Kam Franklin is a musician based in Houston. We spoke to her from the van she and her friends were using to help with the city’s informal relief effort in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey.
So I’m out here in Houston with a group of people—we’re not working with any organization. Our friend put out a call and there’s a Google spreadsheet. You can put your name, or a family member’s name, and the address, and we’ll come rescue you from your house.
The guy I’m working with right now, his name is Adam Blackman, he owns a bar here in Houston. The guy driving the van manages my band. And one of Adam’s friends has a kayak, so we’re just out here doing it. The van we’re using is actually one of our friends’ band’s vans: I sing for a soul band named The Suffers. I’ve lived here all my life, so 30 years. We’re just bringing people to shelters.
But we do see National Guard people and we see the Cajun Army, out of Louisiana, and the Coast Guard. So everybody’s out here helping where they can. I’ve been out here for about an hour but there are some people who have been here since last night.
No one really knew how bad Harvey was going to be. Everyone knew there was going to be bad flooding, but it was like, “Okay, we’ll just ride it out.” You’re going to tell me that New Yorkers are going to leave every time a big blizzard comes around?
Evacuating would have been a nightmare. When this rain started hitting, it was still nowhere near as bad as the winds that came with Hurricane Ike back in 2008. Right now it isn’t even that the wind is that bad. It’s just that the rain won’t stop. So a lot of people down here are seeing flooding in places that have never, ever flooded in Houston. They’re calling this a 1,000-year flood event.
But even being given as much information as possible, there’s no way we would have known that it was just going to rain this much. And people are talking shit about how we should have been evacuated, people in the middle of the country who don’t even deal with this kind of flooding, or these kinds of natural disasters. Or people who live in a place with a population of less than 100,000 people.
Houston proper has 2.5 million people. Add the outside districts, some of the suburbs, and that’s a total of, like, 6 million people. You evacuate all those people and they’re going to be out on the road. Hurricane Rita was supposed to hit here in 2005, and that was shortly after Katrina hit New Orleans. We had a mandatory evacuation. I was stuck on the road for about 23 hours. That road is underwater now. Thousands of people could have been stuck. They could have drowned.
When we were evacuated before Rita, we were supposed to go by neighborhood. But of course people didn’t all do that. All politeness pretty much goes out the window when you think you’re going to die. Especially since this was right after Katrina. And don’t forget that Houston is where a lot of people from New Orleans went. We welcomed them with open arms, all our Louisiana brothers and sisters.
It’s not as simple as, “Oh, just get in your car and leave.” A lot of people in Houston have cars, but there are still people who are poor, who can’t just do that. They can’t afford not to go to work, never mind to drive to another city where they don’t know where they’re staying, or what they’re gonna eat once they get there.
Right now, one of the people we’re trying to rescue from his house needs dialysis. He can’t just leave without medical assistance. And now, it’s still flooded, and a lot of these ambulances are low to the ground, so you can’t get them through here. How was that guy supposed to evacuate? Or what if someone is physically disabled—or mentally disabled, and doesn’t have the mobility or the sense of danger others have? It’s a privilege to evacuate. Everybody doesn’t have the privilege to just get up and leave.
Right now most people are just hunkered down. It’s a days-long storm, it’s been going on since Friday, and it’s still raining hard. Now the problem isn’t even so much that some neighborhoods are flooded. The problem is that every major freeway in our city is flooded. And I don’t mean, like, five feet of water. I mean 20. Unless you have a boat, you are not getting out of here. And when it rains like this, you get mosquitos, you get fire ant colonies that come out during the storm. They just ball up and then they float in the water. There are alligators around, from the bayou that’s overflowed. It’s like Jumanji out here. But the water is receding quickly in a lot of areas.
You can only prepare for so much. But I think that our city officials have done such a good job, and there are so many people out here, with trucks and boats and everything, doing everything the city and the National Guard hasn’t been able to get to. It’s been just a really beautiful thing to see. I will be helping until we can’t do it anymore. And I just kept hearing people, on CNN, in the news, criticizing the governor for not evacuating the city. It’s like, unless you are here, shut the fuck up.