In 2015 and again in 2016, I learned first-hand how much emergency preparedness can help when a natural disaster strikes.
My wife, my daughter, and I lived in Houston for four years and were witness to two so-called “century” floods – as in, the kind that come around once in a century. Lucky us.
In fact, we do consider ourselves extremely lucky.
On May 26, 2015, eight people died in the Memorial Day Flood across Houston, and though no one perished in our neighborhood, our section of the city was the worst hit, because it sits under the flood level and just beside a major bayou that overflowed.
I would say nearly 90 percent of my neighbors lost their homes. Ours, however, had been built about six feet above the flood level, so the water crept up to our doorstep, but not in.
We had neighbors (friends, more accurately) whose houses were about three feet below the “sea level,” and they had water up to their waists or higher. Cars in their garage – ruined. Dishwashers, refrigerators, tables, chairs – just floating around.
The psychological toll cannot be overstated, but even as the first flood was happening, by 4 a.m. we were able to connect with a handful of neighbors, inform them that our house was safe, and provide food and shelter until the waters ceded. We ended up housing a few different families, including two dogs, that first day and night and one family for about three months until they could find permanent housing.
A year later, some of our friends had finally moved back into their homes when disaster struck again.
On April 18, 2016, another catastrophic flood hit Houston, when an estimated 240 billion gallons of rain fell over a matter of days. Eight more people lost their lives, the storms caused $5 billion in damage, with more than 1,000 homes destroyed, and once again, our neighborhood was one of the worst-affected.
But in between the first and second floods, another neighbor had bought a white water-style raft. When I was leaving the house that morning to try to transport a family to safety with our children’s swimming pool raft, my wife informed me of the neighbor’s raft.
Sure enough, they were happy to inflate it and allow me to use it. In pictures and video, you can see how much of a difference it made. I was able to carry four members of the family together on one trip up and down the river where our street used to be. On a second trip, I got the remaining two members, plus clothes and other necessities.
Without that raft, I would never have been able to assist them with the same efficiency, if at all. Without that raft, I would not have been able to think about purposefully smiling for a picture in an effort to calm the fears of the children on the raft. It’s a little thing, but it made a big difference.
Knowing your neighbors – and knowing who has what – can save lives in the event of a catastrophe. I know from personal experience.
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