Voices from Houston and Rockport: “We don’t deserve to be treated like this”

Updated August 29, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Report from Rockport, Hit Directly by Hurricane Harvey: “So much of the town is just piles of rubble...but it’s going to get worse”

Rockport, Texas, is a town of about 10,000 on the Gulf of Mexico, just north of Corpus Christi. Hurricane Harvey barreled right through and over Rockport, with winds over 130 miles per hour. The small town was flattened, and torn to shreds. Revolution  recently had the opportunity to speak to a long-time resident of Rockport, who left just before the hurricane hit and is now back in the town. The following are excerpts from that conversation.


The storm came right over us. There really wasn’t time for anyone to prepare. It seemed like it was going to hit further south, down by the (Rio Grande) Valley, and not be that powerful. Then very quickly that changed. Really you need 72 hours to evacuate even a town the size of Rockport, but we didn’t have half that. So, some people got out. Some people didn’t. Either they didn’t want to or couldn’t. Rockport is basically a peninsula, with water on three sides, so there’s only one way out. There’s a barrier island between the town and the Gulf, but that’s like a sandbar that’s disappearing fast. And it’s really bad for people who didn’t get out of town. And for a lot of the ones who did.

I went up towards San Antonio and stayed there for a couple of days. [After returning to Rockport,] it was a shock to see what happened here. So much of the town is just piles of rubble. One thing people don’t understand is that a hurricane is like a huge tornado in a way. I grew up where there were a lot of tornados, and you can see where one building is obliterated and a building can be standing right next to it, looking like nothing happened to it. Most of what’s here is gone, but there are some things standing. Not much, but some.

A mobile park in Port Aransas, Texas, is destroyed after Hurricane Harvey landed near Corpus Christi on August 26. Photo: AP

But you go by these trailer parks, and they’re gone. The trailer parks are the worst. Aransas County is the smallest county in Texas, size-wise, and about half of it lives in Rockport. But there are still isolated areas, and most of it seems pretty rural. So it’s going to take quite a while to really go through and see what’s left. See who’s left. You hear different things about how many people are dead. I don’t know. But it’s going to get worse.

“No one really knows how many people died”

There are some really expensive houses here in Rockport. This is a tourist town and a retiree town. But it’s right on the Bay, there’s water everywhere, the fishing is great. So some people have built some very expensive homes. There’s a famous country singer with a house here ... not Garth Brooks, but somebody like that. So there’s a handful of multi-millionaires who have huge mansions, big yachts, maybe tennis courts. I’ll tell you, I’ve been by there, and those places are gone. They’re flattened. You might not know what had been there if you went by now.

But most of the town is poor. Our average income is high, because there are these very rich people. But basically everybody else is poor or retired, or both. There’s a lot of retired people. Most of them, almost all of them really, don’t have much money. Some of them live here year round, others come down during the winter, and people call them “snowbirds.” But pretty much all of them live in these small trailers that are pretty flimsy to begin with. I’m pretty worried about what we’re going to find when all the search and rescue heads out to them.

Plus a lot of them are in these little trailer parks out in the country. Most of the roads when you get out of the town of Rockport are gravel. Now there’s trees down, poles down, power lines down, debris scattered all over the place. When I say debris, I mean big pieces of lumber, appliances, machinery, all kinds of stuff. So getting around isn’t easy. Even in a small town like this, and a small county like Aransas County, it’s going to take a while. A lot of people we got out early, people who needed assistance, who had some physical problems.

About 60% of the population are Hispanics. Almost all the people who work in the restaurants, or on the fishing boats, and things like that that are part of the tourism trade, are Hispanics. ICE is around here a lot. People talk about it like, they raid some restaurants and things, and then the owners go to Laredo and know how to get people back to work, which they are in a week. But this seems different.

H-E-B (a large grocery chain) has been bringing in trucks of food and ice from San Antonio. They set up big spreads for people, and it seems like it’s open to everyone. Whether everyone feels like they can come to it, I don’t know. Now there’s a curfew, 7 pm to 7 am, no one can be out. Plus there’s roadblocks on the only ways into town. Nobody is being denied anything because they don’t have papers, as far as I can tell, but who knows how long that will last. SB4 starts this week, I think it is.

August 27, two Latino residents of Rockport, Texas pass out free water to residents stranded by Hurricane Harvey. Photo: AP

No one really knows how we’re going to manage. No one really knows how many people died. No one really knows what it will take to get this town on its feet. We probably won’t have water for weeks. We don’t have power. The IT systems are down. One silver lining, if you want to put it that way, is that things have cooled off after the hurricane. Usually it’s about a hundred degrees at this time of year. But that will come back, and we’ll have the heat, the insects, the stagnant water and probably disease. We don’t know where the kids will go to school.

