Houston Day 3: People Struggle to Survive the Catastrophe

August 28, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Hurricane Harvey has been battering the Gulf Coast of Texas since Friday. First with winds topping 130 miles per hour. Then with an almost unbelievable deluge of rain that is predicted to continue for several more days. The National Weather Service described Harvey as “unprecedented.” “All impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced,” it continued.

The official number of dead, as of this writing, is five. But the mayor of Rockport, a town in the direct path of Harvey’s landfall, told a press conference on Sunday that Nueces County officials informed him that there were “eight fatalities in the area of Rockport and Port Aransas.” He also said that the town had been destroyed by the hurricane, and that much of the rubble and wreckage that had been people’s homes, businesses, and boats only a few days earlier remained to be searched.

Several people have died in the flooding that has literally covered the Houston area. Countless houses and apartments have taken on several feet of water. Countless vehicles were abandoned and lay completely or partially submerged. Horrific scenes of people in a nursing home in a room as filthy water rose to their waists were aired on national TV. The main public hospital in the city and one of only two level-one trauma centers in Harris County has shut down and transferred its patients. As this storm continues, the potential is great for further deaths, and for more bodies to be found as the waters recede and rescue efforts intensify.

Tonight, August 27, the situation could get far more dangerous. More rain is expected—as much as an additional two feet or more. The website of the National Weather Service said “another 15 to 25 inches of rainfall is expected through Thursday. Storm totals in some locations may approach 50 inches. This is producing devastating flooding.”

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Sunday that it planned a “controlled release” of water from the two major reservoirs on the western side of the city. Most of this water will flow into already flooded bayous that course through central Houston. An official with the Corps said the release—planned for early Monday morning—is needed because the aging dams on the reservoirs may not be able to contain water which is predicted to rise by four to six inches an hour beginning Monday. As the Houston Chronicle reported, “Addicks and Barker [the reservoir dams] were built to protect the heart of the city by controlling the flow of water along Buffalo Bayou. Things haven’t gone as planned.”

Struggling to Make It Through the Disaster

People across the sprawling expanse that is the Houston metropolitan area are being impacted by this storm. Middle class and well-off areas such as West University, the wealthy Galleria shopping district, and subdivisions filled with NASA engineers were inundated. Several hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world, were forced to shut their flood gates, and employees coming in on an emergency basis had to wade to work.

But it seems that the industrial and refinery towns east and southeast of downtown were particularly hard hit by overflowing bayous, raging surges of brown water surging through streets and into homes, freeways that resembled wide rivers. Market Street, the historic center of the 5th Ward, one of the oldest communities of Black people in the state, was under several feet of water. Pasadena, a refinery town along the Houston Ship Channel populated mainly by Chicanos and immigrants, suffered severe flooding.

People have struggled to assist each other and make it through this disaster. One woman wrote in an email that when she awoke she was “surprised to see regular people leading their own search and rescue operations. The current political climate would make us believe that everyone is divided, and we can never come together. However, I saw people from different races helping each other. People who had lost everything were risking their lives to rescue their neighbors.”

People made makeshift rafts out of air mattresses and other material. Youths made repeated trips through waist-deep polluted water to see that entire families they didn’t know were taken to dry ground. A man in a second story apartment took in three households of people flooded out from the first floor.

A woman in a town near Galveston Bay spoke of how the freeways in her area were “completely under water, couldn’t nobody get nowhere.” But she and others in the neighborhood “look out for each other, and we took it on ourselves to look out for people who were stuck or who didn’t get ready. I got people living in my home now. Water’s come up to the doorway, and then it went back when the rain stopped for a while. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen, probably it will come up again when it rains more. We’ll see.”

Harvey has already inflicted much suffering upon the people of the Texas Gulf Coast. But this pain is only beginning. Not only because the storm will inflict significant damage for days to come. More fundamentally, because this system and its rulers—in particular the Christian fascists like governor Greg Abbott who control Texas, and the Trump/Pence regime that is working to consolidate fascism in this country—have neither the desire nor the ability to meet the needs of the people.

Thousands of people have lost everything. Their houses, their apartments, their furniture, their clothes, their vehicles, their jobs. Schools their children attend; stores where they get their groceries; offices, factories, and restaurants where they work; parks where they try to get some recreation—much of this has been destroyed.


The Fake Compassion of Fascists

The authorities in Texas and nationally have been eager to portray their response as humane and compassionate. Governor Abbott said this is all about “Texans helping Texans.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump’s spokeswoman, said that “President Trump continued to stress his expectation that all departments and all agencies stay fully committed to supporting the governors of Texas and Louisiana and his number one priority of saving lives.”

Abbott and Trump—both straight-up fascists—are very conscious of how George W. Bush’s indifferent and repressive response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans triggered enormous protest and anger at his presidency. It raised fundamental questions about the system he presided over, in particular the status and treatment of Black people in the U.S., historically and down to today. In this period of enormous social dislocation, it seems that they want to appear compassionate even as they institute qualitatively more repressive—fascist—forms of control over all of society.

So far, the response of the authorities in Houston and Texas has not been so overtly murderous as it was in New Orleans after Katrina. The Houston mayor has said he encourages and welcomes the rescue and support efforts of citizens. Dozens of community centers have been set up throughout the city. But beneath this mirage of benevolence, police have seized on the crisis to continue to enforce brutal repression and control over masses of people. As one woman said about a convention center, “the police inside there are being rough and rude. We don’t deserve to be treated like this... you get pushed around, talked crazy to, and disrespected by police”. (See "Voices from Houston: 'We don’t deserve to be treated like this'" for more of this and other interviews.)

Many people have demonstrated great courage and compassion in this time of adversity. But the crisis millions of people are enduring will intensify in the days, weeks, and months ahead. This system has no ability to provide for the well-being of masses of people, and Abbott and Trump have no intention to even pretend.

The seven demands issued by Revolution are crucially important now, and will remain so in the days and weeks ahead.


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