Weather

Reporter's Notebook: Harvey spawns tales of survival, heroism and even minor inconvenience

Barnini Chakraborty

A boy shivered under the plastic bag he was using as a blanket after he was rescued from the rising floodwaters of Harvey. A grown man complained from the comfort of a hotel lobby that his Maserati was under water. A woman standing in an impossibly long line at a grocery store finally gave up her quest for provisions.

All around this soaked city, people have stories of overcoming everything from minor inconveniences to brushes with death. The work of tireless rescuers goes on, even as President Trump tours the area to offer what inspiration he can. But everywhere, people fear the water held back by burgeoning levees, and the rain they know will come in earnest on Thursday.

In a stunning show of Texas grit, volunteers recently loaded up to 40 people at a time into dump trucks, trailers, boats and anything else on wheels to get them out of Harvey’s path. Flood victims beckoned their rescuers with cellphone lights.

"Coke Zero and yogurt aren't worth it. Be safe, everyone!"

- Loretta James, customer at crowded grocery store

At the George R. Brown Convention Center, where more than 7,000 people huddled overnight, Jason pulled the black bag tight over his denim shorts and cream-colored turtleneck.

"What happened when you got picked up [by volunteer rescuers]?" I asked the 7-year-old, who spoke little English.

"I cried," he said.

He didn’t say much else, and neither did the older folks in the center, where a cruel rumor had taken hold that city officials would be asking people for their "papers." On Tuesday, the city got word out on Twitter and public service radio announcements that no one was being rounded up.

The Houston Zoo set up livecams to give those stranded in their homes some entertainment. Others didn't need technology to observe wildlife - social media was ablaze with video of alligators in on resident's back yard and a man catching a lunker of a catfish by hand - in his flooded living room. 

On the corner of Potomac and Westheimer roads, hardware shop Bering’s remained open, doing a brisk business selling umbrellas and bleach. The former was to ward of the still-falling rain; the latter to clean up the damage done by Harvey’s first salvo.

Bering’s was doing an honest business, but not everyone in the city was. The state Attorney General’s Office said it has received 600 complaints of price gouging. Fox News saw cases of bottled water going for $100, hotel rates tripling and, in a development owing more to damage at refineries to the south, gas prices soaring. At least one charged $2.89 for a gallon of regular unleaded.

Further down Westheimer, the line around Randall's grocery story and pharmacy looked promising, but 45 minutes later, I was still 15 people away from the front door. The lady in front of me, Loretta James, gave up in frustration.

"Coke Zero and yogurt aren't worth it. Be safe, everyone!" she called out, before jumping out of line.

"You, too, Lolo," a chorus of friendly voices shouted back.

Some folks toward the back of the line wondered if the store had closed.

"Is it even open anymore? We haven't moved," claimed Mo Lawson.

Late Tuesday, a mandatory curfew was put in place for Houston amid ongoing recovery efforts. 

"There are too many people from across our city, too many residents that are out of their homes and they are in shelters and I don't want them to have to worry about someone breaking into their homes or looting or doing anything of that nature while they are away," Mayor Sylvester Turner said.  

Despite heroic efforts from so many across the state, there have been reports of looters and armed robberies in the wake of Harvey. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said those out during the curfew would be subject to being stopped, searched or arrested.

In Kingwood, there have been reports of people dressing up or posing as cops and trying to stop people. Shirley Dews claims that's what happened to her. Dews was sharing the story at Los Cucos Mexican Cafe, one of the few restaurants still open for business in the city.

On my way back to my hotel, I noticed a group of people taking pictures on the side of the road. It was Buffalo Bayou ... and the water was dangerously close to spilling over.

Buffalo Bayou has been referred to in the media as a "yardstick" for Harvey's power. Indeed, the urban park, now overflowing with water, has been a constant reminder of the challenges and destruction Harvey has brought to the city.