So this whole situation is difficult. And it’s unsettled. And it’s probably going to stay that way for a while.

Houston, Day 4: Intensifying Devastation for the People, Rising Repression…and More Rain Expected

Monday, August 28—Harvey continues to pour torrential rain on Houston and coastal East Texas, and has begun drenching parts of Louisiana. Widespread flooding on city streets and interstate highways from overflowing bayous, rivers, creeks, and lakes, is a major problem. People are suffering from the devastation, thousands have been made homeless, and serious public health threats could develop. After rocking ashore as a Category 4 hurricane, the storm moved back out into the Gulf of Mexico, and then headed back inland again, bringing more rain with it.

Revcom.us/Revolution talked to a resident of Houston on Monday night. Stayed tuned as this situation develops.


Revcom.us/Revolution: So I’m going to ask you about significant developments in Harvey, particularly in Houston, and I know you were talking about the northeast part of town that was particularly hit last night.

H: It was in the northeast, which is predominantly an impoverished Black neighborhood, and then areas around Lockwood, in 5th Ward, which are predominantly Latino neighborhoods, that were hit last night. So what’s very significant is that the majority of rescues are being done by non-governmental people up to this point. So you see all the footage of them going into the neighborhoods and bringing people out in like air boats and bus-boats, and kayaks and things of this nature, from those neighborhoods.

Revcom.us/Revolution: Where are they going?

H: Yeah, that’s a problem. At this point, the George R. Brown Convention Center with a capacity of 5,000 people has now exceeded that capacity. And some of the other shelters are now also almost full. The projection from the county press conferences is that they expect 30,000 needing shelter. So they are being taken to George R. Brown, and at a certain … but they do not have the capacity to house people, and feed them and to keep them warm.  So that is one thing that has developed.

Now in this area in Tidwell and the Beltway, an impoverished Black neighborhood, so these boats have been going back and forth—and the Coast Guard and … they ruled on the part of the Federal Government and whatever, that once it gets dark, the Coast Guard can no longer fly the helicopter and the agencies can no longer take their boats to rescue people, to pick people up. And it’s still raining there. And apparently, through social media, people organized themselves to where people from that neighborhood have all walked to a designated spot, I think it’s under an overpass, where they wait for the boat to come. So when it got dark, the reporters were saying there were over 100 people waiting under that overpass—and nobody’s coming to get them.

Revcom.us/Revolution: You were saying something about the police coming and messing with them.

H: Yeah. So I think there’s 12,000 or more National Guard that have come into the city today. It is unclear what they are going to be deployed for.

Revcom.us/Revolution: I heard 4,000.

H: They upped it. New York is sending several thousand. Some other states are sending their National Guard. So the entire Texas National Guard plus the National Guard from other states. So there’s this whole wave of repressive forces, which is unclear what they are gonna do.

Revcom.us/Revolution: There was a statement by the mayor.

H: They had a press conference this evening where the mayor stated that in Houston “we rescue and we arrest.” That they are not gonna tolerate any “looting.” And then the representative from the Houston Police Department said that we are not tolerant of crime, or attempted crime, or taking advantage of people, or whatever. But that now we have more eyes and ears on the ground with all these agencies coming in, so you know basically gonna be “tough on crime.”

Revcom.us/Revolution: You mentioned something about a spill.

H: There is apparently a toxic spill in the Ship Channel that occurred this afternoon. I don’t know what exactly it was but the entire LaPorte area, Channelview, around they are telling people to shelter in place. They haven’t disclosed the nature of the chemicals but they are saying it is related to the flood.

The other thing is that you also have much more widespread flooding in places that weren’t expected to flood. The Brazos River is overcoming its banks so they have mandatory evacuations from west Houston, from several subdivisions …

Revcom.us/Revolution: West Houston…

H: Yeah. So all these people who are being rescued, it is unclear where exactly are they supposed to go. Mattress Mac (a local store owner and philanthropist) opened up several of his stores and is sheltering people. But you know he can only hold 100 or so people in each of his stores, and they are full.

Revcom.us/Revolution: Someone was telling me that there is a big contrast between the accommodations people get in those and George R. Brown … in terms of food, water, and resting place.

H: Yeah, I’m sure there is. And George R. Brown now is full… where are they going to put those people? The buses are just dropping them off there after they pick them up, dropping them off at George R. Brown.

Revcom.us/Revolution: And more rain is expected.

H: Yes, more rain is expected. And it is still raining.


Sunday, August 27

Revolution/revcom received these interviews from Travis Morales as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey were inundating Houston, Texas. These interviews took place at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, one of the places those who couldn’t find shelter with family or neighbors were being bussed.

