Houston shows resilience in the face of disaster

Photo by Brenda Lin

My family moved to Houston when I was four years old. I lived there for fourteen years until I came to Tech and in that time I witnessed two hurricanes, several tropical storms and many floods. Even though we have stayed to weather the storm in the past, my mom evacuated on Tuesday after the first landfall. Like most people, my Facebook feed has been filled with photos of people’s homes full of water and roads collapsing. Unlike most people, these are my friends’ homes and the roads I drove on to school.

Despite everything, Houston residents banded together and donated millions of dollars as well as opening countless buildings as shelters for those who are displaced. Famous Houstonians, like Beyonce and JJ Watt, pledged to donate to flood victims. The JJ Watt Foundation raised over $7 million from an initial goal of $200,000 and the owner of the Houston Rockets Leslie Alexander donated $10 million himself.

However, Joel Osteen, a preacher of the prosperity gospel, received a lot of backlash online for not opening his church Lakewood as a shelter. The former home of the Rockets, Lakewood Church Central Campus has seating for 16,000 people and was finally opened to victims of flooding on Tuesday. On the other hand, many companies based in Houston have aided greatly in disaster relief without prompting from social media. The grocery chain H-E-B sent disaster relief trucks to provide food and medication, Gallery Furniture opened their two locations as shelters and Cheniere, a small oil company of only 1,000 employees, donated $1 million dollars.

With the number of people displaced in shelters, some have criticized Mayor Turner for not issuing an evacuation order. Having lived in Houston I completely support his decision because of the size of the city and problems that have occurred during previous evacuations.

One of the reasons people were not told to evacuate is because of the shear size of the area affected and the number of people living there. Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States. The greater Houston area includes 6.3 million people and covers more area than Rhode Island. Imagine twelve times the number of people in Atlanta on the roads trying to leave the city. Snowpocalypse had people on the roads for 16 plus hours, but it is much more dangerous to be stuck on the highway during a hurricane than a light flurry.

When one considers the history and size of Houston, an evacuation order seems incredibly dangerous. People were told to evacuate for Hurricane Rita in 2005; a few hours before the storm made landfall, over two million people fled the city. To avoid stopping for gas or bathroom breaks, people turned off the A/C in their cars and refrained from drinking water. Sixty-seven people died from heat during the evacuation and 23 perished in a bus fire. The death toll from evacuations before Hurricane Rita made landfall was higher than any hurricane in Texas, with the exception of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane.

Because of the heat and risk of people on the road overnight, Mayor Turner made the right call in not evacuating the city.

Despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians have shown selflessness and unity. Photos and videos of strangers helping others have been circulated on social media and businesses raised over $72 million for relief efforts.

One of the photos I have seen repeatedly is the Be Someone photo. It features a flooded underpass with the words “Be Someone” graffitied on the bridge overhead, an image everyone from the area is familiar with. I am proud to be from a city so strong, people can set aside their differences and become someone great in a time
of crisis.