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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Columns

The quiet dread of escaping Harvey


Before leaving their boarded-up home in Corpus Christi, Valdez’s mother urged her to bring prized possessions. | Mia Valdez/The Cougar

On Thursday morning, as I was revising a story in the Center for Student Media, my phone was being assaulted with calls, which would become missed calls, from my parents in Corpus Christi, Texas, telling me that I needed to get back home.

We live right by the Corpus Christi Bay; if you saw a news reporter lambasted by the wind and the rain this weekend, you saw my jogging trail. My mother, my father and I have ridden our bikes where cameramen just stood capturing Paul Goodloe measure the rising tide in the early hours of Hurricane Harvey.

Harvey was supposed to hit Corpus Christi on Friday night as a Category 3 storm. Many compared it to Hurricane Celia, which destroyed the city in 1970. As a child I grew up hearing stories about Celia. After it dissipated, my grandparents had to live in a FEMA trailer.

Celia hit Corpus as a Category 3 storm. On Friday afternoon, Harvey had been declared Category 4.

It is strange to think of my parents as survivors of catastrophe. But after Celia, they had to start their young lives over and do their part to rebuild the only city they had ever known. So, when I finally got back to our home, just two blocks off of Ocean and Shoreline Drive, where you saw so many reporters this weekend, my mother told me to look around and say goodbye to the city that I had grown up in, because it would probably never look like this again.

When I got inside the house, she said I should pack a few sentimental objects and enough clothes to last for three nights in Laredo. I pinned my Obama 2008 button to my chest, took a deep breath and headed west.

We evacuated on Thursday night with my grandparents. That was the most terrifying part. It was like we were intruding on the back roads, which would normally be traveled by far fewer passengers. Every gas station we stopped at was full of people who were literally escaping something.

I don’t think enough people know how apocalyptic gas stations which have run out of gas can look. We got a flat tire, my brother accidentally cracked our windshield. When we finally got to the Embassy Suites Laredo, things seemed so quiet compared to the urgency of the road, and that stillness.

Laredo, Texas is a weird place to be an evacuee. There was nothing particularly tragic about my fellow evacuees. We were more restless than anything. They were anxious to see if Harvey would be like Celia; they were calling relatives who had decided to stay or who had not been able to find room in other cities.

We knew that we were all comparatively safe, and everyone weathered the storm with a sort of grim maturity, knowing that they would have certain unpleasant responsibilities to look forward to once they got home.

Corpus Christi missed the direct hit that we all expected. So far, the storm has only claimed the life of one Corpus Christian, a dog, who was electrocuted by a live wire on Sunday.

On the way back home I met a man with his child. He was the most agitated evacuee I had seen all weekend. He said he was from Rockport, and that he didn’t even know why he was going back. The trailer that he lived in was flooded, and he had no city to go back to.

As of 2:30 p.m. Monday, August 28, 2017, eight people have lost their lives to Hurricane Harvey.

It is strange to think of the people I met this weekend as survivors of catastrophe. They will return to homes that have been relatively spared, or to loved ones who loved ones who stayed behind. The city where I grew up is not unrecognizable. But the city that I live in, Houston, looks nothing like I thought it would.

As Houston and its surrounding areas are seeing some of the worst flooding in its history, I have to think about how lucky I am to have met these people who will become survivors of catastrophe.

Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing junior from Corpus Christi. She can be reached at [email protected]

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