As the end of August crept upon the world, whispers of worry lingered in the air. Every form of media transfixed on two words… Hurricane Harvey.
As the preceding days unfolded, Texans raided grocery aisles leaving shelves bare boned. Every ounce of gasoline was guzzled down to the last drop. A storm of this fashion was no stranger to the gulf, and we all prepared accordingly. So we thought…
On Friday, August 25th, Hurricane Harvey hit land, and became one of the biggest (and most costly) natural disasters in U.S. history. The fury of the floods destroyed homes, obliterated treasured belongings, and stole the lives of many. Hearts ache around the globe in the wake of this disaster. A Harvey shaped scar resides inside every soul that survived the turmoil. Every scar has a story…this is mine.
I was naive. My “storm prep” consisted of a last minute stroll down a few Target shopping lanes on a Friday night. Jokingly, I often said, “watch…this is all going to be no big deal. Just a little bit of crazy rain, that’s it”.
I was severely mistaken.
Sunday, August 27th began a streak of days that will say engraved in my mind forever.
A jostling phone snapped me out of a F.R.I.E.N.D.S induced television coma. After a lazy roll over to the night stand, I quickly answered the Apple device. Immediately a frantic male voice uttered, ” Hello, this is the American Red Cross. Is this Ms. Gordon?”. “Yes Sir”, I responded now wide eyed with attentiveness. “We could really use your help! The George R. Brown convention center has been turned into a shelter for flood victims. We need more volunteers ASAP! Is there any way you could make it in tonight? Please don’t put your self in danger, if you cant make it we understand.”. The conversation ended with me explaining that I would do my best to make it downtown, and would love to help as much as I could. My journey began.
The drive wasn’t horrible. The rain was light, and similar to a average rain cloud. Until, I reached the outskirts of downtown. Submerged roads appeared, but with minor detouring I was able to reach my destination. By the time of my arrival , I had received a plethora of worried calls and messages. After parking in the non-flooded designated area, I quickly made a video to ensure family members that I was safe. Mid-video, convoys began to pile up, and realness of the situation began to settle in. Chilly rain pelted dry skin, as I dashed toward the opening of the convention center. When I stepped into the terror ridden shelter, a volunteer directed me to the area in greatest need. The following hours were spent organizing cloths, toys, and hygiene products for rationing. Fifteen minutes before distribution time, an officer notified us that they would be shutting down our end of the convention center. We knew the victims only source of dry clothing, child care needs, and hygiene materials relied on us. In response, we immediately began hustling to relocate our operation to the opposite end of the building. Unfortunately, that section of the facility was filled with cots, and housed over 2,000 suffering inner city people….there were only, maybe, 50 volunteers in total at this time. It wasn’t long before the operation was ransacked. Cloths were being fought over….all hell had broke loose.
Choosing to temporarily escape the chaos, I changed course to check on my car. Convoys continued their mission while rainwater climbed intensely with every showering second. As I approached the tiny white corolla, my heart sank at the sight of liquid wading at the doors. Visions of personal hard work and effort effort that flowed into that Toyota flashed before my eyes. Causing me to foolishly dive into the car, switch on the engine, and hit the gas toward the nearest parking garage in efforts to save the vehicle. A wave of intense rain made reversing impossible, there was no turning back. The intersection leading to my savior of high ground was barricaded by several inches of water in all directions. Knowing my car wouldn’t make it, I planned to leave it stranded. As I prepared my return to volunteer at the shelter. Manholes began to erupt in all directions. CRASH! CLANK! CLANK! Spewing water several feet high like Yellowstone Park geysers. Hostile waters began to rapidly rise. My heart thumped a mile a minute while my body suffered from paralysis of analysis. Fight or flight kicked into gear as fear shaken sweaty palms griped the steering wheel. “I might actually die tonight”, was a thought that freaked me out but helped retain my focus. Meanwhile, my now frantic fiancé clung to the other side of a Bluetooth speaker. Before, words could even be exchanged…”BANG!” A sudden burst of flames sent emotions skyrocketing. Seconds later, a camouflaged truck crossed my path. A surge of adrenaline flowed through my veins as I took the only shot at escaping this movie like disaster. Miraculously still working, my little Toyota kept up with the convoy, and trailed behind in its water divided path. Now, on the brink of city, my fiancé became my blind navigator. After several minutes of dodging hurricane dominated roads. Flickering red and blue lights guided my wheels towards surprisingly clear pavement. My heart leaped with joy as thoughts of refuge provided temporary comfort. However, I was proved wrong once again.
