With a constant onslaught of “first ever” weather events hitting the US and a tumultuous political climate, it is an unfortunate truth that disaster recovery has all but left the minds of most Americans and the front pages of corporate media.
After a flurry of media attention, the devastation in Houston, Texas from Hurricane Harvey faded from public view. But after unprecedented floods and widespread destruction, the story is far from over.
In Part 1 of her investigation, Abby Martin travels to Houston one month later, and visits one of the most devastated neighborhoods. Victims there give harrowing testimony about nearly drowning and having zero assistance to this day from local or state officials.
This first installment reveals the untold stories of how, while abandoned by the state, the community banded together to save lives and rebuild their homes.
The United States and islands in the Caribbean are still reeling from the severe effects of an unprecedented hurricane season. The challenges began with Hurricane Harvey nearly two months ago and continue today with Hurricane Ophelia about to hit Ireland, an event never before experienced in recorded history.
Hurricane Harvey alone destroyed at least 16,786 homes and damaged at least 159,253 more. A shocking 82 people lost their lives during the hurricane scientists say had a 1 in 1000 chance of happening.
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With a constant onslaught of “first ever” weather events hitting the US and a tumultuous political climate, it is an unfortunate truth that disaster recovery has all but left the minds of most Americans and the front pages of corporate media. Mainstream media outlets filled the Houston area immediately after the hurricane wreaked havoc, collecting the shocking footage and interviews that bring them clicks and views, all the while spotlighting the efforts of professionals engaged in harrowing rescues and organizations, such as the Red Cross, providing help. But almost as quickly as Harvey hit, corporate media left and never returned.
To bring the focus back to the first in this shocking streak of unprecedented weather events, Abby Martin visited Houston to see firsthand what residents are contending with nearly two months later. In the first episode in this series, Abby visited one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in Houston, Lake Forest Park, where she spoke with residents about the night the flooding began and about their lives since.
Residents of Lake Forest Park shared a similar experience the night Harvey arrived — waking around 3 AM to significant water levels already inside their homes, some startled by the sensation of a wet bed, others with their hand draped over the bed, submerged in water. In a panic, many grabbed important documents and attempted to flee only to find hip-deep water when they reached their vehicles and chest deep water in the streets. With no ability to escape safely in the dark, residents entered the attics of their single-story homes, where they would spend the next three days.
While awaiting rescue in flooded homes, many residents attempted to connect with 911 dispatchers for hours each day. Occasionally failed attempt after failed attempt gave way to contact. “We’re right around the corner,” residents were told, but emergency responders never came.
After the rain stopped, the water continued to rise for days. Many agreed that levees were opened without warning and on purpose, causing water levels to quickly rise further. As conditions stabilized, neighbors with boats, life vests, and anything else that could float, got to work. Abby spoke with a man who was confident that 90% of the rescues in his neighborhood were done by people who live in that same neighborhood. In fact, all of the residents on one street and cul-de-sac were transported to dry ground by the same local resident using his personal boat.
After fleeing their flooded homes, many residents of Lake Forest Park again had similar experiences. One man detailed an unsettling event where he witnessed a boat of 7 rescuers, casually floating along a street sipping warm coffee, informing residents wading through chest-deep water to “keep going” because they were “almost there.” Almost where? they wondered as the boats passed without offering assistance.
Some neighbors brought others to a nearby fire department for evacuation assistance only to be immediately turned away. Still, others congregated in a nearby dry parking lot where older residents in need of medical care were hoping to find help. Local emergency responders occasionally passed by, assuring survivors they would soon return, but much like the false hope given by the 911 dispatchers, the rescuers never returned.
Entire neighborhoods in Houston remain in ruins seeing little to no help from local, state, or national government services and organizations. These neighborhoods saw virtually no presence of emergency responders for upwards of three days after the flooding began and today see no police patrols, only the occasional small supply drop from Army personnel.
Today, the streets of this flood-prone neighborhood are lined with trash and debris. Entire lives have been torn apart, ripped from homes, and pushed down the streets by volunteers driving Bobcats. Just as the community came together to rescue each other from the deadly floodwaters, they have come together to help each other with recovery efforts.
Neighbors staff a table to distribute donated supplies in addition to going door-to-door helping with cleanup efforts and providing information about tenants rights. Daily, the neighborhood receives donations from individual families and churches, providing water, food and supplies. Only twice has the Army come to offer supplies and, when they did, only a small amount of water and supplies were provided. Residents are left wondering if individuals and small organizations can provide pallets of water daily, why is it that the government only offers a few bottles? Why can’t their country, who spends billions of dollars on war in other countries, do more for them?
Houston is a glaring example of the inability of the US empire to handle natural disasters of any cause and of virtually any magnitude, having failed time and again to rescue victims and aid in recovery efforts. Without the generous assistance from volunteers in the forms of rescue, donated food and supplies, and cleanup efforts, the residents of Lake Forest Park would be virtually helpless and starving.
Many in Lake Forest Park and across Houston can no longer live in their homes. Drywall has been torn out and floors have been removed. The threat of mold looms with no sign of relief in sight. With images and soundbites of assistance coming in from the Red Cross and FEMA flashing across corporate media broadcasts one might think these victims of Harvey are on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, that is not the actual experience of these very real residents of Houston.
Unable to live in their homes and with vehicles lost and destroyed, many victims have lost their jobs while waiting on FEMA for the help they were promised. Others are paying out of pocket for lodging while not receiving reimbursement or assistance. FEMA applications have been left pending for weeks while applications to receive a meager $400 from the Red Cross have been denied with no explanation as to why and no instructions to appeal. If Houston residents who have lost everything do not qualify for $400 of assistance from the Red Cross, many are left wondering who exactly does qualify.
FEMA claims to be helping residents of Houston, but not a single resident of the entire Lake Forest Park community has yet to receive assistance or reimbursement. Calls have gone unanswered and promises to return calls have not been fruitful.
The community of Lake Forest Park is still in dire need of assistance, as are other communities in Houston, in Florida, and across the Caribbean. In the midst of this unprecedented hurricane season, the expectation that floods and disasters of this magnitude will continue grows. What can we learn from the response to Harvey in Houston and how can we move forward and prepare before cities across the US experience what Houston is experiencing today?
Top photo | In this Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, photo, Lino Saldana looks out his window towards the bayou that overflowed into his home as volunteers from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association help him clean out debris in Houston. Like many of his neighbors on flood-ravaged Minden Street, Saldana knows that if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid. Harvey’s epic 52 inches of rain didn’t discriminate between rich and poor areas with its flooding, but in working-class neighborhoods where many live paycheck to paycheck, the cleanup and recovery could be an even tougher slog. (AP/Gregory Bull)