Harvey – The Good, The Bad, And the Helpless

Harvey – The Good, The Bad, And the Helpless

By now, the storm is just a memory but we’ve all seen accounts from those devastated by Hurricane Harvey. So many people STAYED in harms way. Why didn’t they evacuate? Why were so many people unprepared? They live in Hurricane Country… They live in a flood prone area… why were so many of them, seemingly caught off guard? After the following email, from a fan, I decided to unpack this convoluted situation and mass evacuations in general.  

The email:

 You know you are my go to guy for keeping me on the right path so to speak!  I am having serious angst over these people in Houston!  It’s not like I have family down there.  I do but they are in Austin and are faring well.  Anyhow…..  My son says he cannot understand my faith in people.
I have many thoughts about this stuff.  
1)  How are so many so unprepared?  They live in a FLOOD ZONE in a HURRICANE prone area!  WTH???

2)  I was watching Good Morning America this morning.  Their doctor was on discussing the medical implications of the hurricane/tropical storm/rain/flooding.  I have read the Coming Home series and One Second After series.  The first folks to go are going to be the elderly and chronically ill.  She was talking about how dire the situation is going to be for those needing dialysis, those who have heart disease, those on oxygen, diabetics on insulin, etc…  I don’t understand.  These people had 3-4 days to evacuate.  Why did they stay?  (Maybe these are rhetorical questions, but these are my thoughts)  You know even sometimes with a tropical storm you have power outages.  So why not go further inland where you will have power at least?

3) Knowing the water is rising and the rain is still coming down, why wouldn’t you at least get all of your important papers together? Pack a backpack with clothes, water, crackers, SOMETHING??!! Even a trash bag for God’s sake??!! And why would you go to SLEEP??? You go to sleep KNOWING the water was rising??? I see gene pool cleansing at its purest sense. SOMEONE should have stayed up to keep watch. I don’t understand.

4)  Did these people just get complacent because it had been so long since they had a major hurricane hit?  I wish someone would interview these people and see what their reasons were.
Sometimes I feel like I put too much thought into the various scenarios.  Then I see this crap on tv and think, No.  I haven’t put ENOUGH thought into it!  I live in a hurricane prone area.  I will just need to go to the grocery store for some bread if something happened today.  And I might get frozen-to-be-baked bread!  I have a generator and know how to use it!  😀  The freezers will be good to go still.  And I have plenty of propane for the Coleman stove and plenty for the grill.  And charcoal for when the propane runs out.  And food.  I got food!  COFFEE!  GOT COFFEE!  LOL!  The important stuff!
I think back to when I wrote you after the ice storm a few years ago.  I reread the article you posted about my experience.  And feel I have come so far!  I remember you saying that I should USE my gear before hand, so when an emergency happens, I will REALLY BE READY!  With that being said, I contacted a friend in Baytown, TX.  She has had a LOT of rain.  Their street just became passable today.  She has been sheltered in place at home since Thursday.  She told me today she recently started gathering hurricane supplies.  She received a propane camp stove off QVC and has a hurricane lamp and oil, food for 7-10 days.  And she has Celiac’s so has a special diet.  I asked her if she has set up her stove yet.  Nope.  I suggested she do that NOW while she still has power and doesn’t NEED it.  It will make her feel empowered and more confident she can do this.  I even gave her step by step instructions on how to set it up.  She lives alone and is in her late 60’s.  I think it is GREAT she gathered supplies but I really tried to impress upon her the importance of knowing how to use the stove.  She was tired and is going to take a nap.  OK.  hope you still have power when you get up!  Is that nasty?  

So I know I have given you a lot of fodder here.  And I am sure you have lots of fans from Texas and maybe they can answer these questions.  Maybe the media just isn’t showing the prepared folks!  They have to make it look SO HORRIBLE.  <<sigh>>  
Thanks for your time, my friend.  Praying for the folks in Texas.



I do have family and friends IN Houston. My publisher, Melanie, is near there as well. Thank goodness, they are all ok. 
There is a lot to digest with your questions. For the most part, we can break it down into 3 or 4 categories but even that will only cover MOST of the people affected. 

