Houston Residents Are In for a Long Recovery After Harvey

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Those who avoided home flooding are grateful. Some find bright lights in midst of storm.

As Hurricane Harvey started to pound the Houston area, Father Norbert Maduzia, pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in Spring, Texas, began to feel like one of the apostles in the boat on a stormy Sea of Galilee.

Jesus was asleep on that boat, readers will recall, and the vessel was fast taking on water.

Father Maduzia’s church took on water as well—lots of it. To give others an appreciation of what he and thousands of others have been going through since last Saturday, he posted a video of himself walking through the church, knee deep in rain waters that had overcome the building and the surrounding area.

“There are many of our own parishioners who have been and are being evacuated from their homes,” Father Maduzia wrote in a letter on the parish website Monday. “Areas around us that have never flooded are now under water. Last night water was up to the porch of the church and today we cannot even get to the church facilities at this time without a boat.”

The news media have reported on local residents’ extensive use of social media platforms to communicate their needs with one another, including the need to be rescued. Father Maduzia used social media to bring his parish together, as best he could, when it was impossible for anyone to get to Sunday Mass.

“As a way for the whole community to be in support of one another, Fr. Khoi [Le, parochial vicar] and I are asking you to join us in prayer today at 12 noon and at 3:00 p.m.,” the pastor wrote. “At noon, we will go on Facebook live and pray the Rosary together and at 3:00 p.m. we will once more go on Facebook live to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. We invite you to join us in prayer, uniting us all against the forces of this storm.”

Residents of southeast Texas and Louisiana are in for a long haul in recovering from epic flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s going to take a long time to put Houston back together,” John Hittinger, a philosophy professor at Houston’s University of St. Thomas, said in an interview Monday. Hittinger was stranded at home, but he heard from a colleague that the building where his office is had water in the basement, and mold is already growing. That’s likely to spread because of  warm and humid weather conditions expected this weekend.

Hittinger lives south of Houston, but to the west of town, Sara Frear was waiting for flood waters to recede so she could get to Houston Baptist University, where she teaches history. She and other residents were keeping a close watch on the dams holding back Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which were built in the 1930s for a 500-year flood. The Army Corps of Engineers was conducting a controlled release of water into the Buffalo Bayou that runs through Houston, in hopes of relieving mounting pressure on the dams.

“They started the controlled release on Sunday at 2 a.m., so I stayed up half the night just to see whether the waters were going to reach my house. That didn’t happen,” Frear said. She added that she was praying for some colleagues who had not yet been heard from by Monday afternoon.

North of the city, Steven J. Meyer, theology professor at the University of St. Thomas, was about a mile away from where the National Guard and the Coast Guard, were conducting rooftop rescues, and the so-called “Cajun Navy” was helping people get out of their flooded homes.

“My personal family situation is okay: we’re home and we didn’t lose electricity,” he said. “There are a couple of grocery stores down the street, but they have very long lines, and I think they are rationing food.”

Like St. Ignatius, Meyer’s parish, St. Philip the Apostle, had water “at least waist deep throughout the entire sanctuary.”

“I’ve lived here most of my life. We’ve seen bad storms, like Allison. But this, I’m still taking in how bad this has been,” Meyer said. “Saturday it started raining very hard, and Saturday night it started raining like what you’d have in your shower, just drenching, pounding rain. And it only recently started letting up. It was unbelievable.”

“Since the storm started we have had over 50 inches of rain,” said Bob Sumicek, one of the coordinators of a statewide Knights of Columbus emergency response team. “At this time we’ve had almost 100,000 families displaced, out of 6.5 million in the area.”

The Knights have had a disaster relief program since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “We’re going to try to open our parishes and council halls as much as we can and see how many people we can help with food and things of that sort,” Sumicek said.

Two hours away, Amanda Graves experienced a bright spot in the midst of a horrific story. Graves, who is beginning her second year as a missionary of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, said that the weather led to the cancellation of an outdoors event in which she and colleagues were hoping to meet incoming students. But a spontaneous chain of events led to a meeting at the FOCUS/Campus Ministry office at which they had “many fruitful conversations.”

“A lot of the student leaders made new friends, made contacts, particularly to invite students to Bible study,” she said, “and honestly we couldn’t have planned an event better than this.”

Joe Raedle | GettyImages North America | AFP