Hurricane Heartache: This is What 15 Trillion Gallons of Water Looks Like

“I’ve got work to do.”

Those were the parting words of 60-year-old Houston Police Department (HPD) Sgt. Steve Perez, after choosing to report to work early Sunday morning, versus staying at home at his wife’s request, while the Greater Houston area was dealing with of one of the greatest natural disasters in modern history – the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

As Sgt. Perez, who had been with HPD for 34 years, attempted to get to work, he unknowingly found himself driving his vehicle into an underpass with very deep flood waters.

Due to the significance of the flood waters, Perez died, and his body was not found until Monday night. To prevent any other loss of life, the HPD recovery team could not recover his body from the water until Tuesday.

Perez had planned to retire from HPD next year, and was only a few days away from celebrating his 61st birthday. He is survived by his wife and an adult son and daughter.

In speaking of his life, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner summed up best how Sgt. Perez’s life is a true testimony of the spirit of Houstonians and those in surrounding areas.

“Sgt. Perez fulfilled his purpose…His mission is complete,” said Mayor Turner. “Sgt. Perez lost his life because he tried to make it happen. He tried to get at his post…That’s the ultimate sacrifice.”

Sgt. Perez died doing what he loved – protecting and serving the community.

Another hero who lost his life trying to help others during Tropical Storm Harvey was longtime former Clear Creek High School track and football coach Ruben Jordan.

Jordan’s family released a statement, indicating that he was last seen helping rescue people from the high flood waters and died as a result of those same flood waters.

Jordan had just retired from Clear Creek last summer, after serving 34 years as a coach. He also owned driving schools in Friendswood and Clear Lake, and grew up in Tyler, Texas, where he was the high school football teammate of legendary Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell at Tyler John Tyler High School.

The spirit that both Sgt. Perez and Jordan embodied is the same spirit that has been on display by many residents across the Greater Houston area, who have sought to protect and serve their fellow man and woman through acts of kindness, compassion and shared sacrifice.

Cameras can’t really capture it. Videos can’t really do it justice. Articles can only say so much.

At the end of the day, nothing can truly capture the on-the-ground experiences and unrelenting devastation the people of the Greater Houston area have had to endure as a result of the unprecedented flooding and unsuspecting tornadoes delivered courtesy of Hurricane Harvey (now Tropical Storm Harvey). This storm has literally turned people’s lives upside down.

Tornadoes were reported to have touched down in Katy, Cypress, Houston, Missouri City and other areas, leaving behind a reminder of Tropical Storm Harvey’s presence. But, as destructive as those tornadoes proved to be, they pale in comparison to the massive flooding and tragedy the area has experienced since the storm made its way into the area on Friday night.

On Monday, the National Weather Service sent out a message via Twitter stating that Tropical Storm Harvey had broken the record for total rainfall from a tropical system in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, with 49.20” of rain being recorded. The previous record was 48” of rain. In essence, it is estimated that Tropical Storm Harvey dumped an estimated 15 trillion gallons on the area.

Tropical Storm Harvey was non-discriminatory and offered equal opportunity flooding, tornadoes, tragedy and other storm-related issues to everyone across the Greater Houston area.

However, the people of the Greater Houston area have shown the world what it looks like to actually come together for a common cause; choosing to sacrificially serve one another, without respect to race, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc.

Houston resident Tarsha Pete chronicled her entire Tropical Storm Harvey ordeal on Facebook, sharing up-to-date information about the storm, as well as the flood waters that were steadily rising around her home as the storm intensified.

The storm began to intensify on Saturday night, and throughout early Saturday morning. Without realizing the extent of how the rain from the storm would eventually lead to flooding, Pete chose to move upstairs to the second floor, while at least 4 feet of flood waters began to slowly fill her home up downstairs. Pete had nowhere to go. She had to make a quick judgment call.

“Do I stay and try to ride it out, hoping that the rain stops and that the flood waters recede, or do I call someone to help evacuate me from the area?, Pete asked herself.

Pete decided to evacuate, so she called to be rescued at around 3 am. Pete tried to remain calm, but the storm continued to rage; the flood waters continued to rise and the help from local officials that she called for still had not arrived. As the storm continued its intensity, Pete became more and more restless and concerned; however, she remained prayerful.

Nearly 9 hours after calling to be evacuated, rescue boats finally arrived and helped usher Pete to a safe spot, where she stood under a bridge waiting on a rescue truck to arrive. Pete called relatives and friends, hoping that someone could get to her so that she could make it to a safe and warm place. After two hours, the rescue truck never came, but a friend became aware of her ordeal and was able to make their way to Pete, and delivered her safely to her mother’s home.

This was a tough ordeal, but one that forever changed Pete’s life and her perspective on judging other people.

“I thought I was safe,” said Pete. “It never floods in my area, or so I thought. I had candles, a flashlight, batteries, an entire hurricane kit…you know the stuff you’re supposed to have for hurricane season. And in a matter of hours, I lost everything. I relied on my Facebook page for help, advice and comfort, and what I realized was that there were people from all races, cultures and ethnicities who were just like me. I was rescued with a couple of Asian people, a Hispanic person, and an elderly Caucasian person. These were all my neighbors. We all stood under that bridge together, comforted each other and prayed together. We all had a common denominator…the loss of our homes. We didn’t worry about who was who…we were all going through it. It made me realize that these divisions betweem us needs to end.”

Pete is not sure when she will be able to go back and check on the status of her home, but she is hoping for the best possible outcome once the flood waters recede.

“I am just in shock,” said Pete. “It will be days before I can check on my house. Can’t get there without a boat…I am so crushed! I know it is material things, but it’s my home.”

Grammy Award-nominated gospel artist, Brian Courtney Wilson, was among the many people who had to leave his home as part of a mandatory evacuation, and although he had to leave his home he still was focused on keeping others informed and asking others to pray for those impacted by the storm.

“My family and I are safe,” Wilson told the Forward Times. “We are praying for first responders, people who still need to be rescued and that this rain passes soon…Again, we are safe right now, but please continue to pray with us for Houston and the surrounding areas.”

Community advocate Renee Jefferson Smith, who is known for helping out those in need across the Greater Houston area, found herself needing to recover from the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Harvey, after having had her home flooded.

In spite of the flooding of her home, Smith has continued to serve others, and has chosen to focus on making the most out of a challenging situation.

“I just looked at my husband and told him, ‘We are extremely blessed’,” said Jefferson. “Yes my home flooded, but I’m alive. As a matter of fact, our family didn’t have to be rescued, but we rescued others. There are several people who lost everything! They have lost loved ones, clothing, cars and their home. I choose not to let complaining be a part of my conversations, so I am still focused on trying to help others who need the help more than I do at this time.”

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, who represents a lot of the areas in Fort Bend County, including Missouri City, has been on the ground assessing damage, providing assistance, volunteering, gathering information and coordinating critical resources, while he and his family were forced out of their own home due to a mandatory evacuation on Sunday.

And if things could not have gotten more challenging, for him Rep. Reynolds was dealt with yet another devastating blow as he and his family were being forced to evacuate from their home – the news that his grandmother had just died.

“This has been a total rollercoaster,” said Rep. Reynolds. “I have been helping everyone else, and while getting my family together to evacuate from our home because of the flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey, I received a call that my dear grandmother, Ernestine Reynolds, had just passed away. Once I got my family out of Sienna Plantation, I immediately went back into emergency responder mode to assist my constituents with shelter and relief. I will truly miss my grandmother and ask that you keep my family in your prayers.”

There are so many more stories that are heart-wrenching.

Community activist Deric Muhammad had a message for those who suffered no damages or tragedies as a result of the storm, saying, “If God blessed you to make it through the storm unscathed, it was only to preserve you that you might help those that did not. Those of us who lost nothing are being tested just like those who lost everything. We could have ALL been wiped out. The way we say show our thanks is through the work we do to help those who are suffering the most. Be ready to make a SACRIFICE. Let’s get to work Houston!!!”

It is time to go to work. It is not a time to place blame, nor is it a time to find fault.

For those dealing with assessing the overall aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey, there are several things people need to understand according to local minister and urban planner Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad.

“It is impossible to evacuate a city the size of Houston and Harris County, which is 1700+ square miles and has a population of 6.5 million people,” said Dr. Muhammad. “How do you evacuate 6.5 million people? During the hours leading to Hurricane Rita’s landfall, tens of thousands of Houstonians attempted evacuation. The traffic jams lasted for days. One hundred people died. So far, roughly 10 Houstonians have died due to Tropical Storm Harvey; all of them (as far as I have heard) drowned in their automobiles. For more than a decade, the local mantra has been ‘shelter in place and hunker down’. That’s a hard thing for many to do, but it’s the right approach.”

While the worst of Tropical Storm Harvey may be behind us, there is so much more to deal with related to repair and recovery for the weeks and months and years to come.

Here are some important numbers and websites for you to visit:

  • Harris County Emergency Management: (713) 881-3100
  • City of Houston Information Line: 3-1-1
  • Evacuation Assistance: 2-1-1
  • Harris County Sheriff’s Office Non-Emergency: (713) 221-6000
  • Coast Guard Rescue: (281) 464-4851, 4852, 4853

For updates in Missouri City, please visit www.missouricityready.com.

If you wish to donate, Mayor Turner has started the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Tax-deductible donations are accepted on their website. The fund will be housed at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity.

The H-E-B grocery store chain also has an in-store campaign for customer donations at their many locations. The American Red Cross Hurricane Harvey relief makes it easy to donate—simply text ‘HARVEY’ or ‘REDCROSS’ to 90999. Your $10 donation will appear on your phone bill.

The Forward Times offices have been set up as a staging area, to receive necessary donations such as non-perishable items, hygiene items, towels, toilet paper, paper towels, adult diapers, baby food and formula, clothing for men and women, shoes, socks, water and baby diapers, pull-ups and baby wipes.

So, as many of our hearts grieve at the sight of the thousands of people in the Greater Houston area who have been affected by Tropical Storm Harvey, it is evident that the giving nature, along with the strength and the resilience that has been displayed during this tremendously tough time suffered by all Greater Houston area residents, will continue to be what we need as a region to help this area rebuild effectively and heal steadily.