August 28, 2017—The greater Houston Jewish community is still reeling from the most devastating floods in Texas history. As of this issue’s printing, Hurricane Harvey has slowed from a category four huricane to a tropical storm; is predicted to dump up to 50 inches of torrential rain in the most hard-hit areas, when all is said and done; and continues to pummel America’s fourth largest city and surrounding areas, leaving five dead, thousands of residents stranded, many without drinking water or communications. Approximately 220,000 Houstonians are without power.
Harvey is the third storm in just over two years to cause flooding of this intensity in the mostly flat, industrial city. Flash flood warnings went into effect on Thursday afternoon, with projections of bayous and reservoirs filling and overflowing. However, instead of evacuating 6.5 million residents, local officials only evacuated those living in low-lying coastal areas and instructed everyone else to stay indoors. By Sunday night, portions of every freeway in Houston were underwater.
Although thousands of residents called for emergency aid, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner defended his decision not to order a city-wide evacuation. Prior to the storm’s arrival, forecasters did not know precisely where the disaster was headed; therefore, they did not know where to send evacuees. In addition, logistically, the mayor said he did not want a repeat of the chaos and confusion that transpired the last time the city was evacuated—ahead of Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Schools, most of which had begun the new school year only a few days prior, were closed for the week, businesses were shuttered, and commercial flights were canceled.
“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before. Catastrophic flooding is now underway and expected to continue for days,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter.
The Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) has deployed 1,800 personnel to Texas and 3,000 State and National Guard members have been activated. Shelters across the city have opened their doors and will be hosting residents for as long as needed.
How They Reached Safety
Barbara Stein Eisenbaum was rescued from her home, together with her husband, in the Willow Meadows neighborhood, on Sunday. She and other refugees have been holed up in a shelter without electricity or beds, and they have run out of food.
“Someone in our neighborhood had a boat so he rescued us,” Eisenbaum said. “I’m sitting here in shock. It’s just so surreal. It’s a nightmare. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Sarabeth was looking out the second-story window of her parents’ home when she saw a man with eight people in tow knocking on a neighbor’s door—and waved for him to come over. He was a gentleman from Saudi Arabia whose mother-in-law, also with him, was receiving medical treatment in town. Sarabeth’s mother, Dr. Ruth Katz, hesitated for a moment, but then welcomed the family into their home. The next day, Ruth and her husband Arik Sharon, who are in their 70s, along with their daughter and the family staying with them, received emergency evacuation.