Kerin: “We don’t deserve to be treated like this”

“Before the water started rising, we didn’t have any warning. We watched the news. We felt like it wasn’t gonna do much. We went to bed, and it wasn’t raining. We woke up this morning and had to get out of there. There was water up to the second level of the apartment, so we took an air mattress. We had to cross a whole field, to the I-45. And that’s when we got picked up. It was my neighbor, his wife, his son, our dogs, all hanging on. We got picked up by police. Then we got dropped off at a bus, and we were told the bus would take us to a shelter. We sat there for five hours or more, ate crackers, and drank water. Then they said they were taking us to the George Brown Convention Center.

“So we were all excited because we were getting some hot food. But we were not allowed in because we brought our dogs with us, expecting them to help us. Right now we are standing outside in the cold and wet sidewalk, with no place to sleep.

“They got pillows and blankets. If they gonna make us sleep outside, at least give us pillows and blankets. The people who have the upper hand on the lower-class people don’t give a hoot about us. They just arguing among themselves, they ain’t helpin’ nobody. I see people out here who can’t hardly stand, what are they supposed to do?

“The police inside there are being rough and rude. We don’t deserve to be treated like this. Right now, I could go to my daughter’s house. But I don’t have no transportation. No busses run there. They’re treating us like crap. It’s like Houstonians don’t have rights. The people make Houston. You get pushed around, talked crazy to, and disrespected by the police.”

Anthony: “Where am I supposed to go, jail?”

“I live on the streets right now. I’m homeless. I’ve been homeless for about two months now, I’ve been downtown, cuz that’s where the services are. There aren’t too many services but that’s where I’m at right now. Last night we were trying to walk down the street and a cop pulled us over and told us we had two choices—go into a shelter or go to jail. For what? For nothing, but he said we had those options.

“Now there’s only two places to go here, the Salvation Army and another shelter. We went to the Salvation Army and they were kicking people out in the rain because they were charging their phones—literally into the rain last night because people were charging their phones and they weren’t supposed to... my bags were getting all wet, my social and my birth certificate, everything. We were standing outside in the rain for a good 10 hours before we could go inside to hopefully get a bed. They tell you to go to a shelter, but then the shelter is only so big. So then where am I supposed to go, jail? Because this place just opened up. It’s been raining since Friday and there was nowhere to go—especially when the shelter kicks you out for charging your phone. Something petty like that. And it’s not only about the services, they have so much stuff that’s available but they just don’t offer it.

“I’m from Las Vegas, I’ve been here for seven months now. I got a job. That’s another thing, I got a job and I’m homeless, you know what I’m saying. Trying to make things work. I’m in construction, I’m a plumber. And I just applied for my apartment last week. So I am trying to get it done, it just took two and a half months...”

Pancho: “We have no life guards, and they don’t know how to swim”

“Like everybody knows the storm was coming. Friday night everything looked fine but then Saturday afternoon came and the warning for the storm was on. And we started noticing that the street was getting flooded and after only 45 minutes it was like 40 inches deep, it was a lot. We had to move our cars. We also put blankets on the floor to try and trap the water. The water started going through the walls in the house so we got 3-4 inches of water... We have two kids with us and my mother-in-law who is 65.

“It was just the rain, it was really scary. I never been through anything like that. Like I told you, I have kids with me and let’s put it this way, what if the water goes higher, we have no life guards, they don’t know how to swim. I’m the only one that knows. We have five persons who don’t know how to swim, and just one who does. I wouldn’t be able to take care of all of them.”

Conel: “It was the first time I had ever been to jail—during Hurricane Katrina”

“I’m not really homeless, but I’m homeless. I have a job. I work at McDonalds. I’m in the restaurant field, waiting tables cooking, stuff like that... I started off in New Orleans, but I didn’t come during Katrina. I got locked up during Katrina. There were only two charges then—looting and violating curfew. And me being a Black brother, I was in a white neighborhood and there was a lot of breakage in homes and me being in the neighborhood, they picked me up. It was the first time I had ever been to jail—during Hurricane Katrina. And they tried to give me six years of my life. And me not knowing the law, the system, how the jail works, I was quiet. That’s what they tend to do to a lot of people that don’t know the system. So they took me in and they dropped the six years and gave me three. And I was like, sir, a person like me, I don’t do jail. Going through so much as it is, I don’t know if I can handle this.

“I kind of wrote a letter to the warden that I shouldn’t be out here and I need something better for me. So the letter got to the warden and they asked me to go to a halfway house. So I spent like 18 months in a halfway house, saved up a little money. My felony was still fresh so I couldn’t get an apartment, so I started staying in motels. So that’s how I’ve been living ever since.”


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