With a hurricane on their heels, East Grand Forks couple back home in Minnesota
Houston, water-washed and reeling from the rains of Hurricane Harvey, transformed from a Texan metropolis to an urban marshland this past week--and Bethany Poss and Josh Olson, two recent graduates of East Grand Forks High School, watched the dis...
Houston, water-washed and reeling from the rains of Hurricane Harvey, transformed from a Texan metropolis to an urban marshland this past week-and Bethany Poss and Josh Olson, two recent graduates of East Grand Forks High School, watched the disaster unfold firsthand.
Poss, 18, and Olson, 19, spent days watching flood waters creep into their neighborhood, submerging nearby Interstate 45. They'd already planned a trip back to Minnesota for a wedding in Olson's family, but with their plane tickets now useless, they fled the disaster by car. Leaving Monday afternoon in a black Hyundai Sonata, the couple wound their way out of Houston on a half-tank of gas with their four-month-old kitten, Bora, in tow.
"(We) packed what we thought was necessary-supplies for if we got stranded, clothes for the week and everything," Olson said. "About a mile past my work is where the road was underwater. What should have taken us another 15 minutes to get out of town took us another two hours, just finding a way that wasn't underwater."
Poss and Olson are among the countless number of Gulf Coast residents impacted by the storm, but they're lucky. So far as they know, their second-floor apartment is still untouched by the flood, and they hope that their other car hasn't been submerged. But Poss, watching news coverage of the storm, feels keenly for those who are losing more.
"It's really sad to see our community and see-we were just on those roads, and now they're gone," she said. "Everyone (is) losing everything ... and we're not there to help."
'I need to maybe go outside'
Rains began last week, and the storm made landfall Friday. The Houston area has seen dozens of inches of rain, and images from southeast Texas show wind whipping up whitecaps on flooded highways. Bret Fossum, a 1982 UND graduate from Lawton, N.D., who now works in the Houston-area petroleum industry, shared a photo with the Herald of Houston in which a traffic island had become a literal island.
"There were over 175 tornado warnings in this area. It was something else," Fossum said, speaking by phone from the Houston area. "You have that thing on your phone-the squawking thing that comes up-that thing was going off every five to 10 minutes. It was crazy."
Fossum also serves as an emergency services commissioner, a job that thrusts him into helping oversee disaster response in his part of the Houston. Because of his role, he understood how bad the storm was going to be, and he and his wife planned accordingly-stocking up on supplies and checking to make sure they'd have generator power.
Much of the city did the same. Poss and Olson said they went to their local Wal-Mart last Wednesday, and found the shelves going bare. The bread was gone, and they snatched the final gallon of water. Every cash register was open and had a half-hour line to check out.
Over the weekend, the storm struck. Bob Sabin, a science and engineering librarian at Rice University, is a Crookston native and a 1967 graduate of UND. He's visiting East Grand Forks on vacation-now an extended stay, thanks to Harvey-and said it's been crushing to watch news coverage.
"It's hard to pull myself away from it, but I really need to stop watching it, because it's so upsetting," he said. "I know that it's going to be really difficult for these folks to get back on their feet. I have CNN on now. I've had it on all day. But I need to maybe go outside and rake some leaves and do something else to take my mind off of it."
Echoes of 1997
The storm has been particularly evocative for those who remember Grand Forks' 1997 flood, which devastated the Grand Forks area. Minto resident Betsy Knecht is a Red Cross volunteer who, in coming weeks, will begin to audit financial aid for flood victims while remaining in North Dakota. One of 22 Red Cross volunteers serving in varying ways from the group's Dakotas region, Knecht said the Texas disaster recalls her parents' flooded basement-an elementary school memory for her.
"I really can feel for the people and relate to them," she said. "I felt the same thing for Superstorm Sandy victims and Katrina victims as well."
Pat Berger, president and CEO of the United Way for Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, recommended donating to the United Way of Greater Houston, which can be found at unitedwayhouston.org, and Knecht suggested giving to the Red Cross' relief efforts at redcross.org.
"(It's) not something I'd ever, ever want to go through again, but something we all lived through, and us, our community, I thought, was better for it," Berger said. "We came out ahead on some things. I don't see something like that happening in Houston. This is disaster proportions that nobody's ever seen before."
That help will be important as Houston looks to return to normal-or, as close an approximation as it can find. Fossum said Thursday that there was still plenty of work to be done, starting with "getting put-together emotionally" after floodwaters nearly reached his home.
He said he was ready to turn to his work as an emergency services commissioner, which will require him to start bolstering funding for responders.
"We have 135,000 people in our district, and these guys have been running ragged these last six days," he said.