The devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey is hard to even fathom for residents along the Texas coast, but as the heroic rescues continue, the harrowing individual stories are emerging, including the dramatic saving of family members of a local reporter.
Jessica Morales worked for many years as an anchor and reporter for Fox television affiliates in Beaumont and Tyler, Texas. A Beaumont native, Morales is now a video reporter for Hart Energy in Houston.
She says the 50-plus inches of rain in the Houston area rendered many local neighborhoods – many of whom had never flooded in recent memory – vulnerable to intense flooding. And the intensity of the rainfall often left people very little time to get out of their homes.
“It could be minutes once the water starts coming in, depending on how close you are to a creek or a bayou, which is where the current was really picking up on a lot of people,” said Morales.
And while much of the media attention is understandably focused on Houston. Nearby cities such as Port Arthur and Beaumont are also devastated. On Wednesday, officials in Port Arthur reported that the entire city was flooded.
In Beaumont, Thursday, the high waters shut down the city’s water supply.
“They’re having to get the patients out of the hospitals because there is no water supply at all for the city of Beaumont,” said Morales. “That’s happening as of right now, where they’re trying to evacuate people. The rain has stopped, but the water supply is compromised and that could be for days.”
Mendoza and her husband live in southwest Houston and their home did not flood. However, she became involved in a dramatic rescue of her aunt in Beaumont on Tuesday.
“[Tuesday night], my aunt started texting and putting on Facebook that water was coming into her house. She wasn’t sure what point she should call for a boat rescue. I knew at that point that she couldn’t get out of the house. If water’s coming in the house, there’s no way she can get her vehicle out. So I just got on social media and started finding rescue groups,” said Morales.
She says that was critical because the typical rescue methods were not an option.
“My cousin was calling 911 and they weren’t answering. They weren’t able to do anything as far as getting to anything. They don’t have the boats, so a lot of people were being rescued by Good Samaritans and people coming from Louisiana with their boats. So I just started contacting groups like that on social media,” said Morales.
“Someone told me there was a boat near my aunt’s neighborhood when I posted her address. They told me to tell her to go outside and just start yelling and waving for the boat. That’s what she did. Then a boat came by and got her and my cousin and their three cats and go them to safety,” said Morales.
A similar story played for Morales’s great aunt.
“She opened her front door when her neighbor came to check on her and the water started rushing in her front door. So they called rescue for her,” said Morales.
Morales says the rising water at her aunt’s house highlights the stress an uncertainty of whether to evacuate.
“I said, ‘Is the water rushing in? How quickly is it coming in?'”
“She said, ‘I wouldn’t say it’s rushing, but it’s rising quickly.’ I told her to open the door to see how the current was in the street, because I heard a lot people didn’t realize how heavy the current was when it picked up,” said Morales.
“By the time she got out, she walked out of her house and it was up to her hips in her yard,” said Morales.
Morales says the relentless spirit and resolve of the emergency personnel and private citizens is stunning.
“It is truly amazing and it is very empowering. I think that the spirit of people wanting to keep helping and not quit is helping the survivors, just to give them a little more energy,” said Morales.
She says the selflessness of those saving lives is a powerful example.
“Restaurants were trying to bring them in and feed them a hot meal. Some of those rescuers right now are saying, ‘No, we don’t want to stop to eat right now, we still have people to rescue,'” said Morales, who also witnessed an example of this spirit.
“Yesterday, we were able to get out a little bit and we drove past a group of men who were just standing in a parking lot on their phones next to their boat. One man just had his socks on. You could tell he was soaking wet. They were looking on their phone, I’m sure to find out where they could go next for a rescue,” said Morales.
“These people are not stopping. You know they haven’t slept. Some of them are not stopping to eat. It’s incredible that people will sacrifice themselves like that just to help someone else. It’s amazing,” said Morales.
In addition to highest priorities of saving lives and getting survivors basic necessities, there is a significant economic impact on the region and the nation. The Texas gulf coast is the center of America’s oil refining industry, and right now it’s largely at a standstill.
“They still have to get all the refineries’ power back up. That’s going to take awhile. They can’t do that in flood waters,” said Morales, noting that those refineries provide a huge amount of the fuel we get at the gas station. She says gas prices will rise throughout much or all of the U.S. and in the immediate region, gas is already scarce.
Morales says tropical storms and hurricanes are nothing new to the region but the extent of this one dwarfs even the destruction from Hurricane Rita in 2005.
“This magnitude is much greater as far as flooding. A lot of people can’t even get back into their homes. I was talking with one of my friends who was able to get back in her home last night and they already started ripping up carpet because they’re afraid of mold setting in,” said Morales.
She says those who cannot return for days can do nothing to mitigate mold or other horrific effects of the waters. Nonetheless, she says there are already other signs of people ready to clean up and rebuild.
“There are people already out there with chainsaws and things like that. People know how important it is to get moving quickly, and I think they’re feeding off of each other too, knowing that they’re not doing it alone,” said Morales.
She says the spirit of community that is getting so much attention in the media is very real and is keeping spirits as high as possible.
“You see hashtags out there, #HoustonStrong and #PrayforBeaumont, but it really is true that southeast Texans take care of each other. Even our neighbors in Louisiana are coming in and just texting people and asking where they can go next to rescue someone,” said Morales.
In addition, the confidence and apparent competence of local officials is doing a lot of good.
“It really seems like there’s a lot of preparing going into this. You can’t possibly know what all is going to come, but it really seems like everyone is working together to figure out the best way to move forward, whether that’s getting people back into their homes or getting people the help they need for contractors,” said Morales.
Morales and her husband spent part of Wednesday driving relief supplies to different areas of need in the Houston region. She says despite the devastation, the people in Houston acutely feel the prayers and love of the American people for those suffering.
“I appreciate the outpouring of support. It’s come from all over the U.S. Everyone in this area is absolutely feeling it, and it’s helping people power on,” said Morales.