[UPDATED: The team here at GrokNation – which includes Texas native Noey Jacobson – has been shocked and saddened at the images coming out of Houston as Harvey continues to devastate the city and its environs. If you’d like to help, guest writer Monica Kramer has provided a list of several organizations doing good work on the ground – the list is at the end of her piece below, as is a gallery of photos depicting some of the aftermath of this storm. Wishing for healing for Texas, and an end to this extreme weather situation so that rebuilding can start…]

Houston gets a bad rap. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s full of geckos. All of that is true. But it’s also filled with the kindest, boldest, most generous people on the planet. And Houston does not deserve the tragedy that is Tropical Storm Harvey.

When I told people in Los Angeles of my plans to visit Houston with my two toddlers in August, they winced. “Houston? In August? Are you insane?” Maybe. But not about this.

I’ve now lived in Los Angeles long enough to know that performing rain dances in the hopes of a gratifying cleansing from above is nearly a local custom in this place where rain is so rare. In fact, one of the aspects I was most excited to share with my kids during this trip was the experience of “real” rain, not the “drizzle” LA claims it to be. Be careful what you wish for.

When I mention that I’m from Houston – and I always mention that I’m from Houston – there are all kinds of reactions. Mostly there are sneers and the occasional sardonic “I’m sorry.” Rather than get angry, I search for empathy because these innocents have no idea what they’re missing.

My parents, siblings and their families still live in my hometown, as do countless friends. In some form or another, I am in touch with most everyone I grew up with, from nursery school all the way to high school. Even before the advent of Facebook, our community was connected. Maybe not directly, but everyone’s successes were accounted for. People here truly root for each other.

And these friends, my cherished childhood buddies, are my heroes. The majority are being displaced, their homes decimated, their cars abandoned or destroyed. One friend’s husband was rescued from his rooftop via helicopter. And still, they work to support neighbors and strangers alike, opening their homes and joining local rescue efforts. One of those generous families and their guests ended up being evacuated to safety when the water level in their home rose so high they had to await assistance standing on the kitchen counter. One childhood friend carried an elderly woman from her home into his motor boat to safety. Another friend with a large truck has gone three days straight actively seeking out strangers to save.

Friends created a Googledoc shared on Facebook with addresses of families who need help. When folks are deemed safe, they get deleted to make room for others. It’s an open document where anyone can participate, even from their sequestered positions.

Another heroic friend requested that no one call her because she was transporting people in her kayak and thus needed her hands free, ya know, to save lives. And I’m here in Houston, with my kids, watching it all unfold outside my windows and, like the rest of the world, on the news and social media.

These social media posts could have easily been filled with self-pity, rage, and desperation. Instead, the photos are filled with people on rafts, smiling despite toting zero possessions. Their posted videos share their journey without bitterness, even when they have no idea where they’re headed. There is no chaos, no indignation. Only altruism, as neighbors – themselves displaced or suffering from loss of property and stability – reach out to help those who are even less fortunate.

Once people are in a protected location, their posts have read, “Does anyone know of a furnished rental for two adults and three kids?” As if they were casually looking for a weekend getaway! Their strength is remarkable.

There is no blaming of policies or factions. Because despite the requisite instigators, no one could have prepared for the magnitude of this event.

In 2015 and 2016, there were devastating floods near my family’s neighborhood. Water damage forced innumerable homes to be rebuilt or torn down, some homes twice. The neighborhood had been destroyed. These homeowners had just moved back into their refurbished homes, and along comes Harvey, which makes the previous floods seem like mere puddles.

Now what? Do it all over again?

The purpose of our trip was for my children to be with their cousins whom they never see, who all live within one block of my parents’ house where we are staying. But we have not seen them in days because we cannot risk being swept away by rivers formerly known as streets.

I am well aware that this is a mere inconvenience compared to the utter devastation around me, and for this, I am unspeakably grateful. (I am also unspeakably grateful for the power that has stayed on to entertain my kids with more TV in three days than they have seen in three years.)

While these stories are incredibly inspiring, the truth is that people have lost everything they have ever worked for. They are in survival mode, without the luxury of thinking about what comes next. The fourth largest city in the United States is under water. Not just a region of the city. The entire city. The Houston metro area covers about 10,000 square miles, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. And when the storm will mercifully end, the scope of this catastrophic wreckage will be in full view. Even the toughest of Texans will need aid and support, financially and spiritually.

It’s still raining in our part of town, but my mother and I ventured out to offer help to friends whose houses were flooded and are now dealing with the aftermath. Though the water on the ground has mostly receded, water remains in such compartments as garbage cans, ovens, and dresser drawers. Driving around our neighborhood is heartbreaking. You see people’s entire lives in wet and twisted piles on their front lawn. Absorbing so much moisture, most possessions have to be tossed out immediately. Mattresses, sofas, sheet rock, slats of wood, doors, clothing, linens, paperwork…Moving in and out of houses, lone homeowners in gloves and face masks endeavor to get rid of everything that took years to attain, and in a matter of hours, is now gone.

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And so here I am
, in my old bedroom in my parents’ house, listening to the rain I dreamed of hearing on my summer vacation. Yet this rain will not lull me to sleep, as it has before. This relentless rain keeps me awake with sorrow, grief and heartache.
But will I come back to visit next summer with my kids and brace the heat, humidity and geckos? You betcha. Because through and beyond the rain, my beloved Houston and its denizens will prove to the world their humility, equanimity and most of all, resilience. And we will rebuild this
beautiful city together.

Monica Kramer is a writer living in Los Angeles. Images for this piece are courtesy of the author.

 

 

Some local organizations and programs directly helping people in need (list compiled by the author):

  • Jewish Federation of Houston Flood Relief Fund
  • Portlight (provides support for victims with special/medical needs)
  • The SPCA of Texas (adopt, foster and donate to the fur-babies affected)
  • YouCaring has a fund-raising page set up by J. J. Watt of the Houston Texans with a goal of $1 million. By 6 p.m. Monday it had raised more than $700,000.
  • GlobalGiving’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund supports local organizations by helping to “meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products and shelter.” It will also assist with longer-term recovery efforts.
  • The Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio is asking for diapers and wipes, which can be dropped off in person or mailed to 5415 Bandera Road, Suite 504, San Antonio, Tex., 78238