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I survived Hurricane Harvey, but plenty of people still need help

Wmc Fbomb Hurricanee Harvey Julie Graves 091817

I listened to the drip, drip, drip of the roof leaking and the persistent howl of the wind against the walls as my home fell apart around me. Four days before I was scheduled to move across the country for college, I found myself stuck in the middle of Hurricane Harvey, one of the most tenacious and destructive storms Texas, and the U.S., had ever seen.

A few days before Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi, our mayor encouraged everyone to evacuate. Many people fled, turning Highway 37 to San Antonio into a still sea of cars as they headed inland to stay with family or friends, or in a hotel. My parents, however, decided we should stay — they had safely stayed through previous hurricanes and assumed the media was overhyping the storm.

But plenty of Texans didn’t have the privilege of choosing whether to stay or not. Fleeing is an unaffordable luxury for many. Yes, some hotels and Airbnbs offered discounts to people escaping the hurricane, but leaving still requires resources like money to spare and a car. In addition, the individuals who couldn’t afford to leave were also often the least equipped to weather the storm, especially due to living in cheaper housing options like mobile homes or old wooden homes, which were most susceptible to damage.

On Thursday, a day before Harvey made landfall, I went to the local salon. The salon employees were surprised that I actually showed up, and I felt my hairdresser’s hands were shaking as she cut my hair. We talked about boarding up our houses and hoarding water and perishable food items. The words unspoken — stay alive — hung in the air as I left the salon. On my way home, I noticed how empty the streets were. Heavy rain berated my car’s windshield. The time for last-minute runs to the grocery store for water or ice had passed.

On Friday morning, we woke up to the news that the storm headed right toward us was a Category 4, although it was originally supposed to be a tropical storm, or a Category 2 or 3. Some people still in town woke up early to leave at the last minute. Our cable company cut its  service for the duration of the hurricane that afternoon. My parents started to get worried; my mom pled with customer service on the phone for an hour, trying to control something in the face of the uncertainty of the hurricane. Our power went off that night anyway, and we tried to preserve our phone batteries as we waited in the dark. We fell asleep not knowing what we would wake up to.

We ventured outside in soft rain and sunshine on Saturday morning. Part of our roof had broken through and the walls of our home were soaked with water, but we were fine. Nevertheless, something felt fundamentally wrong. Trees littered the streets, homes had fallen apart, fences were wiped out entirely. The restaurant where my family ate after trips to the nearby beach had fallen into the water.

But even this damage rendered us lucky; other families just miles from us suffered far more. The small coastal towns near Corpus Christi, like Rockport and Port Aransas, were completely leveled. We later found out that four Red Cross volunteers had rescued my own aunt, uncle, and cousins from their house in Houston by floating them down the flooded streets on an air mattress. As the national media showed, Houston weathered horrible flooding that lasted for days, pushing back the start of the school year, destroying businesses, and ruining people’s homes. The damages caused by this hurricane could cost an estimated 70 to 90 billion dollars and could have a drastic effect on the U.S. economy as a whole, since Texas is a major economic center, and a leading producer of oil and gas. But it’s especially important to note who exactly will be hit hardest by this damage: low-income people and women, who statistically make less, likely don’t have a financial cushion to fall back on if their homes and/or places of employment are extensively damaged.

My mom drove me to the San Antonio airport to head off to college a few days later. As we left, I took in my destroyed, disheveled, and broken home. All of my fellow classmates at orientation were homesick, but my feelings about my home were far more complicated. I wondered what home I would return to.



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Julie Graves
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