All the damage was concentrated around the biggest water channels, our bayou and creek system that rush water to Galveston Bay. At different points in the five day ordeal, all of them topped their banks in multiple places. Even the large rivers to the southwest hit record levels never thought possible. I live on the west side of town, in one of those big unaffected areas. My school was the same. For us, it's like nothing happened.
A couple days after the storm, life returned. Local roads became passable. Restaurants opened. Gas stations opened. Grocery stores started limited hours. After five days stuck inside harboring families or newly displaced neighbors, nearly everyone was low on supplies. Kids reappeared in the parks. Cars returned to (most of) the freeways. Businesses and schools started finding paths to reopening. Some schools realize that unfortunately, there will be no opening this year.
For the vast majority of us, everything was pretty ok. For a sizable minority of people, that was very untrue. In one suburb, 3000 of 9000 homes were a total loss. There were similar tales all over town. If you were within spitting distance of a major spillway, you took a hit. And only approximately 20% of those people had flood insurance.
You might wonder, how could there be such a low insured rate? You JUST said these things show up all the time?
Not all hurricanes are created the same. Harvey had no wind when it came. In fact the winds rarely topped 20mph, not enough to be a significant factor. There were homes and neighborhoods with wind/tornado damage and that's covered by hurricane policies. Water damage without the wind to rip off your roof is another story. Another issue before you call these people crazy is that the areas that flooded had no significant history of flooding. For a lot of people who took on water, it was never something any property assessment would've informed them was possible. Some homes didn't flood until it became necessary to sacrifice them to avoid dam breaches.
Hurricane Ike in 2008 was a windstorm. Trees were down everywhere. Power was out for over a week or more in some areas. High rise buildings in downtown had glass windows blown out in the hundreds (one lost 50 stories worth on its eastern side). I sat at a church service outside (the main sanctuary was ruined) the Sunday afterward as the pastor held a chunk of the metal roof that had been found twisted around something several hundred feet away. Flooding was present but not the major problem.
The Annoying Rate of Normalcy
In both Ike and Harvey, the days that followed were equally weird. People emerge from hiding and attempted normal things. There is a collective "whoa" among everyone. We all know what just happened, but we'd prefer to just try and pick up where we left off. Except you can't. The city is only about 90% normal right now.
You might say, wow, 90%? That's not bad. Except it's kinda not. Some grocery stores are open, but only for a few hours. Bread and water are on hard purchase limits. Restaurants open here and there, but often on very limited menus. Fast food places go drive thru only to cut down customer load. Gas gets a little more difficult to find. Gas prices spike. Food doesn't restock very quickly. Shelves go empty and stay that way. Most of the roads open. Important ones don't. Traffic gets bad. Then it gets BAD. You hear the rumors: 2 hours to get to work, 3 hours to get to work. Some important bayou crossings could be closed for a month. You realize you had packages that vanished in the frenzy. You try to track them down. The shipping companies aren't really sure where anything is. You watch a person get frustrated that two day delivery doesn't currently mean two day delivery. The skies are filled with military helicopters.
I say annoying rate of normalcy, because it's just that, annoying. And not even like actually annoying. It's just a collection of incredibly tiny, minor annoying things. Like a 1.5/10 on the annoying scale. You have to fight the urge to let being annoyed become your mood. This is a time for immense and determined patience. This is the struggle of the days after a hurricane, you must remind yourself of what is not annoying. You are fine. Your house is fine. Your family is fine. Your students are fine. You can deal with the lack of bread.
The weather is irritatingly nice after a hurricane.
The South is incredibly friendly (have you met Julie Reulbach?). Texas especially so. When taken to task, people rise to the challenge. Thousands of people with the means ran to their trucks, boats, and jet skis and found every last person they could in the flooded neighborhoods. Local reporters spent hours and hours all over town looking for people, riding boats at night with the police, flagging down sheriff's deputies to save a man about to submerge in his 18-wheeler. Thousands flocked to shelters to give supplies and time. Every church, mosque, temple, synagogue, and school district reached out into their communities looking for people to help. Two dozen volunteers grabbed their crow bars and hammers and just wandered the streets looking for people who needed help with demolition. Garages became staging grounds for cleaning supplies, ready for neighborhoods to reopen so clean up could begin.
People in affected homes showed tremendous resolve. Calm, collected, and focused on the task at hand. Their houses gutted, their stuff wet or in tubs of bleach, but they have their health. For that they are thankful. Others said screw it, let's climb the trash pile and sing Les Mis: