Houston residents Paul and Silvana Arnold knew Hurricane Harvey would bring wind and rain, perhaps rain unlike anything the area had ever seen. But 19 trillion gallons? They knew they would need to prepare, but no one could have accounted for the magnitude of destruction Harvey would bring. The Arnolds were among the 800,000 Texans who would have to evacuate their homes and among the 125,000 who would have to be rescued, stranded by the rising flood waters that rendered levees and floodgates useless. It was in this time, when nature showed its force, that humankind showed its resiliency. Through resourcefulness, bravery, hope, and a will to continue on with daily life that the people of Texas and beyond became a community bound by trial and strengthened by a faith that rose above even the high waters.
As Harvey’s rains began to fall, Paul and Silvana gathered together with neighbors in their Energy Corridor community, an area surrounded by reservoirs, lakes, and forest, just outside Houston. They realized they were one of many families who stood to be uprooted by the massive storm. They watched reports from meteorologists and studied elevation maps of the area, hopeful that since their houses were higher than the lowest point of the levees, the water would flow around their homes rather than through them. Back and forth they questioned if they should stay or leave as they saw water begin to accumulate in the streets below, creeping toward their house.
Silvana recounts staying up the night before the storm settled upon Houston. While hoping for the best, she feared the worst. Her intuition told her to gather her eight-year-old son Matteo’s precious memorabilia from the downstairs rooms and move it upstairs. She and Paul placed cement blocks under their furniture and wrapped ziplock bags around the legs of their piano, praying that the waters wouldn’t accumulate high enough to enter the home they’d made together. They were calculated and resourceful, working with neighbors to ensure they had taken all the precautions they could. Then throughout the night, with dread and anticipation, they watched and waited. It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that Silvana finally decided to turn in for what would be the last night in her home for months.
Three hours later, the Arnolds received a call from a neighbor that small boats were outside the entrance to their neighborhood. They were rescue boats…there for them. It all seemed so unlikely, but the floodgates had been opened to control what could have been an even-more destructive rush of water, and the Arnold’s neighborhood was made impassible. Even though their home was at such an elevation that it, in theory, should not be flooded, Harvey paid no regard and persisted over Houston. Water accumulated at an unprecedented rate. Quickly, the Arnolds gathered enough clothing and personal items to fill a small bag each and moved toward the boat docked in their driveway, captained by a young couple from San Antonio who came down to support rescue efforts.
Paul and Silvana carried their son, dog, cat, and luggage to join their neighbors on the small boat. Matteo thought it was all a grand adventure, boating out of the neighborhood—what a novelty in the innocent eyes of a child. Meanwhile, Paul and Silvana tried to stay positive while all around them, Harvey hovered, threatening the lives of Houston residents and promising damage to all in its path. As the rain fell, they looked back at their home in the distance, not knowing when they would return and what they would find when they did.
They loaded their few belongings up into the back of an amphibious military vehicle, large enough to traverse the flowing water just outside their neighborhood, and headed toward higher ground. It would be nearly a week and a half before the waters retreated from the Arnold’s neighborhood, and it would be another two months before they could return to live in their home. It took nearly six months to finish the construction to rebuild the damaged portions of their house. And the Arnolds were some of the “fortunate” ones, if you can call it that, as the waters from Harvey destroyed property all throughout the Houston area. The Arnolds’ thoughtful preparation did help to save meaningful belongings, and Paul was determined to control the damage as much as he could, returning by boat three days after the storm to start tearing out drywall. He stayed nearby, shuttled in by a friend’s brother from Louisiana, to supervise construction. Many families in Texas have yet to rebuild. Many will not be able to. Nearly 80 percent of those affected by Hurricane Harvey did not have flood insurance, the Arnolds included. Paul says he still sees piles of debris on the side of the road ripped out from damaged homes.
But even in its damaged state, the community rallied around those who lost so much. Houston even seemed to gain new members as volunteers from around the country poured into the area to serve those who needed rescue, relocation, and rebuilding efforts. They brought boats and supplies, they donated money and resources, and they showed that though the power of nature sometimes feels unmatchable, the force of the human connection is undeterred.
“Much of our community was damaged,” said Paul, “so people from outside the community had to come in alongside us. It was amazing; people took time away from their full-time jobs just to come help us here in Houston.” Though the recovery from Harvey is ongoing, it is clear the community is emerging stronger and even more united. Paul says, “We learned that we simply had to take things one day at a time. We worked together. We had faith that Houston would recover.”