I watched, helplessly, as Harvey headed for my grandparents
Although my family moved from Houston to Oregon when I was five, I grew up hearing stories of floods like this. And since my mom grew up in Houston and her mother in New Orleans, the stories included turtles, snakes and gators washing up into the yard. My mom and Uncle Doug got to keep turtles as pets (Doug's request to keep a pet gator was declined) but I think the story ended with the turtles escaping, washed away in yet another flood.
Grandma Lucy and Grandpa Shelby left New Orleans for Houston when they were young and ready to start a family, but they didn't leave the floods.
So my family is used to them — expects them, even — but we were all taken by surprise at the extremity of Harvey.
My grandparents spent two days trapped in their house, with flood waters coming up their driveway, turning much of their Sugarland neighborhood into a lake.
My in-laws, April and Andrew, living north of Houston in The Woodlands, saw their streets become boatways.
And there was nothing I could do to help from Oregon.
When Harvey hit, my grandparents were preparing to come to Oregon and move in with my parents, a long-planned effort to stabilize their lives. Grandpa has dementia but didn't accept his Alzheimer's diagnosis until last month. Grandma's heart started giving her trouble. Neither of them have been using the upstairs of their house for years.
But there was no way to make their Aug. 29 flight.
We all saw the tropical storm building up in the Gulf of Mexico and anticipated a more normal-size storm. By that Friday night, it was clear that hunkering down wasn't safe, even though my family wasn't in the mandatory evacuation area.
My grandparents stayed in their house. They had power, food and clothes upstairs in case their house flooded — thankfully, the water never came past their driveway. But on TV, I saw a reporter boating past the shopping center we'd walk to when visiting.
By Monday, the rain subsided, but the levees were breached and two reservoirs overflowed. Sugarland issued a voluntary evacuation, but my grandparents still couldn't leave.
As their ceiling started leaking, they put down buckets to catch the drops. I was glued to my laptop and phone, watching streams of the Texan reporters "going live." I called every morning and after work, but with water rising by the hour, I worried all day.
Then I saw that viral image of the retirement home with elderly women trapped in walkers and chairs in waist-deep water, some with thin, small-looking blankets thrown over their shoulders, and a cat perched on a couch.
I cried for my grandparents, knowing it wasn't them but it could have been, and it might be tomorrow.
I imagined them trapped in their house, Grandpa confused about what's happening, Grandma trying to carry supplies up and down the stairs she shouldn't be using — and none of us there to help or take care of them.
I couldn't stop picturing it. The photo might as well have been of them: it was of somebody's families.
April and Andrew stayed in their house, too. They had power — most of the time — and supplies. Andrew went out with a group of Woodlands neighbors who had five boats and trucks to help people in need, and ended up rescuing a group of senior citizens living in a nearby facility filled with 6 feet of water.
They took in neighbors, letting people sleep over for a night or two, and bought them groceries from the nearby Walmart.
By Tuesday night, the water had receded enough for my grandparents to walk around their neighborhood. They saw a little sunshine and a rainbow.
"We are thankful that it went down, but sick knowing all that water is headed somewhere else," April told me.
While my family lives on high-ish ground, thousands of people have been washed out of their homes.
Some are staying in mega shelters, but even those in their own homes face many challenges. I heard a horror story of families who had hunkered down in their house and thought they were safe, but people from the lower-ground, flooded neighborhoods came over and held them up at gunpoint, taking over their home.
So, April and Andrew have their guns loaded (it's Texas, after all) while my grandparents try to rebook their flight to Oregon.
I'm praying I can take them out to Tapalaya for some comfort beignets soon.
Jules Rogers is a reporter for the Portland Business Tribune.