A week ago, things were very different. I now live in Katy which is a suburb city West of Houston. I had grand plans for the past week. The kids were supposed to be into their third week of school, I had plans to meet up with new friends, I was considering exercising, I was getting into routine.
We all heard about Harvey’s approach and knew flooding would be a possibility but I don’t think anyone really understood what was coming our way, let alone a newbie like me who knows what to do with a blizzard but has no clue about hurricanes. School was cancelled last Friday August 25th, offices shut down midday, everyone was told to go home.
Rain started on Friday afternoon but things still seemed pretty tame and manageable. I prepared a blog post, watched TV, started in on the hurricane snacks.
I had premature confidence. Friday night – well technically early Saturday morning, around 1:30am – everything changed. If you have the Weather Network app, you will get an alarming alarm whenever there is a weather event or Amber Alert, and we got alarming alarms all night long.
We brought the kids down with us to the main floor, prepared to huddle in the interior bathroom if needed, wondered if we should just sleep there, laid awake in bed fully dressed wearing my headlamp and clutching my phone in one hand and the walkie-talkie radio in the other.
I prematurely thought that would be the worst of it but Saturday night was even worse – more rain, more alarms… I counted 26 alarms between midnight and 4am and then I stopped counting.
Thankfully that was the worst night, though the rains continued until we had accumulated 38 1/4 inches of rain over four days.
We were extremely fortunate. We live in a newer neighbourhood on the North end of Katy that has a relatively new water management system and retention ponds. Our home did not flood. We were not affected by any of the nearby tornadoes. Our power remained on most of the time. Thank God thank God thank God. And now, I sit here in this strange limbo that’s as new to me as the hurricane itself. The weather is gorgeous, the streets are dry, the grocery stores are being restocked daily.
Yet, the South part of Katy remains under water. Much of Houston remains under water. Thousands of people are still under mandatory evacuation and cannot return to their homes including the lovely couple that we are hosting. Homes are destroyed, pets are abandoned. People have died. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is catastrophic.
So here I sit. Pondering how I can help my new community besides offering up my home, donating, volunteering. No matter what I offer, it feels so paltry. I think this might be “survivor’s guilt” and people tell me it’s “normal” and that every little bit does help. But it still feels like limbo. Should I read a book when other people are pulling apart their drywall and piling their soggy earthly possessions on their front lawns? Who on earth cares about style when entire closets are being emptied into garbage bags, moldy and destroyed? Yet, carrying on with what carried us on before all of this will help us all get back to normal, right?
People have asked, where do I donate? What can I do? I am far from the best to advise about this but here are my thoughts. Firstly, don’t worry if you don’t rush to help. This is going to take months if not years. People naturally surge in response to natural disasters, and that is a good thing but Katy and Houston will need your help later too. Donate when you feel moved and trust that it will reach who it’s meant to. Secondly, if you have a particular cause that is near and dear to your heart, there is likely a hurricane relief fund already underway, so seek it out and give to that cause. Love pets? There are animal shelters in need. Are you a teacher? There are teachers and classrooms in need. Concerned about mental health? There are mental health support agencies ready to accept funds. Almost every church is mobilizing and already at work in their communities. Salvation Army is a reliable charity as is Samaritan’s Purse. And for the love of God, if you donate clothing, you MUST go through it and eliminate anything in poor repair that you yourself would not wear. Though I am moved by people’s generosity, I’m disgusted that people would donate stained, torn rags to people who are stained and torn. Don’t do that. Just don’t. Go through that bag that you’ve been meaning to donate and make sure everything is clean, folded and sorted then bundle it up and label it by type and size. If everyone does that, volunteers everywhere will be blasting out the heart emojis till they literally materialize before your eyes. I know it.
Lastly, donate in a way that’s a good fit for you, don’t feel guilty if it’s different from every other person you know, and do not under any circumstances judge someone else’s donations. If we all did the same thing, there would be many needs unmet. If you like to muck about, help clean out flooded homes. If you like to cook, make some meals and deliver them or freeze them till you can. If you like to do laundry (you rare creature, you), pick up some laundry then return it folded (with a bottle of wine and some plastic cups). If you don’t like any of that, give money, and if you have no money, pray or send encouraging messages. It all counts.
I would like to take a moment to share some good news in all of this. Firstly, the sense of community is palpable. It gives me shivers to think of all the loving thy neighbour that is being lived out this very moment. Secondly, miracles happened. My new friends Elisa and Egon were evacuated from their home BY KAYAK at night. Imagine your 70-something-year-old parent or grandparent climbing into a kayak in the dark of night with rain pounding down on them. Imagine. After the storm passed, they were able to check their home. The water level on their home was above the door threshold but no water seeped in. There is no earthly explanation. It is a miracle. I can’t tell you why God gave them a miracle and not others but I’m going to thank Him nonetheless for that one. Thirdly, the people staying with us have been a huge blessing. They are the kindest couple and my kids have fallen in love. It has been an honour to be able to do something real and tangible, even if only for two people.
School was cancelled all last week and will be for the coming week as well. Five schools in our district and thousands of students and staff were affected. It will be another miracle when things are up and running in time for September 11th. Houston and surrounding areas, Beaumont (Texas), Corpus Christi and other cities are only beginning this marathon of recovery. My heart is broken for people but I’m still grateful and hopeful, and I know this limbo won’t last. I don’t think it’s unique to Americans that resiliency rises to the occasion, so I know the people here will triumph, it’s only a matter of time.