Handling the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

At its height, Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane, packing winds of more than 100 miles per hour. But the real devastation from Harvey has been from torrential rains and flooding that inundated the Gulf Coast, including Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city.

Nonprofit agencies, along with first responders and workers from municipal and utilities have been on the ground restoring electricity and providing emergency shelter and provisions of food, water and personal care items since shortly after the storm made landfall. On the other hand, the process of restoring services such as plumbing, indoor heating and cooling and internet are just ramping up. The process promises to be lengthy and challenging, according to David Lewis, founder of Mission Air Conditioning in Houston.

“This is only the beginning. The real need will begin when people move back into their homes. As a service provider, we don’t know the totality of the need,” Lewis said.

Impassible Roads

Lewis was personally relieved when the worst of the storm had passed. He had been worried that his wife, who was due to deliver any day, would give birth during the height of the storm, when it would have been difficult or impossible to get her to the hospital. Fortunately, he and his wife didn’t have to face that particular challenge.

Lewis was also wary about what he would find when he arrived at his office on Wednesday August 30. Impassible roads to and from his office had made it impossible for Lewis and his crew to service his customers in the immediate aftermath of the storm. He was thankful to find that his office had not suffered serious damage.

“I didn’t know if the office would be flooded or if we would have power or if the internet would be working. Our customers have been very patient,” Lewis said.

Sam Kelly, president of New Balance AC in Houston, was also grateful that his home, along with the homes of his 12 employees and the company’s office were spared from flood damage. Nonetheless, he and his crew were also prevented from reaching their customers or to assist in cleanup efforts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“Our homes and our office were all high and dry. But we were all trapped in our homes because of street flooding,” Kelly said.

Lending a Helping Hand

Now that floodwaters have begun to recede in and around Houston, both Kelly and Lewis have both witnessed and participated in providing assistance to others in need, along with making service calls for their customers.

Lewis described a service call for a residential customer whose system had just been installed a month ago but had been damaged by flood waters. The scene that greeted him when he arrived at the job site left him impressed and deeply moved.

“It was remarkable. They had maybe 15 or 20 friends helping, carrying out sheet rock and possessions, and one or two trucks, “Lewis said.

Recently, Kelly observed a snapping turtle that had apparently been washed up onto the road. He got out of his vehicle, put on his gloves and lifted the turtle out of harm’s way. On another occasion, Kelly was driving his four wheel drive when he saw another motorist who was stuck on the side of the road. He attempted to pull the driver’s car out, but also became stuck.

“Another driver tried to pull me out, and got stuck. Finally, a monster truck drove by and pulled everybody out,” Kelly said.

Addressing the Backlog

Once they were able to reach their offices, both Kelly and Lewis faced a barrage of calls from customers, which they have just been able to begin to address.

“We got calls all weekend. We’re still dealing with the backlog. Some customers still have standing water, so we can’t do anything for them until the water recedes. But they’re calling now anyway just to get on the list,” Kelly said.

Photo courtesy of Mission Air in Houston, TX.

”We’ve already had calls for 20 or 30 houses today, and it’s just after 8 a.m.,” Lewis said.

At one customer’s home, Lewis’s crew had installed the outdoor compressor unit on a platform three feet off the ground three years ago to reduce the risk of flooding. Nonetheless, flooding had overrun the platform and reached halfway up the unit before the waters receded. The control boards had shorted out, but the unit could still be repaired.

A Long-Term Commitment

For Kelly and his crew, lending a helping hand is standard operating procedure. He is committed to doing whatever is possible to aid Houston in its recovery

“Our guys are doing things like bringing kittens and dogs home all the time. We’re mobile and always ready to help,” Kelly said.

Lewis was optimistic about the willingness of Houston’s residents to reach out to one another to aid in dealing with the disaster.

“There is devastation but also a lot of hope. The strength of the city is pretty incredible,” Lewis said.

Audrey Henderson

Audrey Henderson

Audrey Henderson is a Chicago-based independent writing and research consultant specializing in sustainability, affordable housing, popular culture and the arts, travel, mental health issues, interpersonal relationships and business. Her written work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, Sustainable Cities Collective, Scripps Natoinal Digital, JustMeans and tcrBLOG, the online outlet for The Chicago Reporter.
Audrey Henderson

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