The Irish in Houston: ‘The floods are heartbreaking’

‘It’s going to take a long time for the city and the southeast of Texas to recover’

A reporter in Houston has helped rescue a lorry driver from flooding live on local TV. Brandi Smith of KHOU 11 News and cameraman Mario Sandoval spotted the lorry stuck in flood water while they were covering Storm Harvey. Video: KHOU 11 News

 

An Irish man based in Houston has said the “sheer magnitude” of the floods in the city “is too hard to comprehend”.

Chris Bohill, from Downpatrick, Co Down, has been living in the Texan city for 12 years and is currently based a few kilometres north of downtown Houston.

He said “a massive portion of” Texas had been “severely damaged, initially by the hurricane and then by the deluge that followed.

“Watching the news yesterday was heartbreaking. Large areas of the east side of town were totally submerged and so many people lost everything.

“Now they are doing mandatory evacuations as they have to do controlled openings of the two main reservoirs. This will flood people’s homes and leave areas submerged for weeks and weeks, if not several months. It’s going to take a long time for the city and the southeast of Texas to recover.”

Mr Bohill, who is the president of the Irish Network Houston, lives in front of one of the main bayous that runs through the city, carrying rainwater out to the coast.

He said he had sat with his family on their porch for the past few days “watching it [the bayou] rise and inch towards our home”.

“When I got up this morning I was able to see that it has started to recede, so the stress levels have dropped,” he added.

Well-prepared

Mr Bohill said that people were well-prepared for the storm. “We knew it was coming and knew it would last several days.

“The local news was running almost 24/7 with updates so everyone did their best to make sure they were well-stocked, especially with canned goods and water, in case we lost power. Thankfully, Houston didn’t have strong winds so most people still have power. At the same time, I don’t think anyone knew just how much rain would fall.”

Mr Bohill said that people from other states had come in to help the city and locals had been doing “a phenomenal job”.

“So many people answered the call and came out with their own personal boats and raised vehicles to go into neighbourhoods and rescue people trapped by the high water,” he said.

Mr Bohill said he thinks not evacuating the city was a good call by the authorities.

“Many of the major freeways are designed to take the water overflow and funnel it away from homes and property. If the entire city had tried to leave at the same time I’ve no doubt the street and road flooding would have put many people at risk of drowning,” he said.

“The city have also been quick to set up temporary housing for those displaced. Even at a neighbourhood level, people have been quick to support the neighbours and offer relief to those who flooded.”

Trapped in apartment

Another Irishman Sean Glynn described how his 9-year old daughter and her mother were trapped for 15 hours on the second floor stairwell of their apartment complex, having been flooded out of their first floor apartment overnight on Saturday.

“But thanks to the fantastic help and support of my neighbours, they were rescued late yesterday when some friends got them out using a kayak, and brought them back to my house, which has luckily stayed high and dry so far,” said Mr Glynn.

Mr Glynn has been away from Houston for the past week visiting New York on business, so personally he is “safe and dry”, but has been unable to get home “to pitch in to help as I would have liked”.

“But I would like to say a big thank you to the many, many Houstonians,” he said. “who are working so hard to look out for each other, and provide help and support to the community, during this disaster.”

Another Irishman, John Murray from Co Waterford, lives in Texas with his fiancé, just west of the Houston Heights and north of the Galleria in the “floodplain of White Oak Bayou.”

“The heavy rain started last Saturday night and continued into Sunday morning. Our street and backyard flooded and the water got pretty close to our doors, but we are very fortunate that the water didn’t enter the house,” he said.

Mr Murray said their neighbours opposite to them “had their ground floor and cars flooded”.

“We are on slightly higher ground, and a couple of our neighbours have parked their cars in our drive to save them from the flood,” he said.

He said the water receded Sunday evening but later on, “the heavy rain came back and the street flooded very quickly”.

“This morning the flood waters receded again. This now seems to be the story of our neighbourhood. We have been told via local television news that tomorrow could be very bad; tropical storm Harvey is heading back into the gulf and is due to move towards Houston,” he said.

“Our neighbourhood has been lucky in comparison to many other parts of the city. There have been thousands of rescues, and no telling how many people have lost their homes and everything they own.”

Mr Murray said he has heard from friends in the Irish community in Texas and they are all safe and dry, “but some colleagues I work with who live in west Houston and the Katy area have been flooded and had to abandon their house.

“It’s now raining here and with more rain forecast,” he said, “everyone is very worried about what is going to happen in Houston.”