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Harvey survivors pull together, with a nervous eye on the Gulf


Mark Ralston | AFP

John Burger - published on 08/31/17

The sun is out in Houston, but flood levels are still rising, and people are watching new storm systems

Many residents of Houston and its environs have been able to start cleaning up their flood-devastated homes in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey, but even though the rain has stopped, rivers continue to rise and threaten many communities protected by levees. The Brazos River is expected to crest on Friday.

And some residents are worried about one or two storm systems forming in the Gulf of Mexico. Weather experts say it is too early to predict which way they will go.

“The waters are still rising. It’s crazy. It’s sunny,” said one resident, John, a native of Vietnam who did not want his full name used. “There are blue skies overhead, but the waters are still rising and there are rescues going on.”

He and his family of eight had been rescued only days before by two small boats. The rescue, near the Addicks Reservoir west of Houston, reminded him of the day in 1975 when he the U.S. Navy plucked him out of the South China Sea and took him to Wake Island as a refugee.

“We were boat people then, and we are still boat people today,” John commented.

Meagan Montez, a home-schooling mother of seven, said her family is safe, but Harvey was a harrowing experience.

“The first two nights and days, tornado alarms were going of all the time,” she said. “The kids know how to shelter in place. … We’ve done this before, but I think before it was almost like a drill. This time, as soon as [the tornado threat] passed, there were friends on social media saying it was our neighborhood that it went through.”

After authorities instructed residents not to leave but to shelter in place, Montez and her husband had a discussion about, “How do we access the roof? Who’s gonna tie who to our back, if we have to leave? Do we have the tools that we need if we have to go to the attic?”

“But they don’t want you to go to the attic anymore, they want you to go to the second floor,” she said. “So we had to think, ‘Okay, which windows can we climb out of to get to the roof?'”

In the days since, the Montez family has helped other Houstonians along with the Adore Ministry, a community of Catholic lay missionaries to which they belong. She has seen a “tremendous outpouring of help” throughout the city in meeting people’s material needs.

“There were people getting turned away in some places who wanted to volunteer because there was such a generous response,” she said. But there are emotional needs, people’s need for a sense of security, to address as well.

“I did a cleanout in an apartment yesterday, and the residents were describing their experience of a middle-of-the-night power outage,” she said. “It was sheer terror. They were terrified. … I’ve helped people clean up after floods before, and it stinks and it’s nasty, but these are people that were scared. And when they walk back into these places it’s terrifying, They’re sad, and there’s a lot of anger.”

The sun has helped improve people’s mood, for sure, but the devastation is only that more apparent, including the discovery of people who drowned or died in other ways. And flooding persists in many places, and rivers and reservoirs continue to rise. This ordeal is far from over, and many of those interviewed by Aleteia this week have ended their phone conversations with a request to “keep praying for us.”

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