I slowly pulled into the gas station over ran by law enforcement and right away it was clear my presence was a nuisance. Despite doubt, I threw the car in park, and asked the nearest officer for help. The female responded, “my best advice to you is to quickly park your car as high as you can, and go back to where you came from. In 30 minutes this whole area is going to be under water!”. I then rushed over to a convoy truck and asked the soldier if he could give me a ride back to the convention center. The answer was no. Understanding their need to stay on task, I quickly relocated myself.
Time flied hectically as my fiance and I maneuvered our way around obstacles once again. Suddenly, a fleet of military vehicles raced upon an adjacent road. Deciding to seize the moment, I raced ahead and fell in line. A highway ramp emerged as we drove, quickly I swerved the car up to the goal of lifted ground. As the peak approached a deceivingly empty road offered false hope. Darkness disguised the lake ahead, the car rolled onward towards definite destruction. Abruptly, a man popped up from what I thought was the road and began frantically waving his arms in warning. Brakes were slammed in immediate reaction, and misty eyes gazed at the stranger in shock as he retreated from the deep waters. Once the gentlemen was safe, I jolted my car into reverse.
Buildings glistened in the near distance as the car came to a halt. I had finally reached the highest accessible location nearest to me in Houston. The rain drizzled car sat lonely on the highway as I inhaled and exhaled deeply. Soaking in safety and releasing anxiety. The moment of restoration was cut short as screaming sirens blasted in my direction. Another armada of law enforcement vehicles rushed by. Following my gut, I joined the formation like a lost little duckling.
My fiance continue to pinpoint my location as my car reluctantly chased after hope. Soon a sign that wore the words “59 Galveston” marked my position. With this information we were able to cook up a possible action plan for the issue at hand. I was now too far to walk to the George R. Brown. So together we decided it would be best that I find a hotel and leave my car on the highway. This proved to be a challenging event. All exit ramps were closed and/or flooded, and any near by hotels became inaccessible. 610 was a disaster zone, and beltway 8 was now my only option of escape.
My car hesitantly zoomed down beltway 8. Winds challenge the control of my car as I approached the ship channel bridge. “How much longer do I have to drive to get all the way home?”, I worryingly asked my fiance. “It says 80 minute’s. Just stay focused. I love you.”, she replied. “I just might make it. I…OH MY GOD”, I shouted as a blaze once again lit up the sky. Silence filled the air as the bridge descended. A mile later a monsoon made driving nearly inconceivable, but my focus remained on getting as close to home as possible. As I approached JFK/Bush Intercontinental Airport all hope of reaching home in my car evaporated. The officer guarding the empty road directed me to exit and that I was not to leave my car in site.
The majority of the next hour was filled with multiple navigation attempts to out smart any flooded roads. There was no way out. I fatefully made my to a parking lot, where my car resided for four days. My journey ended with a waste deep water stroll down beltway 8. My fiance urgently drove in my direction until a blockade of police cars prevented her from going any further. A disgruntled police officer approached her vehicle and demanded answers. When explaining her endeavor, and that I was volunteering with the American Red Cross, the officer sneered ” well who’s here to save her now?”. Luckily, another officer over heard the conversation and offered to attempt to pick me up. He risked a lot rescuing me, and for that I am eternally grateful. After, miraculously driving through water as high as the barred car windows, we finally arrived. I thanked the sympathetic officer, and then embraced my soon to be wife. By, 3 AM we had made it home.
In the days that followed, many people came together to aid in rescuing my grandparents, we helped assist neighbors by boat, and took part in flood restoration. Though I sit here honestly still in shock… I am thankful to be alive, that my family/friends are safe, and that I was able to help in some way. I am fully aware that things could be worse, and am grateful that God kept me alive through it all.
With this historic devastation I have experienced many things, along with witnessing an outstanding display of what it means to truly be a community. I’ve had the pleasure of working along side strangers with unrelenting selflessness. Together we will rise up from the waters. Together we have turned Hurricane Harvey into a Hurricane Of Hope.