Everyone remembers Hurricane Harvey in their own way. Everyone has a story about their experience with Harvey and the aftermath. One of the big stressors in my life in recent years is Harvey. I’ve never been in a hurricane before in my life. So this experience was brand new and TERRIFYING for me.
When I moved in 2009, I had just missed Hurricane Ike. I had co-workers tell me stories about how their homes were damaged because of the storm and dealing with FEMA and the overall stress that is associated with it. When I watched the news and realized that Hurricane Harvey would hit Houston and surrounding areas such as Dickinson, La Porte and other areas as well, I was praying that it would miss me. I’ve been in enough snowstorms (Wisconsin girl!), experienced frigid temperatures and wind chill factors that were below zero (Don’t even think about leaving home or starting your car in that cold air!) and witnessed plenty of tornadoes. So I’ve seen my share. But experiencing a hurricane (especially a Category 5 storm) and probably one of the worst hurricanes ever, it was news to me.
I watched the TV like a hawk and went the local Academy store to purchase a hurricane preparedness guide and I quickly read through it. I couldn’t believe that this was going to hit the area that I was living and watching the eye of the storm on TV was frightening. I literally, thought that I was going to die when it hit. NO JOKE. I was scared. I went shopping on Monday the week of the storm, and I stocked up on supplies. I got batteries (those go quickly, especially AA’s), bought a cooler to store food and water, bought a lot of water (that also went very fast), and also bought a simple first aid kit. Since, this was my first, I made sure that I had a plan of attack in place should the worst happens.
On Wednesday, my eldest dog Tinkerbell began experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety. She started panting very heavily, her heart started racing and became sick to her stomach. I took her to the vet and I knew that Tink knew that a storm was a brewing. With the advisement of the vet, he told me to give both dogs a half of a tablet of Benadryl to help keep them calmed and relaxed. I did not know this at all! I would’ve started this when I lived in Wisconsin during those snowstorms and tornadoes, but you learn something new everyday. So I gave it a try and it worked. She stayed calm and slept throughout the entire storm. Fun fact: My youngest one Ariel (all white) doesn’t care for weather. We were in a tornado before in Wisconsin and I was scared. We were down in the garage because that was the safest spot in my condo and I had both dogs and myself covered up in blankets. Tink and I were deathly afraid, Ariel didn’t care. She didn’t seem to be affected by this. Her attitude was “Can we get out of the garage now?”
On Friday morning (The Beginning of Harvey), I saw the rain coming down. I will tell you that I’ve never seen rain fall down like that ever in my life. 50 inches of rain. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve seen 3 feet of snow with snowdrifts up to 8-10 feet, but not this. I was like: “Who pissed off Mother Nature?” I was working later that day and I constantly watched the weather reports on my phone and I had to get the approval from corporate to close the store so my employees and I can get home safely. We got ok to go home early, and just as I get into my car and start heading away from the Berry Center on Barker Cypress, I noticed a little something. While driving home, there was a huge F3 or F4 tornado that touched down right behind the Berry Center and I was in my car. This is not a good idea at all! In a tornado, it’s best to find shelter and protect yourself. So, I pulled over to the side of the road (not a good idea, but I love watching weather!) and saw the tornado demolish part of the Berry Center and made its way across Barker Cypress and into a subdivision where some of my co-workers lived. I was so scared that they didn’t make it home, but they did. I quickly started driving again and slowly made my way home. The 5 minute drive home turned into a 30 minute drive home. (NO JOKE!). The rain just poured down from the sky in such an intense manner and the winds were just as horrendous as well. I was afraid that my car would literally get picked up and blown away. That’s how powerful the winds were.
When I got home, I kissed the ground. I was so happy to be home. But the worst still wasn’t over. I was glued to the TV and watched all the live broadcasts and watched in horror of the damage that Harvey was doing to Houston. My cousin lives in Dickinson with her boyfriend and their place was demolished and had to be rescued. She told me that it took several hours to be rescued. Eventually, she did file with FEMA (Was denied. I don’t know why), but she had to find another place to live. My anxiety was through the roof! I had constant panic attacks especially whenever the wind blew. I looked out my window and I was afraid that the trees surrounding my subdivision would fall over. I couldn’t sleep at all. Not one blink. I kept in touch with all of my co-workers including my district manager to make sure everyone was safe. My district manager told me that all of the stores in his district throughout the Houston area, would be closed until further notice. He didn’t want any of us to leave our homes unless it was an emergency.
For an entire week, I couldn’t leave my house. Cabin fever kicked in really bad. Remember the 1980 film “The Shining”? There was a scene in that film where Jack Nicholson’s character completely loses his mind and experiences bad cabin fever. That was me. I pretty much was a prisoner in my own home and a few days after the storm hit, I had to go to the nearest grocery store for extra food.
