Junior Bekah Osbon, who lives in Baytown just east of Houston, was lucky enough to not be working in Austin during the peak of Hurricane Harvey. She had no idea that the storm would turn into the historic hurricane it became.
“We get tropical storms all the time in the summer and that’s what this was until the day before when it picked up speed. By noon the next day, they realized it would be a Category Four hurricane at landfall. No one had time, really, to do anything about it. Everyone was just so unsure. No one knew if they should leave or if they even could anymore,” Osbon said.
Osbon’s home was not damaged too badly, but many others she knows were not so lucky.
“My aunt has farmland and her animals were all lost underwater. My neighbor lost all of his cattle as well,” Osbon said.
Though it quickly degenerated back into a tropical storm after making impact, the storm stalled over the Houston area and dumped up to 50 inches of rain in certain areas.
Harvey is now known to be the wettest tropical hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States. Many Knox students who live in the Houston area had to withstand the historic storm with their families.
Knox students from Houston
Some from Houston were luckier than others, to which senior Nadine Burroughs and junior Carmen Garcia can attest. Neither student’s home suffered serious damage or flooding due to the storm, which seemed to skip over their neighborhoods.
Burroughs, who is student teaching in Galesburg this term, was not home when the storm hit Houston. She has been in Galesburg preparing for the year since early August, but was in contact with her loved ones before and after the storm.
Spending the term studying abroad in Jordan, Garcia left two days before the storm hit and has confirmed that her entire family in the area is safe.
Junior Jake Brown, who lives just over 20 miles from Houston in Sugar Land, also reported that his house had sustained minimal damage.
“We spent the whole time upstairs and we moved all of our important possessions upstairs. Fortunately, we were able to stay in our house the whole time and had enough food and water to be safe,” Brown said.
However, he, too, knows many people who were not as fortunate.
“Someone my mom works with had their entire first floor flood with the furniture floating everywhere. Now they are just going to rebuild or move,” Brown said. “My friend who lives in Baytown had both of his cars totalled and his grandparents house seriously flooded.”
Sophomore Maddie Byrne’s house just happened to be located in the perfect spot, allowing them to escape the flooding many around them experienced.
“We live right next to a huge golf course and that just flooded all the way up. I think that’s why our house didn’t flood, because all the water just filled the golf course. We basically had water-front property for a couple weeks because of that,” Byrne said.
Just a neighborhood over, she said, the flooding levels were so high that cars were almost fully submerged in water.
Byrne, who came to school early for preseason workouts with the volleyball team, struggled to be at school while she knew everyone was going through this difficult time.
“It was definitely hard to be here at Knox while this was all going on back home. I felt like I couldn’t say or do anything to help, but I was just looking on social media for updates all the time. I saw that several of my friends had to be rescued out of their houses by helicopter, that was just on somebody’s story,” Byrne said.
Damage and evacuation
As a resident of Baytown, Osbon heard a lot on the news about the damage sustained by the ExxonMobil refinery and chemical plant. It quickly became quite apparent to her, however, that ExxonMobil was not releasing very much information to the public.
“I heard more from the news outlets about it than my family did from Exxon itself. As far as I know, we still don’t know what the extent of the damage is. The refinery sunk into the ground because it rained so much,” Osbon said.
The Baytown ExxonMobil refinery was not the only plant severely damaged by the flooding.
“There was a chemical plant nearby in Crosby, Texas that was damaged. They had to evacuate the whole area because the air was not breathable and it could explode,” Osbon said.
This Crosby plant, located about 25 miles northeast of Houston, exploded twice, sending a black plume of smoke and chemicals into the air. Many have wondered why there were not mandatory evacuation orders for the whole Houston area before the storm hit.
Brown thinks that this is because of Houston’s recent history with hurricanes.
“The last big [hurricane] to hit Houston was Rita right after Katrina. During Rita, over 100 people died trying to evacuate. They got stuck on the roads and some died from heat stroke. I think that’s still on people’s minds and so they decide against evacuation,” Brown said.
Byrne recalls the evacuation during Rita very similarly to Brown.
“I remember being in the car for 17 hours on the way to Dallas, which should usually be a four or five hour drive,” Byrne said.
Brown remembers the days leading up to Harvey’s impact. “Nobody knew it was going to be this bad. When the storm came it seemed like it was business as usual, but the rain just kept coming. I was getting flash flood warnings every 30 minutes on my phone,” he said.
In the days after the storm passed, significant portions of Houston were still underwater, but even the areas that had dried up struggled to return to normalcy.
As the waters receded, people who had left their homes in an attempt to escape the storm returned to determine what was left and worth saving.
“I know some people have been kayaking to and from their homes to see what else they can salvage from the flooding,” Brown said.
Most schools in the Houston area had only just kicked off their first few days of school when the storm intensified and made landfall in Texas. Brown’s mother works at a local school that struggled to figure out how to move forward with the school year in the wake of the storm.
“They originally just canceled for the rest of that week, but when they saw how extensive the damage was, they canceled a couple more weeks. They went back to school around the time we started here, so they missed two or three weeks,” Brown said.
Brown, who returned to Knox early to be an orientation leader, had planned to drive his car up to school. While he was still able to do so just days after the storm had passed, he still had to figure out how to drive through Houston.
“I was really just spending a lot of time trying to figure out which streets were flooded and where I could pass on my way through Houston,” Brown said. “I went to high school in Houston. I drove by my school and the underpass next to it, which has to be about 30 feet high, was just filled with water. One of my teachers actually posted a picture of it the other day and it was still filled weeks later.”
Byrne has yet to return home since Hurricane Harvey hit near her home and does not really know what to expect.
“I’m honestly a little worried to go home because everything I have known since I was in second grade was underwater for so long. We kind of have to figure it all out again as a community,” Byrne said.
While Brown is extremely grateful for the national outpouring of support and donations, including from many Houston-based athletes, he agrees with Byrne that this will really have to be solved within the community.
“It’s not the national efforts that will rebuild Houston; it’s Houston that’s going to rebuild Houston,” Brown said.