With a new year usually comes the outpouring of how everybody is going to do better this year. Go to the gym, concentrate on certain parts of their lives, increase their business revenue etc. etc. These are noble resolutions and I hope everybody succeeds in their new lifestyles choices, I truly do. I just can’t help thinking back to 2017 and what a monumental effect that it has had on my life and the great city that I now call home.
Having worked in the rigors of the North Sea for over 10 years, harsh weather is something I thought I knew quite a lot about. I remember the first time I was ever on an oil platform. It was November 2002 and the wind speed was around 60-80 mph. The waves were measuring 30-50ft and they physically shook the platform every time they slammed into the structure reminding me of the half-naked guy banging the gong from the Rank film studio intro. When walking outside you had to lean at an angle to remain upright in the frigid wind. Everybody just got on with their jobs and looked forward to their helicopter home.
We had also lived in South West Florida where we had evacuated for a hurricane, frightened that we were going to lose all that we had. We headed to Orlando out of the storm’s path and waited it out. On this occasion, we were very fortunate and returned to our home as if nothing had happened. The storm had taken a turn in the Gulf and weakened considerably causing little to no damage. At this point I thought I had mother nature figured out!
Fast forward to August 26th 2017. Houston was under a tropical storm warning for a storm named Harvey. Most people were not too concerned as the winds were not projected to cause any real damage and the storm surge would not be bad either, according to the national weather service. The meteorologists on the TV were saying that computer models projected that Houston could see up to 50 inches of rain but I remember that they were saying it with a doubting tone. As if they did not believe the data the models were providing them. Most people in our area started that day as normal and checked the weather service providers at regular intervals.
The weather was not the main topic of conversation that day for a lot of the people that I know. This evening was going to have what was billed as “the biggest fight in combat sports history”. Undefeated eleven-time five-division boxing world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. and two-division mixed martial arts (MMA) world champion and at-the-time current UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor were going head to head in a highly anticipated boxing match. My son had bought the fight on pay per view and was having a party at his house with numerous friends and family invited including our two younger daughters. As Conor McGregor is from Ireland, which Scotland has close ties to, it seemed right that we supported the underdog.
The party started at around 7pm. The atmosphere was buzzing and most of the revelers were taking part in a beer pong championship while waiting for the main fight to start. There was a healthy rivalry between the Scottish contingent and the locals who were supporting Mayweather. I was being the sensible designated driver and was enjoying the young party goer’s antics while keeping an eye on the weather app on my phone. Around 10pm everybody’s phone went off in unison. It was a weather alert indicating that there could be flash floods in the area. My wife and I heeded the warning and left the party to drive 5 miles back to our house. Everyone else stayed and continued to party. When we left, it hadn’t started raining at my son’s house.
On the way home, we were discussing how disappointing it was that we were going to miss the fight and that the weather didn’t seem that bad. Half way home – things changed. Living in Houston you are used to the occasional heavy thunderstorm when you are driving. You slow down, put your wipers on the fastest setting and drive really carefully. This night was different. It wasn’t like a typical thunderstorm. Once we drove through the outer curtain of the rain band you could just tell this wasn’t a normal storm. Harvey was more like something from above was pouring a bucket of water over the whole area. The wipers strained and couldn’t keep up and visibility was very poor. I took my time, concentrating hard on the lines I could see on the road and managed to get to the entrance of our subdivision without any issues. As I turned into the subdivision I became aware that there was water coming over the fenders of my midsize SUV. We had never had any history of this road flooding so I just thought it was standing water that hadn’t drained off yet. Remember, this was after 10pm and the darkness made it very difficult to ascertain the road conditions ahead. As I slowly crept along, the water rose higher and higher. I was now at the point of no return. My only option was to keep on going and hopefully reach a high point in the road. The plan was working well until somebody in the same situation reached an intersection ahead on the right just before me. He made the left turn and headed towards me just as I got to the intersection. I had to hit the brakes to prevent a collision and at that moment his wake washed over the hood of my car. As soon as he passed I tried to hit the gas again but the car just shuddered and managed to move about another 10 yards. The car was now, literally, dead in the water.
