Preparedness & Recovery

They Were Ordered Not to Evacuate. Now Many Families in Houston Find Themselves Trapped in Their Homes

Many residents turned to social media with desperate calls for help, while the Houston Police Department called on civilians with boats to help with rescues.

by Ann M. Simmons and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times / August 29, 2017

(TNS) — Heeding orders not to evacuate but instead to shelter in place, hundreds of Houston residents found themselves trapped in their homes Monday as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rose around them.

“We have no power, no water. We’re flooded in. We need help,” said Dana Godfrey, 46, who was stranded with her 24-year-old son in an apartment complex surrounded by water in the Lake Houston neighborhood. “They never told us to evacuate. It’s never flooded over here.”

Godfrey said she was terrified over reports that robbers were casing homes in flooded areas. Her calls to overwhelmed emergency services had failed to yield any response by Monday evening. Across the city, residents were reporting 911 calls that went unanswered, or being put on long holds, then told that emergency personnel could not immediately be dispatched.

“I tried the National Guard, 911 emergency, the Red Cross and everybody just kept giving me another number, saying, ‘Call this number, call that number,’” said Carla Porter-Joseph, who was trying to get help for her daughter-in-law Tayosha Davis, who was trapped with her 5-year-old son in a second-floor Lake Houston apartment.

Panic began to set in as Davis watched the water outside begin to creep up to the first floor.

“The bottom level was already under water,” her mother-in-law said.

On Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner defended his decision not to order evacuations of the city — known to be vulnerable to flooding — before it was slammed with torrential rain from Hurricane Harvey.

“You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road,” Turner said at a new conference. “If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.”

But many residents stranded in the city said they felt they were living a nightmare. By Monday afternoon, first responders received more than 6,000 calls for rescues.

Ava Williams was desperate to get help for relatives who she said were facing rising floodwaters in the new Pine Trails subdivision of Houston, among them her three grandchildren and great-grandchildren between the ages of 10 months and 12 years.

Williams said she called the sheriff’s department and was told to call the National Guard. The National Guard told her to call the sheriff. She tried the fire department and the Coast Guard.

“I’m just trying everyone, trying to get some help for them,” Williams said, the desperation palpable in her voice.

In the Cypress Forest Estates neighborhood in northern Harris County, people were calling for help from inside their homes as water from a nearby creek rose up to the eaves, the Associated Press reported.

Sheriff Robert Chody of Williamson County tweeted that the loss his deputies were seeing while assisting with rescue efforts in Houston was “indescribable.” He posted a picture of tents on the roof of a house surrounded by water.

Many residents turned to social media with desperate calls for help, while the Houston Police Department called on civilians with boats to help with rescues.

That’s how Davis, Porter-Joseph’s daughter-in-law finally got help. Her mother-in-law posted an urgent plea on social media.

“HELP. HELP. HELP,” the post read, and she provided the address. “Anyone have BOAT PLEASE HELP. LOTS (O)F PEOPLE WAITING WATER RISING QUICK. THESE PEOPLE ARE ON THE LAKE. HELP HELP HELP.”

Help finally arrived at 2.30 p.m. on Monday. Volunteers showed up at the apartment building in a private boat and took Davis and her son to a nearby bridge.

Some residents called television stations, hoping it would prompt a faster rescue.

Penny and Erik Sather heeded orders not to evacuate their home in a southeastern neighborhood of Houston, in a subdivision next to a creek.

“We pretty much figured out that we were trapped starting on Saturday night,” said Penny Sather. “The worst of the rain was Saturday night, and we realized we were not going to be able to get out.”

Sather said the family, including her 6-year-daughter Molly and four cats, got a slight reprieve from the rain on Monday afternoon, but then it again began to pour. The backyard was flooded and more than a foot of water was in the street but had not reached the porch.

“We are extremely lucky,” Sather said. “We are high enough above water level that we do not have water in our house. There are so many people that are down the creek from us that are flooded.” The family had stocked up on food and water and their electrical power remained on, but Sather said she still was feeling anxious.

Worry also set in for Javier Perez, who had decided that his family of six should stay put in their mobile home in Katy.

“We have water, food,” said Perez, a landscaper who migrated from Zacatecas, Mexico. He stood in his living room as rain continued to batter the trailer. “Maybe other families need help more than us,” he said.

His 15-year-old daughter, Fatima Perez, wanted to leave. When rescuers knocked on the trailer door late Monday, the teenager was ready to go. But her father could not be persuaded.

“I will say yes if water comes in,” he said.

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©2017 Los Angeles Times

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