The word from Houston: “People are experiencing some of the worst times in their lives right now”

September 2, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


The following are excerpts from an interview with S., a young Black woman, at a program last night at Revolution Books in Harlem, New York City, on “Hurricane Harvey: A Natural Disaster, and the Crisis of a System.” She grew up in Houston and has been in close touch with relatives and friends there during Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath.

Revcom: Where do your friends and relatives live in Houston?

S: My mother lives in the Third Ward where we all grew up. It’s close to downtown Houston. It’s been heavily gentrified in the past 10 or so years, but historically the Third Ward has been a Black neighborhood, and a lot of elderly people are concentrated in the Third Ward as well because a lot of them have lived there their whole lives.

Also, the southwest side where my aunt lives is also an area a lot of poor and Black people are pushed into, because you know how urban sprawl works. You get knocked out of your homes in the urban areas because it’s too expensive or by gentrification, so you get pushed into places like the southwest side—Missouri City, the 59s, the Beltway Area, Meyerland Park, Meyer Park—these are big areas on the southwest side.

Revcom: Were people surprised by how severe this storm was?

S: First and foremost people knew it was going to be a lot of rain, a lot of flooding. But it’s Houston, we have hurricane season, but you are used to it. You get used to it and you know to be prepared. So people get their water, the boards to cover up their windows, the batteries. They get all those things. It’s going to be a storm, probably a bad one, but it’s going to be a storm. There’s no need to panic, we’re just hunkered down, that’s what Houstonians always do.

I think people were surprised that their houses were going to be completely covered. I think people were predicting it was going to be bad. But I also feel that the media wasn’t truthful about how bad this storm was going to get. Especially, specifically the local government was not vocal enough about how bad it was going to get and how long people needed to prepare for.

Previously Houston and Houstonians are used to hurricane season, they are used to areas that flood and they prepared like it was going to be something like that. But people were completely surprised that this was going to be a Katrina.

Revcom: What about evacuating?

S: As far as my community of Black and poor people, where are you going to go? If you have a car, great, you can evacuate—but where are you going to go? The surrounding counties around Houston are not very favorable to poor and Black people. They’re white and wealthy suburbs so they’re not going to be taking people.

Houston is a place you need to have a car to get around, and a lot of people don’t have cars. They rely on buses, so that’s not going to happen [after Harvey]. So of course they’re going to choose to stay if transportation isn’t provided for them to be evacuated.

Also they have their elderly relatives. Some are bed-ridden, some are disabled, some require constant medication, so what are they going to do, evacuate and leave their elderly disabled friends or relatives at home? No! You can’t do that. Like my aunt is the sole care provider for my grandmother, and my grandmother can’t leave the house unless it’s in a wheelchair, a stretcher. So the option to leave—it’s not really an option, it’s not really a choice. So that’s what a lot of people are faced with.

Revcom: What are your friends and relatives telling you about what’s been going on?

S: My aunt, my uncle, my mom, my friends in southwest Houston and the Third Ward have been sending me pictures of where they are, and videos of what’s going on right in the areas around them. People outside of Houston are saying “The coverage has been great, we can see what’s going on down there.” But it’s not.

The problem with the media coverage is that the people inside the city—regardless of whether they have power or not—they are not being told what is passable, where the water has cleared and they can possibly get out. Or where they should gather so they can be evacuated and they can get help. They’re not being given that information and that’s a huge problem.

On the outside, we’re seeing these aerial photos of the water and the cars and everything underwater. But people in Houston are not being told, “Hey the grocery store on Willow Bend is open, but you can’t get there on Willow Bend, but you can get around on Hillcrest.” The roads that are covered in water, and the roads that are not covered in water. They’re not being told any of that information, and how will they know unless they can see that road from their house?

And that’s a problem. People are running out of food, they’re running out of medicine. And they need to get out, to be able to get food any way they can, to get medicine, you know, to get to a place that’s dry. But how? With what navigation? With what guidance?

And then they are putting in curfews, which I can understand, but people have been enclosed in their houses for a week, and they want to get out of their house at least to breathe some air that’s not house air. They’re being told get in your house, get back in your house, you can’t be out here. Why? This is my shit. I should be able to walk outside of my fucking house!

The members of my family that I know of have avoided the flooding. My uncle on the other hand, he lives in a relatively nice area, a wealthy area, and they’ve had some flooding there. The last thing I heard from him, they had moved everything to the second floor and they were waiting it out, but the water that was coming up had receded.

But there are people all over Houston whose houses are covered to the garage, like their entire first floor is gone. All you can see is a rooftop, that’s it, and the only way you can see that is if you’re looking at it from a helicopter. And that’s the majority of Houston right now.

Revcom: How are people getting food now?

S: I think yesterday there was a break in the rain and my aunt was able to get out and get a few things. Some of my friends were able to get out and get a few things. But the grocery stores—there are lines to get into the grocery store, lines that wrap around the building. That’s what my aunt and my friends and stuff are telling me. You can’t even get into the stores, and the food is running out and the supplies are running out. Are they telling people outside how and where they can get supplies? No.

People have been without just basic necessities for at least a week. They haven’t been working for at least a week. And stores have been closed. Other establishments have been closed for a few days. So people are going to be terrified and worried and scared that they’re not going to be able to make ends meet. Rent payments are coming due tomorrow on the first. So I just want people to keep in mind that people are missing out on making money to be able to live, for child care.

School is supposed to start next week for Houston, and everybody was buying clothes and supplies and whatever to get back to school, right? All that’s gone. That’s gone. Everything you prepared—your lunches, whatever, is gone. The childcare you had lined up is gone.

People are experiencing some of the worst times in their lives right now. I just want people to focus on the people and what it is really like to go through a disaster and fuckin’ lose everything! And not know what your next week is going to look like, what your next month is going to look like. Because your house is completely covered—everything that you own.


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