The water line on the car was half way up the passenger door. The engine would not restart. Our only option was to abandon the vehicle. It wasn’t even a difficult decision to make. We had about ½ mile to walk to get back to the house and check on it. The rain was still incessant but it didn’t seem to affect us. Our mood on the walk home was surprising, if not a little bizarre if I must be honest. We weren’t sad, angry or depressed. We talked about how this would be a day that we would remember for the rest of our lives and be able to tell our Grandkids about. We sang the classic “singing in the rain” as my wife skipped through the high water. We were just thankful to be OK.
We made it back to the house, absolutely soaked to the bone, but in good spirits. The water was half way up our front lawn but the drainage system seemed to be doing its job. We immediately made contact with our son and discovered that everyone at the party was OK, although they did have some minor water ingress into the back portion of his house. They had made preparations on what to do if things got worse. We poured ourselves a stiff drink, let all our close friends and family know that we were OK and then we stayed up all night watching the local news and keeping in close contact with our son.
As the night turned into day and the TV cameras were able to survey the landscape and report back to the studio, the sheer magnitude of what had happened started to slowly reveal itself. It soon became obvious that huge swathes of the Houston area were under a considerable amount of water. What was even more concerning to me is that the town of Dickinson, which is only 5 miles from where we live, was completely underwater. The live pictures were life changing for me. FM517, the main thoroughfare from the highway into Dickinson was covered with what looked like at least 5 feet of water. The main North to South State Highway, I45, was under water in several places. The pictures were just devastating and still bring a tear to my eye when I see them. We seemed to be fortunate. Our drainage system was able to handle the near 50 inches of rain that fell in our area. Our local Creek, Clear Creek, was 10ft out of its banks. Yes, 10 whole feet out of its banks!
And then it started to happen. The most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life and I think it will never be surpassed. Picture after picture started to come in showing people going out of their way to help. It started slowly. Our local news station had a camera crew on the overpass of FM517 on I45 at Dickinson pointing Eastward. The overpass was now an island as routes both North and South were under water. Then the news crew started to see something quite extraordinary. A convoy of trucks, risking the high water and pulling their personal boats. They backed down on to the off ramp and launched water-crafts of all sizes and descriptions. They had seen the harrowing pictures on TV and felt compelled to go out and help their fellow man. This repeated over and over again until FM517 turned into waterway full of personal water craft valiantly trying to find people in need of rescue. This scene was then repeated all over the Greater Houston area. As news spread across the USA the now infamous “Cajun Navy” made their way from all over Louisiana along the main East/West interstate I10 into Texas. Hundreds, if not thousands of people coming into Houston, putting themselves in danger to go and help those in need.
During the rescues, a local restaurant posted on Facebook and Twitter asking for volunteers to help so that they could provide meals for all the emergency responders. My wife and daughters answered the call and immediately made their way to the premises. On their arrival, they found the parking lot full of League City residents desperate to give their time and effort to help. It soon became apparent that the restaurant owner had to travel to the restaurant by boat to make this happen. When my wife returned she said that the community spirit was overwhelming and brought them both to tears.
It didn’t end there. Shortly after the water had drained away into the Gulf of Mexico, the real toll of how Harvey affected people became apparent. It wasn’t just the odd home here and there that had been flooded. It was whole subdivisions. One mile from our house, a gated community had seen more than 3 feet of water enter every single home. This was so hard for me to comprehend. Every single family in a whole community – devastated. This was the story all over Houston. But once again the people of Houston showed me and the world what they were made of. Local churches and community groups got together and sent teams of people into each affected subdivision to help whoever needed it. I helped with our local church and was sent to a subdivision that had been completely underwater. We got stuck in and removed drywall, moved furniture, set up fans and de-humidifiers and whatever else we could do to help the home owners out. During the day, others would drive around with snacks and drinks for all those helping. It was a truly astonishing yet humbling experience. One that I will never forget as long as I shall live.
So that is why I do not have any resolutions this new year. Hurricane Harvey gave me more life lessons in a short period of time than many people will experience in a lifetime. My faith in the human spirit has been completely restored. In this day and age, when most people spend most of their spare time on social networks, I became part of a real social network. Real people, doing real things to help other real people in need. Face to face, not screen to screen. Crying together, laughing together, praying together and helping together. This place, these people, have a resilience I would have never thought possible before Harvey. I am so proud to call the city of Houston my home and I am so proud to call the people of Texas my friends.