I am posting because I cannot sleep. I am sleepy but focusing my brain and body to stillness is beyond my current capacity. We have watched more television coverage than trauma experts would likely recommend but this coverage is a little different from the usual so I have not tried to turn us, as a family, away from it.
The stories are generally focusing on connecting to positive things not tying to convey the depths of the despair that is hiding in the murky waters of the flood. I am not quite sure what is different from coverage of other disasters but I think it has to do with the general feeling of this disaster. While there seems to be some sense of betrayal that people who ended up flooded out were not told by officials to evacuate before the floods, the larger discussion includes the recognition that this whole weather event is dangerous and that the choices may be for the statistically likely less dangerous option.
Vehicle-based evacuations during floods, particularly in a city like Houston that has many low-lying areas on roadways, has a great probability of loss-of-life. It is unclear when and how much water will cover a road and even small high-water areas can be dangerous. We considered evacuation, I spent time thinking about whether it was wiser to hunker down or try to “get out of Dodge.” I concluded that getting out, even if we chose, was risky. Seeing the photos of high water makes me feel very safe in our home even if we get water on the ground floor. We can evacuate to the second floor and we do have options for egress if we cannot exit through the lower floor. I was greatly troubled to hear the television announcers admonishing people not to go into the attic without an ax or a way out because of the risk of being trapped. That is not the way I want to go.
Photo caption: This is an image of pre- and post-Harvey that I found at Business Insider that was particularly compelling to me.
Watching the television coverage of people being evacuated from flood areas and shuttled from one location to another has brought up memories of the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty of our evacuation from the fire.
We were able to leave our house in our own car with our dog, all of our computer hard drives and most of our computers along with food, water and clothing. As we turned down the hill from our driveway emergency vehicles were charging up the hill and the fire was coming down behind us. I remember the collaborative effort of trying to dodge cars and keep an eye on the road. My spouse was driving but I was the one that spotted the herd of cars coming up the road while he navigated the turn out of the driveway. It was at that very moment I realized our house was going to burn.
We drove to the first staging area and wondered what to do. I said we should probably let someone know we had gotten out since they were counting heads. My spouse went off to find someone official and then we were told to move to a different staging area, the fire was coming at us in this supposedly safe area. We moved, not quite sure what or where. Looking at people tonight I imagine we had that same glazed look in our eyes. I remember being on the phone with my sister and telling her I was not going to look in the direction of the fire. I realized I was gazing at the flames shooting skyward, what we would later learn was 80 feet into the air, as the fire covered over my neighborhood. A voice said in my ear, “I thought you said you were not going to look.” I had to look. That moment blazes in my memory even now.
It is not a trauma memory, but it is a strong one when it is evoked. Tonight I felt myself going back through the process of going from table to table to register for Red Cross assistance and various other services that were being offered at the shelter. We were lucky, we landed ourselves, as a result of my spouses’ quick thinking and our frequent traveler membership in a very nice Marriott hotel so we did not have to stay at a shelter. Still, I can hear the sounds in my mind’s ears of the scrape of the metal table legs on the tile floors in the shelter during our day-time visits there. I could smell the sharp odor of the cardboard boxes freshly opened with handouts for us on “What to do after a fire.”
I imagine people will soon be given booklets here on “What to do after a flood.” There is a difference; a heartbreaking difference. Very few people will have insurance coverage. Water that flows in to a structure causing damage is different from water that come in due to storm damage such as a tree falling though the roof. My heart ached as I looked at home after home under water knowing many won’t have any financial support at all for their recovery.
We are finally, I think, almost back to square one as far as the emotional relationship to our stuff goes but it is five years after our fire. Some things it took us five years to have enough money to replace. Other things seemed to require a multi-year relationship with them for them to feel like ours.
As I rest from the exertion of keeping the water out of the house, and in the confidence that people are fundamentally good to each other and also resilient, my heart pings in the background absorbing the knowledge of grueling road the 30,000 and more people who are affected by Harvey have ahead of them. I bristle at the suggestion that there is a silver lining somewhere in the fact that everything I owned except what was in our car was burned to ash. There was no silver lining. God did not take my stuff and almost my life away so I could learn some great lesson. A God I could love would not cause me harm to bring me good. No cosmic force shifted evil in my direction so I could get some good later. Bad things happen. They just do, especially in the interaction between the built environment and Nature.
I would like to say something encouraging, to offer words of wisdom but I cannot. I don’t feel wise because I survived a wildfire. The only thing I can say is that as human beings we seem biologically and spiritually created to continue. In that simple fact I can take comfort. We do recover. It is not encouragement but something far more fundamental. It is more solid and less trite. That we do recover is firm ground to stand on.