. He’s currently just sitting shy of $28m dollars, collected over less than two weeks, not months, weeks. Donations have poured in from celebrities and civilians alike, with big names like Walmart, Ellen Degeneres and Drake throwing their support behind superstar JJ, as well as some of his sporting peeps like the NRG arena, The Green Bay Packers, and Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk.
Not only that? But, back in his home state of Wisconsin? His mum steered the ship for his charitable foundation as they called out for donations from his home town, and state, to send down to needy Texans who’d lost everything. They broke everything down (which was a stroke of organisational genius), various collection points located in different places, each collection point had a list of items they needed the masses to donate (and ONLY from the list). For example, one collection point requested peanut butter, crackers, fruit cups etc., while another requested cleaning supplies – and, before you knew it? They were asking for more semi-trucks to be donated to the cause, because they had so much STUFF and not enough trucks to transport it. As of today, Sunday, 9 semi-trucks are Houston-bound packed to the rafters with supplies.
What people love most about JJ’s fundraising campaign? Is that he promises that this money will go directly to helping the people who are affected (no red tape, no administration fees) and that he will ensure it’ll go to more than just the greater Houston metro area – he’s going to make sure small towns like Orange, Rockport, Corpus Christi and Port Aransas are taken care of too.
“Houstonians have a safe, dry place to take shelter at Gallery Furniture so if they can get here they are welcome, we hope to give them some comfort in this incredibly difficult time.”
Owner of local furniture store chain, Gallery Furniture (GF) and fondly referred to as Mattress Mack, Jim McIngvale, opened the doors of his stores for use as refugee shelters – for both humans and their fur-babies. He also opened up his mattress showroom to members of the Texas Army National Guard, so that they could get some well-deserved rest between missions. The stores were stocked with food, water and mattresses. Each store could accommodate a few hundred people comfortably and Jim was on-hand to help people out, if and when they needed it.
When some of the storm’s victims couldn’t make it across flooded streets, Mack sent out his delivery trucks and drivers to collect people and bring them to safety. ‘We put out a Facebook feed that we were going to rescue people, because there was so much need,’ he says. ‘The city and the local authorities did a great job, they just couldn’t get to all the 911 calls’.
Since the hurricane? He’s been offering three square meals a day, seven days a week, combined with boxes of water and cleaning supplies to the victims – I’m starting to think there’s no end to this mans kindness!
If you go to GF on a regular weekend to look at furniture? You’ll often find Pizza and lemonade, fruit, cookies and some exotic animals – to make the entire process of buying furniture a lot more fun for the entire family. We enjoyed many’s a day there just having a look.
Every single piece of news footage, or interview by Mattress Mack has left me sobbing. The guy, while he claims not to be a hero (he saves that term for those emergency responders and the employees who worked in his stores) he truly is. He’s a blessing to the city of Houston and I’m hoping to be relocated back to Houston at some point, so I can furnish my house with furniture from his stores – as it stands? I’m sat on my GF bed and mattress, my clothes are in my GF chests of drawers and Col and Lewis are sat on my GF sofa – right here in Ireland.
Watch this (and grab a tissue!) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/houston-businessman-jim-mcingvale-opens-furniture-stores-to-evacuees/
For those of you who don’t know, HEB is a Texas grocery store chain, I had one across the street from my house in Missouri City and I’ll always remember them for great quality deli meat, good music and very friendly staff – oh, and those Texas shaped crackers they do.
You may or may not have seen the memes doing the rounds on Facebook ‘I’ll see your Red Cross and raise you a Texas Grocery store’, and things that never let Texas down, type memes, but why?
I’ll tell you why!
A convoy of HEB trucks laden with supplies, made their way out to Victoria, TX to bring them much needed relief. Carrying food, water, and generators, over they headed 100 miles southeast, navigating the aftermath of what was a Cat 4 hurricane to help those who were all but destroyed by it. They brought tools, expertise, an ATM, a mobile pharmacy with pharmacy staff to hand out prescriptions – and over 100 HEB employees made their own way to Victoria to volunteer. The convoy included mobile kitchens – one of their mobile kitchens can serve up to 6,200 meals per hour. Two units cooked 2,000 plates each for every meal.
Now that the worst of the storm has passed and people are starting to get more mobile as the floodwaters recede, they can start rebuilding and recovering. HEB’s heroism knows no bounds as they are offering bread products for 10c each – loaves of $3/$4 bread, for 10c. My friend Mike told me that in his local HEB, all of their own brand products were on excellent sales, some were even buy 1 get 2 free – with signs around the store encouraging you to take the extras to your friends and family who needed it who couldn’t get to the store. My friend Cathlyne said that the HEB on Buffalo Speedway was giving bread away. Literally giving stuff away for free.
