Hurricane Harvey: My story

In 2017 I was unfortunate enough to be in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit on my 27th birthday. I knew it was coming and yet nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed that day.

When I look back and write this I feel like it’s all very over dramatic but actually what I felt that day was genuine fear and sadness. I am one of the very lucky ones that didn’t lose anything and have only a small mental scar from the experience but there are people that literally lost everything in what was titled the ‘costliest tropical cyclone on record’.

It is nearly a whole year since the disaster and actually even just writing this makes me feel emotionally stressed. At least 107 people died in the storm and the devastation it caused to thousands of people was terrible. People are still trying to rebuild their lives even now. When I look at the photographs I took that day it makes me shudder.

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I am very lucky to live in England where despite us complaining about the weather every single day, we literally know nothing about how bad weather can really be. I am unlucky enough to have been caught up in three hurricanes, major lightning storms, two minor earthquakes and caught a glimpse of a tornado but I would rather not have witnessed any of these things! I hope to never wake up to warnings like these ever again.

I have never talked about my experience openly on my blog or online elsewhere and I actually wouldn’t like to try relive it to tell the tale. However, when I was over there I was approached by The Guardian and I have the write up I wrote as soon as we were safe again. Today is the first time i’ve read it since writing it. So here is my story:

After 3 flights from Leeds to London, London to Dallas, Dallas to Houston and being stuck in a thunderstorm on the plane unable to leave the aircraft we were finally released in to Houston.

We attempted to leave the airport twice. The first time was around midnight when we first arrived at the airport. The storm had just began and nobody knew how flooded it was outside so taxis were still running. There was limited cabs and many people trying to leave the airport so they grouped people together based on their location. We got grouped with 3 separate people from Houston who were trying to get to relatives in midtown and we were trying to get to our hotel in downtown. The rain was awful and it was dark so we could barely see where we were going. It was awful. The roads weren’t flooded yet until we reached the end of a highway and saw cars floating in water. The taxi man wanted to try go through but we all said no.

We tried calling local hotels and all were full so eventually we ended up back at the airport around 3am. There was only 3 of us at this point as 2 had got out along the way and decided to sleep in lobby’s of hotels. By the time we got back to the airport the taxi fare was $90 and the taxi man wanted us to pay that per person as we were all travelling separately! He would have made nearly $500 for one ride.

Absolutely outstanding that the taxi man was trying to make money off desperate individuals! There were moments on the journey that the driver was going to attempt to drive further in to the darkness where we couldn’t see how deep the water was. I have never felt so afraid in my life especially when drowning is one of my biggest fears! A few of us screamed out to him to turn back and eventually we did.fb_img_15339789608965588999996933148413.jpg

That night we headed to The Marriott hotel adjacent to the airport. We had nowhere to go and they told us there were no rooms available. A lady took pity on us and gave us a refugee room to sleep in. After a few hours there were a lot of people in there that appeared to be on their own with nowhere to stay also. The room was just a meeting room so we found a sofa and nestled under our towels with our belongings close by.

The next day we managed to catch an Uber with Morgan who we had met in the previous taxi. 6am we left and we tried every exit possible to get to downtown. All were blocked so we headed to a place called Sugarland (around 40 miles away) in hope we could get back to downtown through a different exit. The guy we were with got out of the taxi here safely to meet his girlfriend at her house. Her family welcomed us in and let us dry off, use the bathroom and they even gave us fruit for the journey back. They said we should stay in Sugarland as it’s safer but we knew deep down that if we did that we would end up stranded there and find it even harder to continue our journey.

So we continued and it was then just us two and Jose the driver. We tried every possible route and at one point drove into water that was too deep by accident. It was a scary moment but luckily we managed to reverse out of it. I’m sure you can imagine how I was feeling at that point.

