For Houston’s Homeless, a Terrifying Night Under Siege by Hurricane Harvey

Emergency responders completed more than 1,000 high-water rescues during the night. “Travel across the area is severely hampered, if not impossible,” said an announcement from the Weather Service.

City officials urged flooded residents to head to their roofs, not their attics.

“We need help it’s like 12 adults and 10 toddlers….can you please call me,” one man wrote to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on Twitter.

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Cars sit abandoned at a flooded gas station after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston.

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Nick Oxford/Reuters

“Many neighbors are screaming for help,” wrote another.

“Where?” the sheriff responded. “Keep calling 911.”

For the city’s homeless, many of whom did not seek cover ahead of the storm in shelters, it was a terrifying night. Many, like Mr. Cox, live and sleep under Houston’s elevated highways, in low-lying areas that are among the most dangerous when it comes to flooding.

The Red Cross has opened shelters and the city’s homeless outreach team has spent days trying to get people a place to stay. Officials have urged residents to get inside, saying failure to do so puts the lives of emergency responders at risk.

But several people under the highways said on Saturday as the storm swept in that they would attempt to stay put.

Mr. Cox lives on a slip of cement between traffic lanes under the Southwest Freeway, across from an adult accessories shop called Katz Boutique and a taquería called Tepatitlán, and not far from a Shell station where he uses the bathroom.

He said he liked the spot because he can sit between a thick column and a large metal electrical box. This allows him some privacy. He sleeps on a brown sofa cushion and makes occasional trips on foot to a Walmart about a mile away. To eat, he “flies,” which is his term for panhandling.

He began his day Saturday in that Walmart parking lot, in search of a blanket that he hoped would protect him from the storm. With just a few coins in his pocket, he said he had planned to steal one.

On Friday two police officers came by to offer him shelter, he said. He said no to both. His reasons are varied. “You can’t smoke there, you can’t drink there,” he said. He didn’t want to leave his stuff, he added. He was afraid that afterward he won’t be able to find his way back. “I’m familiar with this place. I can make a few dollars here, take care of myself here.”

Which doesn’t mean he was not worried.

“I’ve never experienced a hurricane. Is it going to rain that bad? Is it going to flood me out? I mean, I don’t want to die over a hurricane.” He took a long pause. “I’d rather not die.”

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