Coast Guard helicopters and an armada of local boaters known as the “Cajun Navy” are rescuing Texas residents stranded on roofs amid historic flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey.
Houston’s convention center has become a makeshift refugee camp as hundreds of soaked evacuees arrive in need of food, dry clothing, and a place to ride out the storm. Almost hourly, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appear on the few television screens still working, with updates about disaster-relief efforts.
The scenes playing out as Hurricane Harvey batters southeastern Texas are heartbreakingly familiar to those who fled Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, 12 years ago.
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“It was basically like watching everything over again, and there’s nothing I can do. I can’t cry anymore,” Kate Quarrella Beard told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune on Sunday. Beard lost her home in suburban New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and is now anxiously waiting to see how her family’s new home in Dickinson, Texas, fares.
While the exact number is unclear, about 250,000 people escaped to Houston from New Orleans after Katrina, with an estimated 100,000 remaining permanently in the city and surrounding towns. For many of these relocated residents, the nightmarish memories of Katrina came flooding back when Harvey made landfall Friday night.
Harvey came ashore as a Category 4 storm — the most fearsome hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast since Katrina. Since then the slow-moving storm has lingered just off the coast, dropping heavy rain and causing devastating flooding in Houston.
The floodwaters have chased thousands of Houston residents to rooftops and higher ground. Overwhelmed rescuers have been unable to keep up with the constant calls for help. Rescuers were handling only life-and-death situations Sunday.
“It’s just been a nightmare,” Heidi Evenson, a former New Orleans resident who moved to Houston seven years ago, told The Times-Picayune. “It brings up a lot of bad memories.”
Houston’s Katrina survivors and lawmakers across the country are watching how local, state and federal officials respond to Harvey. Local officials have vowed to heed the lessons from Katrina and to avoid scenes like those which took place at the New Orleans Superdome in 2005, when about 30,000 evacuees spent days packed inside the storm-damaged arena with virtually no electricity and water.
The fiasco showed how ill-prepared city and federal officials were to deal with the storm.
On Friday, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa urged President Trump on Twitter to “keep on top of Hurricane Harvey” and not repeat the mistakes that President George W. Bush made with Katrina. Bush was heavily criticized for a slow federal government response to the storm, which left more than 1,800 people dead and caused $151 billion in damage.
“Got your message loud and clear. We have fantastic people on the ground, got there long before #Harvey. So far, so good!” Trump tweeted back.
In New Orleans, nearly 80 percent of the city’s residents evacuated days ahead of Katrina’s arrival. In contrast, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner advised people to stay in their homes, saying it was not feasible to evacuate the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Houston authorities urged people to escape to rooftops to avoid becoming trapped in attics, which caused more than a dozen deaths in Katrina’s aftermath.
Asked if this storm could become Houston’s Hurricane Katrina, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ducked the question.
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“As far as the evacuations, now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made,” Abbott told reporters in Austin. “What’s important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild. And because of the effort that we’ve been able to put together, I think and believe we will be very successful.”
Despite the threat of losing everything to a hurricane for the second time in their lives, many of Houston’s Katrina survivors remain optimistic about the future.
Raeann Barber, 37, came to Houston in 2005 after fleeing terrible conditions in a New Orleans shelter with nothing more than her nightgown. She was rescued over the weekend by the Coast Guard after her Houston apartment was inundated with water.
“One way or another, guess what?” Barber said from a cot in Houston’s convention center. “To me, the Lord will make the way, one way or another.”
This Fox News piece is used by permission; the Associated Press contributed reporting.
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