Here we go… 

Problem #1

The leadership of Houston should have put out an evacuation order for the coastal areas and the lowest elevation neighborhoods. An evacuation warning should have been issued for those near dams and levees. All of Houston did not need to be evacuated…heck, not even half of it needed to evacuate. I really would have thought that after their botched, last minute, evacuation during Hurricane Rita they would have devised a better plan and response than this. In the end, it just made them gun-shy about issuing evacuation orders. They did issue some but I feel they held back for so long that it was too late to go back and issue warnings as the flooding began and many streets and freeways were already impassible. There IS a way to do orderly evacuations. By zip code or by neighborhood, or even on a street by street basis. There was time to plan ALL of this in the 12 years since Rita and Katrina. The additional problem with evacuation plans, for possibly millions, is that humans in danger…don’t listen well. We panic. We make rash decisions. We ignore the best intentions of leaders because, “my situation is different”. All these factors make the organization, of safe and orderly evacuation, more difficult.

It’s not nearly as bad as Katrina was handled but they did put people in harms way. The decisions they made were in hopes of avoiding putting MORE people in danger by having them trapped on the road for days or possibly weeks. I may not agree with how they handled it but I do understand it. Hopefully, this storm will help them make better plans for the future. 


Problem #2

There are, basically, 4 types of victims. Those people who don’t evacuate for various reasons. Let’s explore them. 

Class 1 – Bad things don’t happen to me

The normalcy bias, or normality bias, is a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects, because it causes people to have a bias to believe that things will always function the way things normally function.

They just don’t see the danger around them until it’s too late. Some never “get it”. 

Class  2 – Apathy

People are so used to the news blowing EVERYTHING out of proportion. People have become numb to weather threats. The media is mostly to blame. Every other storm is a “killer” this or a “mega” that… people start to ignore the boy who cried wolf… 


Many of these people have been through milder or on the outskirts of previous hurricanes or tropical storms. It is hard to convince someone to leave when they’ve “lived through one” before. 

The last flooding Houston experienced, a year ago, was 11 inches of rain in 10 hours and 15 inches in 24 hours… this was 50 inches or more. Another part of the problem is that for those just outside of previously flooded areas, they assume they’ll be fine because it flooded “there” not “right here”.  

The threat of complacency is real after so many false alarms. 
Previously, people in Mississippi compared every hurricane to Camille. If their house survived Camille, they’d be fine. The problem is, every storm is different. 

The storm surge for Camille was 23 feet. Katrina’s storm surge was 28 feet. No one considered that a storm could be worse than Camille. That assumption killed a lot of people and left many others trapped in their attics or on their roofs.  


Class 3 – Fear and the unknown 

These are the ones who might be hoping for the best and may have even made a few preparations but don’t have the funds or don’t have the ability to get out of harms way. They either think they have a better chance of saving what little they have by staying home or are more worried about looters than the storm. 
Many think that going to a shelter isn’t safe (sometimes they are right…thieves and criminals use shelters, too).  
An excerpt from a story about The Superdome during Katrina –


Inside the Superdome, things were descending further into hell. The air smelled toxic. People had broken up into factions by race, separating into small groups throughout the building that the National Guard struggled to control. A few of these groups wandered the concourse, stealing food and attacking anyone who stood up to them. The tiny jail cell down in the bowels of the Dome, which they kept for game-day security, was filling up. A man had been caught sexually assaulting a young girl. Reports of other rapes were widespread. Three people died in the Superdome; one apparently jumped off a 50-foot high walkway.” 


Hotels and motels are too expensive. Travel is too expensive. The time missed from work is too expensive. Then there’s the possibility of losing their job. If you evacuate, it can take days, weeks, or even months (years in some cases) to get back home. If there’s a home to get back to. 


“They are the more than 1,000 New York City residents whose homes are still uninhabitable, boarded up, torn down or undergoing some form of reconstruction.”