Add to that? Today they just gave a whopping five million dollar donation to JJ Watt’s fundraising efforts – What generosity from this Texan chain!
Sugar Land Skeeters
The Skeeters came to Sugar Land during our tenure in Missouri City – I loved going to Skeeters games. Especially the all you can eat family nights (most of our guests loved these games too, especially my 12-corn-dog-eating brother). It’s an excellent family night at the ballpark, they’ve got a lot of stuff geared towards kids, families, parking is cheap, food is good and the tickets are cheap, too. If you haven’t been, you should go. Especially post-Harvey.
Since the hurricane? They’ve been amazing! They opened their doors to flood victims in the early stage of evacuations, to use the ball park as a shelter from the storm. They took in both people, and their pets.
They’ve kicked off a generous fundraiser, their aim is to raise $50,000 – $25,000 from fans and $25,000 matched by the team. They’re selling their $15 tickets for $5 each, but are encouraging people to donate over and above the ticket cost, because they are donating the overage to disaster relief efforts in the area.
They’ve also opened up to the First responders, letting them attend games for free and are putting together a blood drive at constellation field.
The Cajun Navy
Donate here: https://www.paypal.me/cajunnavyrelief
Prior to this disaster, I’d never heard of this group, an informal organization of volunteers with boats from Louisiana, deployed to Texas to assist in high-water rescues. These heroes have been out in force rescuing people from rooftops and pulling people to safety, helping them to escape rising flood waters and impassable roads.
“The Cajun Navy was formed during the Hurricane Katrina relief in New Orleans in 2005. It’s comprised of volunteers from Louisiana who have their own boats. These boats are not like the highly secured, fancy Coast Guard boats. By and large, the Cajun Navy boats are fishing boats, hunting boats and kayaks – usually camouflaged for duck hunting – and small but mighty. In times of flooding disasters, any boat helps. Often, these smaller boats are just what is needed to navigate in shallow waters around flooded homes and deliver residents to higher ground.”
The group sent 20 boats on a 300-mile trip to Houston on the back of trucks. These guys are just regular people like you and I, who packed up their boats and travelled 300 miles to Houston to help other people like you and I, whose lives had been turned upside down. They paid for their own food, their own gas and upkeep, and just did their thing rescuing stranded victims.
I also feel that I need to throw an honorable mention to our local gas-station chain, Bucees – they let emergency personnel in to their stores to stay over and rest – they could also eat and drink, on the house.
And while all these big names came to the aid of our city and state? I think the *most* impressive and commendable heroes? Are the unnamed ones. The non-famous ones. The ‘Joe soap’ types around the corner, who just dusted off their boots and got stuck in helping their neighbours. The volunteers, who, after the storm, called round to their friends’ houses to help them pull apart their flood-damaged homes, the good souls who cooked two hundred meals for a local town whose town no longer exists, the kind spirits who volunteered or donated at food banks, or blood banks – those are the people we need to take a moment for.
Those are the people who remind us that there IS still good in the world. That the good does outweigh the bad, that when in times of great trial, destruction and seemingly all-engulfing darkness, that light still shines strong. I’ve had an outpour of good will on my Facebook feed, from my friends and their kids. From ladies cooking hundreds of meals and taking them to victims, to bulk-kolache buying for first responders, to donating time, money or resources to various charities, from blood banks to animal shelters, I had a friend whose son paddled around the neighbourhood in his kayak, helping out his neighbours and another friend whose little boy packaged up Hot Wheels, PlayDoh and snacks for the kids less fortunate than him and helped his mama prepare meals for delivery.
I can’t EVEN with this kindness and generosity right now!!
THAT is the America I know and love.
That is my town and those are my people.
Good, selfless people, raising good selfless people.
The effects of Hurricane Harvey will be far-reaching and long-lasting for Texas, and, in some ways, (gas prices and the like) for the entire US. And while we sit here telling Texas to hang in there, that we got your back? We barely have time to catch our breath before the next major hurricane gears up to come in and strike from the gulf – this time, a category 5 storm, Irma, is making a bee-line for Florida. While my heart is heavy, and 46% of my state is soggy and trying to wring themselves out, I’m reminded of a meme I saw yesterday, ‘If you think Texans are obnoxious with pride now? Wait until this shit is over and we dry our boots off’.