I’ve worked in retail for 16 years and going to a grocery store when a hurricane is in action, is like shopping on Black Friday. The crowds are horrendous, there’s no where to park and everything is pretty much picked clean. I had to get what I could get and spent a few hours waiting in line to get in the store and another few hours in line at the checkout. Yeah! This was all new to me.
When I go grocery shopping, a normal trip is a 5 minute drive. In a hurricane, it was a 45 minute drive. Yikes. When I got out of my subdivision and turned onto the main road, it looked like a river. Like a dam has just burst and water covered the ground. I couldn’t see the road, period. There was no visibility. A lot of the areas in Houston are low lying areas and they will flood regularly during a simple rainstorm and my house is on a high area, but the roads are more lower to the ground. My jaw just hit the ground. I was in complete shock at surveying the damage surrounding my house and all areas affected. Before the storm hit, I laid tarp down in the attic so that if my roof leaks or gets damaged then my house would be protected. I did have some water damage to the house and had to have that fixed. But I considered myself, lucky. Others were not lucky at all. From what I saw on TV and social media, it looked like a war zone. Scary. Some of my co-workers and friends had significant damage to their homes. One of my dad’s friends’ house was severely damaged and had to rip out everything in their house. To this day, they’re still repairing the house and hopefully, will get back into their home sometime later this year. My old employer lives in Missouri City and experienced complete damage to her place. She had to gather what she could salvage and file with FEMA and look for another place to live.
Since my store was closed for an entire week because of inclement weather, I stayed home (because where else could I go) and pretty much slept and watched DVDs. I did lose power a few times and got out my trusty flashlight. You have no idea of how badly I wanted this storm to be over and try to get back to daily life. My doctor said that if I needed to talk that he would be available via the phone. I remembering telling him that I want this to be over and I can’t take it anymore. I was running on no sleep. I was shaking because every time the wind blew, it literally shook my house. It was like someone picking up your house and shaking it like you shake a dice. I was experiencing attack after attack and got out my coping techniques to help me get through each passing moment.
During the week that my store was closed, I had to check up on my store because I was the closest one to the store. I saw the damage. First, the parking lot was still buried underwater, so my parking job was probably sideways. Oh well! Outside the store was in tact and I was surprised because the tornado that touched down in the beginning of the storm must’ve changed directions and completely missed my store and the neighboring fast food restaurants. The only thing that I couldn’t locate was our outside trash can. That was MIA. It blew away. Inside of the store, there was a lot flooding and I had to throw out a lot of food and milk and other supplies such as cups and etc. Other Starbucks in my district had more significant damage such as roof damage, fires, and water damage. Again, so unreal and scary. It took me an entire week along with my staff to clean up the store and get everything repaired before opening. We even had to pass a health inspection before opening as per to state laws and company policies. When we did open, (I was so happy to get back to work!) everybody was in the store. They needed their caffeine fix. I did too! A week without coffee is brutal.
I even had a regular customer (rich & loaded) that complained to me as to why our store was closed for an entire week. I kid you not! I bluntly said: “We just experienced one of the worst hurricanes that the world has ever witnessed and you’re asking me why we were closed for a week?” I couldn’t believe he had the gull to ask me that. My entire staff and I couldn’t leave our homes at all. We were all flooded in. How do you expect us to show up for work when the road looks like an ocean? I don’t have a boat nor will I swim to work. Some of my stores in the district reopened 4-6 weeks later and some longer depending on the severity of the damage done to their business.
For most parts of Houston, it took close to 14 weeks for the waters to complete go down and evaporate. It took that long when the roads near my house to drain into the sewer. When I was able to drive not swim down the streets, I went checked out local areas with my family and friends. There were signs torn down, power lines almost touching the ground, fences that were completely destroyed, trees knocked over and all sorts of damage. All I could say was “WOW”. I was left speechless.
I cried when I saw people that to be rescued by first responders. I was in complete awe when JJ Watt started his campaign to help raise money for Harvey. That was so sweet of him to do that for Houston. The support from around the world was incredible.
Post Harvey, I was an emotional wreck. I experienced a lot of attacks, my mood was bad, and I was physically sick from the depression. I remember after the storm there was a night where we had a simple thunderstorm and I woke up in a panic. My heart started racing, I was shaking. Every time, I heard the rain coming down and hearing the thunder booms, I went nuts. I suffered from PTSD (no surprise) because of Harvey. I’ve never experienced depression like this before. It was so intense and I was so glad that I didn’t become suicidal and/or hospitalized. It took a long time (I mean, long time!) to cope with this and keep moving forward. I would not recommend a hurricane on my worst enemy at all. And I hope that I don’t experience another hurricane like that in the future, but I can’t predict weather.