Houston’s Sense of Humanity Rises above the Flood Waters of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey swept into Houston on Sunday, August 27, 2017, after making its first landfall on San Jose Island, between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to hit Texas since 2004. In all, Harvey, which morphed from a tropical depression into a hurricane in less than 36 hours, made landfall three times.

Massive amounts of rain fell on Texas and Louisiana during the raging storm, but Houston was hit hardest. In some areas, by the time all was said and done, more than 50 inches had fallen. Having experienced it wettest August on record, with 39.11 inches of rainfall, Houston was already saturated. Two of its reservoirs overflowed, its highways were concealed by water, and 25 to 30 percent of Harris County, an area as large as New York City and Chicago combined, was flooded.

The system also brought with it sustained wind speeds of 70 mph leaving large bands of uprooted trees, toppled signs, felled flag poles, and severely damaged and destroyed buildings across Southeast Texas. Boxed into the Texas Gulf Coast by a tropical disturbance called “Ten,” Harvey’s eye sat over Houston, moving at a rate of only 2 mph, for a total of four days. Once Ten took its leave, so, finally, did Harvey.

The facts of Harvey’s devastation are undeniable. According to Houston Business Journal, the cost of halted economic activity to Houston, as well as the cost of home, business, and school rebuilding could reach the tens of billions. These facts, however, were not on the minds of Houston’s citizens during the days Harvey pummelled their city. Their concerns were for those who were forced from their homes trying to get themselves, their children, and their pets to safety.

Caring, kindness, and love were in full supply during those trying days as Houstonians came out by the scores to do everything they could to help their fellow citizens. As evacuees abandoned their homes, shelters, including a convention center, a sports arena, several religious centers, and the NRG Center opened across the city. The largest of them, The George R. Brown Convention Center, harbored an estimated 11,000 of the displaced. As well, the Toyota Center, home to the Houston Rockets, served as an overflow center.

Volunteers manned the shelters, doing everything they could to be of assistance. One such volunteer was Olympic gold medalist and Houston native Simone Biles, who volunteered at a shelter and flood distribution center near Houston. Her comments on NBC’s Good Morning America after her experience reflected the sentiments of most Houstonians: "I feel like Houston is one of the strongest cities in the world. It is amazing to see everyone giving back—even people who have lost everything in this storm are even coming and volunteering." It was now a story of hope.

For many, that became the major story of Hurricane Harvey. Everyday people, even those who lost everything, literally lined up to help others and saved lives doing so. The acts of bravery are now legion. One of the most heartwarming occurred when neighbors formed a human chain through floodwaters so a pregnant woman who had gone into labor could reach a fire truck stuck in the flood. And there are many more: Houston businessman Jim McIngvale opened the doors of his mattress stores to provide makeshift shelters for hundreds; SWAT team officer Daryl Hudeck carried a mother and her sleeping 13-month old child to safety through rising floodwaters; emergency crews in boats, trucks, and aircraft evacuated neighborhoods and got inhabitants to safety; law enforcement officers worked tirelessly doing high-water rescues; almost any private citizen with a boat paddled through the flooded streets risking their own lives to rescue others; reporters interrupted newscasts in devastated areas to lend a helping hand; volunteers sought out and recovered countless pets that had been trapped in the surging waters of the city.

Another celebrated Houston native, J. J. Watt, defensive lineman for the Houston Texans football team, came to his city’s rescue by setting up a fundraising effort to help those affected by the storm. He hoped to reach $200,000. It took only two hours to fulfill that goal. The total amount raised exceeded $30,000,000.

Amidst all this hometown bravery and generosity, the rest of the country, as well as its neighbors, followed Houston’s example and lent a helping hand. Celebrities donated money and their time, private citizens contributed to relief funds, and corporations provided monetary assistance. Canada sent aid in the form of baby bottles, cribs, formula, and other necessities, and Mexico sent food and supplies as well as 33 members of the Mexican Red Cross to help those in need.

When this devastating natural disaster struck the city of Houston, its citizens didn’t think about what it was going to cost in the long term. Instead, they thought about the immediate human cost. Determined to drastically decrease it, they worked together for the best possible outcome, which they achieved. Working side by side, understanding the strength there is in numbers, the people of Houston worked tirelessly to help one another out. By doing so, they ensured no one was left in a flooded home or on a rooftop, everyone reached safety, everyone had access to necessities, everyone was cared for, and beloved pets didn’t suffer. The world watched and was heartened by the bravery, faith, hope, and determination exhibited by the steadfast people of Houston. These individual and collective acts of humanity are trademarks of Houstonians and will continue to be. They are now also markers for the rest of the world to strive for, reminding it that miracles occur when people work together.