At the start of June, most people think of the beginning of summer. The kids are excited because it’s the end of school. Parents are trying to prepare themselves for having the kids home ALL day long. Stores are getting ready for the beach rush. It’s a crazy time of the year.
For most of my life, June meant my birthday was drawing near, but now, living near the coast, it takes on a whole new meaning for my family.
June 1st marks the beginning of hurricane season. Now, I’m no stranger to Texas and her crazy weather. I’ve layered up in warm clothes to work cattle in 20 degree weather only to have to take it off because it jumped up to 60 degrees within a couple of hours and I was drenched in sweat. My hometown has a river that runs through it, so I’ve seen the river crest to the point that I wasn’t even able to get into town. I’ve seen droughts where we prayed for rain.
I was in college at Sam Houston State University in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina happened. I decided to ride it out in my dorm room with several of my peers because I was naive and didn’t think it would actually affect us. It didn’t directly hurt me. I watched it all from my window. I saw the lightening and heard thunder like I had never been through before. But I felt safe. We had rolling blackouts for several days as they were trying to get power to some of the smaller communities.Then our school started taking in refugees from New Orleans into our coliseum and we were told that we weren’t able to leave our dorm unless if it was to get something to eat at the dining hall and then we had to go right back. “Curfew” wasn’t a word that I had ever had in my life but it was very much enforced at that time.
It wasn’t until I actually went to the dining hall that it hit me. Peoples lives were affected. They lost everything.
I walked in and my heart stopped. People were hungry and exhausted, praying that they would get a phone call from that lost loved one they couldn’t get a hold of. I felt horrible for them, and yet I still didn’t comprehend it to the full amount of its devastation.
Eventually, things died down around campus and everything went back to normal for us. Those people were just a memory in the back of my mind.
Fast forward to 2017. I was married to the love of my life. We had settled down on North Padre Island. It had always been a dream of mine to live on the beach, and here we were. Our house had finally become a home and one of the guest rooms was now a nursery. We were expecting our daughter in July and we were beyond elated for our future. We were trying to get her room together.
We noticed the signs at Lowes and Home Depot to make sure you were “prepared” for hurricane season, but we didn’t pay much attention.
Before I knew it, July had come and gone. We had our daughter home with us and life was going exactly how we had planned. Another quick tidbit about my husband: he is OBSESSED with The Weather Channel. I don’t know if this is a thing now with husbands or a dad thing or just him. But anywhere we go, I can always count on The Weather Channel to be on. About a week or so before Harvey hit, it was just a little blurp on the screen.
I distinctly remember my husband saying, “That one might become a problem.”
We continued to monitor it but thought it would move around us. And as the days went on, it became very clear that this storm was not going to go away. It was going to become a huge problem.
It was a Thursday. My daughter was still sleeping and my husband had gone to work. I got up and turned on the news. That’s when I knew for sure that it was happening. Previously, I had seen disasters on TV or heard accounts from friends or acquaintances, but I never thought it would happen to me. With trembling hands, I called my husband to tell him that we needed to figure out what we were going to do. He had already sent his office home early so they could prepare. He was on the way so could begin boarding our house and my in-laws’ house. Then the emotional roller coaster began.
My husband told me to start getting our stuff together, clothes, important documents and photos, and food. He began getting the storm shutters down from the attic. At that particular moment, I didn’t realize he had meant just mine and our daughters things. As I began in her room trying to decide what to bring and what to leave behind, he came in to talk to me.
“Babe, I want you to pack up and go to your mom’s house. I’m going to stay behind and make sure our house is safe from the storm and the looters.”
My heart completely sank. I felt nauseous. My knees felt like they didn’t exist. In no universe did I think that I was going to do this without him. My mind thought about those people looking for their loved ones during Katrina, and I refused to go through that. We argued about it for a bit before I told him, “Either we’re all going as a family or we’re staying here with you!” At about that time, the meteorologists predicted that it was going to make landfall at a Category 4. So I got my way and it was decided that everyone was leaving and getting out of harms way.
I tried helping my husband board windows while caring for my one month old. I determined the most important and valuable things to pack that absolutely had to go with us.
I cried, thinking about all the memories we had created in our house and how in just a couple of hours, it might not even be standing anymore.
But the safety of our daughter and everyone else was the most important thing. The next couple of hours flew by quickly. We somehow managed to get our house and my in-laws’ houses boarded. We packed our valuables and packed food into as many ice chests as we could. We loaded up two cats and somehow fit everything into our vehicles. Then, the hardest part came, actually leaving. That feeling of dread will be something that will stay with me forever. We stood inside and looked around one last time. Then, my husband shut the door and put the last storm shutter on. We both cried and held each other for a moment because we had no clue what was going to happen. As we drove off of the Island, there was a sort of “dark cloud” hanging over, literally and figuratively. We could sense the sadness and panic as we drove by our neighbors as they were evacuating as well.
We ended up at my brother’s house in Kingsville, about an hour away, and braced for impact. The next couple of hours were passed with a lot of hoping, praying, and tears. The clouds kept getting darker and darker. The wind picked up and some light rain started. We kept looking at the radar on our phones and the entire area was covered with Harvey. After a while, we learned the storm made landfall in Rockport, but that’s all we knew. The next day or so were spent in anticipation as we waited for the all clear message.
My husband, brother, and I decided to see how far we could get to see any damage. When we made it to Corpus Christi, but it was like a ghost town. All I could see was some damage to certain stores and billboards, but everything seemed standing, as far as we could tell. There were some roofs and debris all along the way. As we were driving across the bridge to get to the Island, I had a newfound glimmer of hope. Just maybe we had made it by unscathed.
As we drove by more houses, we could see some homes without roofs. Some houses had debris through windows. Boats were overturned. There was even a corner house that had been completely burned to the ground. There was nothing left of it. It looked like a war zone. I held my breath as we turned down our street and was glad to see that our neighbors’ houses didn’t seem to have too much damage. And then standing there, our house! With a roof! I had tears of happiness come down my face! We went in quickly just to make sure but everything was where we had left it. More happy tears.
My daughter was going to be able to come home at some point and we would be able to continue to make memories.
My in-laws’ house was still standing as well. Then it hit me. Other people like us wanted to know if their homes were ok. I posted on one Facebook that I would be around if anyone needed a drive by. The response was overwhelming. So many people were relieved to hear that they were in the clear. Luckily, I didn’t have to deliver bad news to anyone.
We went back to my brother’s house for a couple more days until we were told that electricity might be coming back on. I didn’t care how much longer we stayed at that point, because I knew we had our home to go back to.
Over the coming days and weeks, we remained glued to the television and social media. The stories of devastation kept coming, and I was completely heartbroken for so many.
My nightmare was their reality, and to this day, I feel guilt.
I feel guilt that my family was ok. Guilt that we had something to come back to. Guilt that our damages were mostly small and could be mended at some point. I also felt lucky and blessed, but the feeling of guilt was and still is the strongest.
These people lost their entire lives in one fell swoop. Entire towns were ruined and they will never be the same again. Not even three miles down the road toward Port Aransas, a church was completely ripped up where the hurricane had reportedly touched down. As the saying goes, we dodged it by the skin of our teeth. Just a few miles made all the difference in the world. My family and I tried to donate as much as we could; clothes, diapers, food but nothing could ever be enough for what they lost. All we could really do is pray and be there as a community for them.
So, because of Hurricane Harvey, with summer and hurricane season here, this year and every year after, it will forever be etched into my mind. I will diligently watch The Weather Channel and probably get paranoid by every disturbance that begins.