Allison Wordes-Staff Writer
On Aug. 23, a storm watch went out for Port Mansfield, Texas. Texas governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency. Mandatory evacuations were issued in five counties, and the US has reported 70 confirmed deaths—possibly more.
In four days, some areas of Texas received forty inches of rain and three extreme wind warnings.
Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 storm, affected Texas and several other southern states in late August. Dordt students aren’t sure what their homes will look like when they return.
Several oil refineries closed, and resulted in a fuel shortage. Gas stations closed. Flights cancelled, airports closed.
Hurricane Harvey damaged 185,000 homes and destroyed 9,000, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“Brick walls on the streets were totally down,” said sophomore Anneliese Dunstad, talking about her neighborhood of Tomball, Texas. Neither her nor her parents were at home during the hurricane. Instead, they drove up to Dordt during the 25th-29th of August. While she felt glad to be away from the deluge, she remembers the stress of not being at home. While gone, she had her dog boarded at a vet.
“They had a game plan,” said Donstad about the kennel. Her dog was in safe hands.
Her grandfather, who is in assisted living, also experienced an evacuation. The facility where he stayed was flooded by the end of the month, at least a foot underwater.
Many Texan businesses opened their doors to help. A mattress store Dunstad knew of offered people a place to stay. An optometrist offered free contact lenses to victims whose homes had been washed out.
“Dordt has done a lot for students,” said Dunstad. She received an encouraging email from Dordt administration, offering support and prayer groups.
She anticipates some changes upon returning home for Christmas break. Roads will have been torn up, trees blown down, and houses refinished.
“The thing that does the most damage is the water,” said Dordt professor of Criminal Justice Donald Roth. He teaches a domestic preparedness class, with students researching different responses to these events.
Houston is a natural coastline, a harbor safe for trading and traffic. The high winds cause issues as well, but it’s not the same story as Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina was a category 5 which hit Louisiana and surrounding areas in 2005. Category 5 storms are compact, “like shooting a bullet through town,” said Roth. A category 4 is more spread-out and heavier in the wetness scale—that means a lot more rain.
Another difference between Katrina and Harvey is the effectiveness of the evacuation process. The mayor of New Orleans—Clarence Ray Nagin, Jr.—didn’t call for an evacuation until very late in the Katrina situation. Also, many in the area did not own a vehicle and were less willing to leave their homes. In Houston, almost everyone commutes regularly and were able to evacuate early.
Building in a floodplain, explained Roth, is an issue that both Katrina and Harvey had in common. Homes which continue to expand into these naturally flooding areas are the first to go when a disaster occurs. Louisiana is a delta, and the land there absorbed Katrina’s floodwater like a sponge. Construction, however, cut down the efficiency of the drainage, resulting in more water back-up. After all, parking lots and housing developments don’t absorb runoff. But will people who lost their homes continue to build there? Most likely.
“Every dollar of mitigation saves four dollars of recovery,” said Roth, speaking on disaster preparedness. “Unfortunately, this is hard money for the government to spend. The last hurricane in Texas was two centuries ago. Who is going to remember and learn from those mistakes?”
Disasters are something for which we can’t prepare without past experience.
“Our risk perception is crappy,” said Roth. “It’s too easy to push off consequences into the future, and live for today. However, there is a limit to how much you can prepare for. Dordt doesn’t have a plan for a meteor strike.”
In response to a joke posted online about the amount of rain, Dunstad said, “[A hurricane] is not a joke—not something you can be insensitive about.”
Other areas that were affected include: Suriname, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, and the Yucatan Peninsula.