So many stories from Katrina and Hurricane Sandy from families who didn’t get settled into their home or a different home until months, or more, after the storm had drifted off. For some folks in tight financial situations, they don’t evacuate because they don’t know anyone they can stay with that is out of harms way. Many know that if they don’t leave early enough, travel isn’t safe and traffic is backed up for ages. The horrors of Katrina (and as you’ll read later, the immediate following of Hurricane Rita) probably kept a lot of people home. 
Still more people have no transportation out of the area or don’t have anyone they can stay with. Then there’s those who can’t take their pets or animals and WON’T leave without them. They can’t bear the thought of leaving them behind. For many, this is an overpowering fear. 

Class 4 – Nowhere to run

Hurricanes are incredibly unpredictable monsters. They can twist and turn their way towards their target. They can gain or lose strength as they get closer. They can even double back on their track or stall out over an area and really douse the people in its path. This last description is what happened with Harvey. 
Hurricane Charley, in 2004, was pointed right at Tampa. Most residents evacuated towards Orlando in the days running up to the projected landfall. Just before Charley made land fall, literally in less than three hours, it jumped from a Category 3 storm to a Category 4. 

Worse yet was that it changed course right over Orlando. All of those evacuees had not only left their safety of their homes but travelled, directly, into the path of the storm. 


For the inhabitants of Houston and their leadership, Harvey was an odd catch 22…
Rewind to September 22, 2005. Hurricane Rita was expected to be a Category 5 when it made landfall. With the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, just three weeks prior, fresh on their minds Houston ordered an evacuation. The chaotic flight from the city killed almost as many people as the hurricane did! 

Over 100 people lost their lives fleeing the hurricane that was closing in behind them. A bus load of the elderly perished as their idling bus, mired in the gridlock, erupted into flames. Hurricane Rita was the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Moving west-northwest, it rapidly intensified to reach peak winds of 180 mph (285 km/h), achieving Category 5 status on September 21st. However, as Rita approached land through September 24th, it weakened to a Category 3 and began to curve to the northwest, making landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas and Holly Beach, Louisiana… Rapidly weakening over land, Rita degenerated into a large low-pressure area over the lower Mississippi Valley


 All of this, from a storm that fizzled out shortly after it made landfall. 
What was the leadership of Houston supposed to do as Harvey churned in the gulf, eyeing the coast, awaiting the final chosen target. They were caught between the storm and the horrors of the last evacuation attempt. It wasn’t just the leadership that was trapped between decisions. The residents, many of whom had been through the man made catastrophe of Rita, debated the merits of staying or fleeing. 

Problem #3

The hurricane stalled out because it was trapped between two high pressure systems, one  in the southeast and another in the southwest. It seemed to spend many hours being pushed back and forth. That wasn’t clear at first and people who made it through the brunt of the storm got trapped my the massive rainfall and prolonged storm surge. The combination of the two made this storm much more devastating than the initial hurricane would have been on its own. To compound the issue, several levees and the dam at Houston Reservoir had overflowed. 

Brazoria County authorities posted a message on Twitter warning that the levee at Columbia Lakes south of Houston had been breached and telling people to “GET OUT NOW!!!” 

Suddenly, people who had survived the horrors of Harvey had a fresh new threat barreling down on them. In many cases there were already flooded roads to traverse to get to safety. 

In conclusion, there are too many reasons to count for why people don’t get out of harms way. It’s a decision each person needs to make on their own. History, public leaders, and personal experience should help guide you towards making an informed decision for yourself. Research previous storms. Look at your relative elevation compared to the areas around a you. Determine the flow of runoff, rivers, and streams. If a nearby levee or dam should break, is it possible that your home is in the path of that water? Are you in a low lying coastal region that may be subject to flooding from the storm surge of the storm? There are many factors to consider and you need to, carefully, consider them BEFORE the storm is at your door. 
Lastly, I cannot express how important USING your gear BEFORE an emergency can help save your life. It’s very easy to do simple things incorrectly when in a disaster. The more you NEED it, the harder it is to do correctly under stress. 


…And Betty,

Have your friend look at Legacy Foods. They make several Gluten Free meals. Wise and NuManna also have gluten free options. 


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