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We headed back to the airport via a gas station where we gave Jose cash to fill up in order for him to get home afterwards. He lived close by to the airport luckily. We were back at the airport around 12pm. Jose was great company and helped us as much as he could, we were his only passengers that day. He was so happy to have spent the morning with us that he wanted selfies with us and we even spoke to his daughters on the phone. They were scared because a tornado was heading for their home. We now have his contact details so he can visit us when he comes to England. At the gas station he allowed us time to stock up on snacks and the picture of me eating is the only food I ate that day.

When we arrived back at the airport and headed to the Marriott we were refused entry because the hotel was now open to guests only. We were unable to book a room as all was full and not allowed entry to the restaurant and bar. It was truly horrific seeing everyone be kicked out and refused the ability to get any food. We wandered the airport aimlessly for hours hoping that on an off chance we might be able to catch a flight out of there. Everything was closed. There were people sleeping on the floor, people crying, people distressed. I had a breakdown because there was nowhere to eat, nowhere to go and no options, it was really upsetting. The houses flooded and abandoned cars I’d seen for the hours we’d been on the roads was playing on my mind and I felt completely trapped. Every flight was cancelled and the airport was shut down completely. We were stuck on the side of the airport for exiting and so there was no food merchants. I was contemplating how long the snacks in my suitcase could last me for.

We made friends with other people stranded and heard their stories of where they were from and where they were going. It was then that people started coming together and coming up with crazy ideas that might get us out of there. One crazy idea that might actually work – As there was so many stranded crew and pilots from previous flights in the airport they decided to gear up a plane and create a flight that everybody could get on. Volunteer crew from all airlines banded together to create what can only be described as a SUPER CREW to create a one way flight to Chicago. The central hub for getting us all back to wherever we needed to be. There was minimal security checks, no assigned seats, no major check in process. We were all just so desperate to escape the danger zone that we would have flown anywhere at that point on anything! Everybody was so relieved the mood completely shifted. Some of our new friends even bought us food as they had received so many compensation vouchers that they couldn’t spend it all themselves. I was so excited by the prospect of just eating anything at all at that point!

Since heading to Chicago we have  stayed in an airport hotel and now luckily have managed to have our return flight changed for free by British Airways and will fly home on Saturday from Chicago to Heathrow. We’re now staying in China Town and have decided to spend our week in Chicago so we can at least get a holiday and relax after the trauma! Of course it is all at our own expense though, whilst our flights have been free and we are thankful for that we have spent a lot on taxis and hotels as a result of the hurricane but it could have been much worse so I’m thankful to be safe now!

Written by Sophie on 28th August 2017

Reading this and reflecting on my experience first of all I want to thank United Airlines for making the flight possible. Without them I don’t know what will have happened. We know now that the rain and flooding continued for days and I dread to think what everybody would have done for food and water at the airport if we weren’t transported out of there.
Jose the taxi driver has since got in touch with me with photographs of his home. The below photograph he has taken from his house. He has lost everything in the floods and can no longer work as his taxi is ruined. I am so thankful to this man for trying to help us that day. I wish there was a way I could do more to help him back. I aim to reach out to him again soon to see how his life is now.
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Morgan and his family keeping us company and taking care of us briefly in Sugarland was a real help.

All the people we met in the airport made everyone feel safe and a little more calm than we could have been.

And finally British Airways allowing us to fly home from Chicago at no extra cost was a life saver. We also managed to get a full refund on all of our hotels for that week, our NFL tickets, bus tickets and hostels. I really appreciate all the companies that were so accommodating during the stressful time.

I have a lot of people say to me that it sounds like an experience and that they think it would be cool to ‘chase storms’. Please come back to me and say that again once you’ve actually been anywhere near the devastation. Because I hate to be a party pooper but it’s really not cool to chase storms…

I’m aware that my experience of Hurricane Harvey is a mild one and I’m so lucky to be able to sit here and even write this safe and sound. I think it’s important to write about your personal experiences – I like to blog about my travel stories whether good or bad and looking back on this really makes me appreciate what a lucky escape I had and how fortunate I am to live where I live now.

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If you have any questions or enjoyed reading please feel free to leave me a comment.
Sophie

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