After The Storm: The Faces of Hurricane Harvey by Tom Darin Liskey

Nearly a year ago to the date, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast. Parts of the Lone Star State’s economically important coastal plain are still trying to rebuild from the storm. Put bluntly, Harvey lashed both the rich and poor. Harvey was an equal opportunity disaster. The storm whipsawed African Americans, Anglo-Texans, Asians, Latinos, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus—anyone in its path. But what struck me the most, even during the worst of the storm, was how people of faith rushed to the frontlines even as federal and state agencies scrambled to implement contingency and relief plans.

Without a doubt, documenting the storm and aftermath allowed me to see how different races and religions could come together in the relief effort.

It was a bright and beautiful moment in this politically divided nation. And it was the church—that amorphous and hard-to-define corporate body—which stepped in to act as the balm in the lives of many hurting people.

This is where I get preachy: we need to remember the lessons from this storm.

Harvey scoured the Southeast Texas landscape, and hopefully, it scrubbed the grime of prejudice and conceit from our own eyes. The seeds of compassion and mercy were planted where the rivers burst their bank. I hope we have learned how to nurture them.

By any stretch of the imagination, Harvey wasn’t your average storm. For nearly a week after Harvey made landfall, the storm dumped trillions of gallons of rain over water-logged Texas. Normally slow flowing, lazy creeks swelled with the storm surge. Stressed rivers flooded their banks, sweeping across low lying areas of Southeast Texas. Roofs collapsed under the constant rain. Mobil homes buckled in the floodwaters.

Post-card perfect neighborhoods, and the seemingly endless miles of freshly poured concrete and asphalt—critical arteries for Houston’s growing population—impeded Harvey’s runoff. Instead of running to the area’s bayous and creeks, floodwaters steamrolled over homes and businesses. The storm left 75 fatalities in Texas, and thousands of people were more displaced.

To be sure, an estimated 34,000 people sought safety in shelters set up in convention centers, schools, and churches. The storm, now characterized as the biggest ever in US history, may have dented the US’s $18.6 trillion economy by nearly 1%. By some accounts, Harvey left Texas (and Louisiana) behind a $190 billion bill in damages. Harvey hit paycheck-to-paycheck—and sick—Americans the worst.

“Among those with a new or worsened health condition, six in ten say they have skipped or postponed needed medical or dental care, cut back on prescriptions, or had problems getting mental health care since the storm,” the study found. “The financial situations of most people affected by Harvey are tenuous. About half of affected residents say they have no savings whatsoever, and another quarter say that if they lost their job or other source of income, their savings would be exhausted in less than 6 months.”

People served where they could…

  • In Houston’s historic African American 4th & 5th wards, a hair dresser named Dejuana stood on her feet for hours in a nightclub-turned-shelter doing the hair of evacuees because she wanted them to feel “pretty despite what’s going on.”
  • In one shelter: a throat cancer survivor, whose voice was scarred and raspy when she spoke, comforted a confused and addled little boy—who had been evacuated with his family in the storm—by wordlessly playing pattycake with him. The sobbing child brightened with a smile because of this. Touch, in that instance, mattered more than words.
  • In rural Texas, cowboys and bull riders cooked up the finest smoked brisket I’ve ever seen to feed the hungry. Skin color did not matter.
  • Country preachers rode the backroads to tell the undocumented immigrants living there—many of whom avoided shelters and relief centers because of a rumor that ICE would nab them—that there was food and clothing for them at their church-shelters.
  • Men like Patrick delivered potatoes to a rough Houston neighborhood so that others could eat.
  • Ex-military volunteers, some of whom stood with the anti-DAPL protesters in South Dakota earlier in 2017, drove into Texas with trucks and trailers packed tight with water, food, diapers, baby formula, and simple good will.

These are also the stories I don’t want to forget….