Coordinated responses to ravages of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey by fellow Texas citizens and organizations in seamless partnerships with municipal, county, state, and federal entities continue to warrant enormous admiration.
Impacts measured by record rainfall accumulations, flooding expanses, property losses, population displacements, and other relatively quantifiable statistics are unfathomable. It’s impossible to wrap one’s mind around the reality of more than 4 feet of water falling over much of southeast Texas in 4 days. That estimated 9 trillion gallons is enough water to fill the Great Salt Lake twice.
Nearly every river and bayou has surpassed previous record levels. As a result, more than 13,000 people were rescued from neighborhood flood waters. More than 30,000 evacuees were housed in rapidly improvised shelters established in public convention and community facilities, churches, and retail establishments. Countless numbers of caring Houstonians and other Texas residents opened their hearts and homes to stranded family members, friends and complete strangers.
Even far less comprehensible are an endless variety of devastating impacts upon each of many thousands of individuals and families whose lives and livelihoods have been disrupted or dismantled.
Whereas my home was narrowly spared, those of others Nancy and I care deeply about were not. For example, a recently retired medical doctor friend and his wife returned from a trip to retrieve any salvageable possessions they could find after flood waters had risen to 6 feet inside their house. Similarly, a NASA employee who additionally serves as an adjunct faculty member in our University of Houston space architecture program has vacated his deeply flooded home also.
We have also learned that one of our current graduate students and her husband relocated to a second level of a rental property after their first floor apartment flooded. We can presently only hope that other students and colleagues haven’t experienced comparable hardships which will become familiar to impacted residents throughout Texas and Louisiana.
Television programs have offered brief glimpses of stunned and distressed people of all ages, ethnic, economic backgrounds, and family circumstances who have lost entirely or almost all personal possessions and security they had known only days before.
We have witnessed some of them being rescued by helicopters from rooftops of flooded homes, evacuated by volunteer-piloted flat-bottomed boats, canoes, and monster trucks from underwater neighborhoods, and retrieved from largely submerged vehicles by professional water rescue crews.
We have seen indelibly distressing images of elderly nursing home residents sitting in waist-deep indoor waters waiting for transport to dry refuges — as well as rain-drenched pregnant women carrying children who, in turn, were being carried by civilian volunteers, public responders, and military personnel from flooded homes and streets. We’ve also witnessed an emotion-choked Houston police chief memorializing the loss of a 34-year veteran member of his force who drowned while attempting to report for duty.
Not seen were spouses and children of the more than 200 police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who have also lost homes to those floods as spouses, fathers, and mothers attended to urgent needs of strangers.
Other real heroes out of camera range included thousands of exhausted doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who worked without relief for days on end because replacement staff couldn’t reach hospitals.
Scenes observed from visual and emotional vantage points here in Houston took on special importance to our area and regional citizenry. We were heartened and grateful to see long caravans of volunteers and mountains of humanitarian supplies arrive from other counties and states on hazardously flooded roads.
A “Cajun Navy” brought in hundreds of small privately owned rescue boats operated by tireless rescue responders. Hundreds of police vehicles and personnel from other counties and states assisted local law enforcement and emergency intervention operations.
We watched as enormously competent and dedicated weather analysts, hydrology and reservoir infrastructure experts, traffic reporters, and diverse public agency officials regularly updated us with candid and factual information.
We received objective, non-sensationalized local news broadcasts with virtually no evidence of divisive identity politics or partisan finger-pointing blame over inevitably controversial and painfully wrenching flood control and mandated evacuation decisions.
Texans witnessed intricately coordinated leadership at all government and community levels. It mattered not at all that the Houston mayor was a Democrat while the governor was Republican. Both acted decisively and effectively.
When our President and First Lady arrived, they were broadly recognized to represent all of us. We appreciated that his primary purposes were to gain first-hand perspectives and to rally positive encouragement rather than to emote patronizing pathos for photo-ops.
Also, in the face of other somewhat more pressing concerns, few here paid any attention to which type of shoes Mrs. Trump chose to wear upon boarding Air Force One. There are hopefully some inspirationally transformative national lessons in all of this for everyone.