Hurricane Harvey has been called a “500-year flood” and the pictures that we have seen this past week confirm the grim description.
According to the National Weather Service, Cedar Bayou, a town east of Houston in Harris County, recorded 51.88 inches by mid-afternoon Tuesday. At roughly the same time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 19 locations in Houston and surrounding areas had received more than 40 inches of rain in the previous five days.
Initial reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety say that almost 49,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed across 66 counties. By one estimate, Harris County, home to our fourth largest city and nearly 5 million people, is nearly 30 percent under water. The Associated Press reported that in Refugio, Texas, which has fewer than 3,000 people, every single building in the town was damaged. As of yesterday, there is still no water, no electricity and no clean water. More than 200 schools are closed and the death toll is sure to climb, as water recedes in Houston and the surrounding areas.
The response by state government has been comprehensive. Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that 14,000 Texas National Guard members have been deployed, along with 600 vehicles, 500 boats and 100 helicopters.
Elected officials at all levels, including President Trump, his Cabinet, and state, county and local officials, have been working well together and their resolve to rebuild is unshakable.
Congress will need to pass a major emergency disaster relief bill within weeks. Hurricane Katrina received $160 billion in emergency funding — this unprecedented natural disaster could require more.
While the images have been shocking and the degree of human misery has been depressing, there have also been countless examples of heroism, patriotism and generosity.
There was the human chain that saved an elderly man. Two men on horseback saved a horse trapped amid rising flood waters. The “Cajun Navy,” a ragtag group of Louisiana citizens, drove nine hours from Baton Rouge on Monday toward the flooded areas with dozens of boats to rescue trapped people.
The city of Lincoln, Nebraska, sent 80 members of its police and fire departments to Texas to help, and they arrived before the storm hit. Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a Houston businessman and celebrity known for his generosity, opened his 160,000-square-foot Gallery Furniture store to take in 300 refugees.
These stories, and so many others, have been skillfully told by a national and local media that has truly risen to the challenge of covering this difficult and emotionally wrenching round-the-clock story.
Most days our country seems hopelessly divided, along racial, gender, and political lines, but this past week showed the best of America.
Two specific examples of devotion stand apart.
Rescuers saved a shivering 18-month-old toddler found in a canal near Beaumont, clinging to her mother who had drowned trying to walk to safety across a flooded drainage canal. The baby is in stable condition, recovering in a hospital from hypothermia.
Just days from his 61st birthday, Houston Police Sgt. Steve Perez, over the pleas of his wife who thought it was too dangerous, left his home in suburban Houston at 4 a.m. on Sunday to serve his police shift. After two hours of unsuccessfully trying to drive to his duty station downtown, he followed department protocol as a 34-year veteran would, trying to report to the nearest duty station in Kingwood. There he got trapped in high water. His body was recovered Tuesday.
There have been overwhelming feelings of hurt, heartbreak, fear and loss this past week.
But there has been hope and inspiration in the heroism of average citizens, some who serve the public as their chosen profession, and others who step up when needed.
Texas desperately needed these heroes this week.
America needed to see that heroes do still exist.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, DC-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” is produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and at MackOnPolitics.com.
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