HOUSTON – When Creston native Trey Thomsen moved to Houston Aug. 18 for optometry school, nothing could have prepared him for what he’d experience over the next week and a half.
Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, with winds ranging from 130 to 156 mph, late Friday night near Corpus Cristi, making it the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade.
By Saturday, heavy rainfall hit the Houston area and, by Sunday, the world Thomsen had come to know in his short time in Houston looked entirely different.
“I woke up Sunday morning and looked out and there’s like a bayou behind my place that was completely overflowed and there was water covering every street Sunday morning,” said Thomsen, a 2013 Creston High School graduate now attending the optometry school at University of Houston.
As he looked out his ground-floor apartment and saw the water rising above the parking lot, Thomsen started forming a plan in his head.
“I was packing and ready to get up into my car, which is on the parking garage, or find someone on a higher floor I could stay with,” Thomsen said. “I was ready to move. I really thought it was going to get here eventually. I was ready for the worst, definitely.”
The water never reached Thomsen’s apartment and he did not need to evacuate. Thomsen considers himself one of the lucky ones, having not lost power or water.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the storm had dropped more than 51 inches of rain on Houston, leaving 25 to 30 percent of Harris County’s 1,800 square miles of land flooded, according to Harris County Flood Control District Meteorologist Jeffrey Lindner.
Growing up in Creston, the biggest natural disaster Thomsen had ever experienced was the April 2012 tornado that ripped through the northwest part of town.
But, since his parents, John and Linda, had previously lived in Texas and warned him about the dangers of hurricanes, Thomsen began preparing for Harvey’s devastation.
He went grocery shopping after his classes Friday to buy enough food to be able to wait out the storm.
“I heard Saturday you could hardly find anything anywhere. If I had been a day later, I don’t know what I would have got. I was more prepared than a lot of people, I think,” Thomsen said.
Meanwhile, 85 miles to the east in Beaumont, Texas, 2005 CHS graduate Tiffany Murphy has been delivering wall-to-wall coverage of Harvey for KFDM News, the CBS affiliate in Beaumont.
Murphy is an evening anchor for the station, anchoring the newscasts at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. Her updates from the storm can be seen on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TiffanyMReports.
“It started to get really, really bad today and we have another at least 10 inches of rain expected tonight,” Murphy said during a CNA interview Tuesday night. “A lot of people’s houses are flooding in places that are not prone to flooding before.”
Murphy said there is only one way out of Beaumont right now – by taking Interstate 10 East to Louisiana. All north and south roadways have been shut down, and Interstate 10 West out of Beaumont leads to Houston.
Murphy and her colleagues are currently living at the television station because the flooding has surrounded the station, leaving it on an island.
“A lot of folks don’t have electricity,” she said. “We went off the air while we were live on air. Our generator picked back up.”
Harvey has devastated southeast Texas, with the death toll rising to at least 30.
Amid all the devastation and heartbreak, the helping nature of those in the area has been a positive.
“The only positive in the midst of all this heartbreak is the opportunity to see people helping each other and the positive outlook of so many I’ve spoken with have,” Murphy said. “I spoke with one guy and he said, ‘I have my son and we have our lives. We lost everything else, but that can be bought again.’ It’s heart-wrenching. This is catastrophic and it’s very emotional for everyone.”
Thomsen found himself helping others Sunday.
While gathering his possessions in case he needed to move, Thomsen heard a helicopter outside his apartment.
“I went out and saw five or six elderly folks in wheelchairs and one kid my age saying the helicopters were coming to pick them up,” Thomsen said. “We started wheeling them over to this little parking lot area. Once we got there, there was a guy who said there was a bunch more people inside the senior-living facility who needed to get out. We had to carry people down stairs. They all got out of there, everybody who needed to get medical attention.”
All in all, Thomsen considers himself lucky to still have power in his apartment and not having to move.
“You can see pictures and stuff, but if you haven’t lost a home or if you’re not in a situation that serious, I don’t know if I can describe it,” Thomsen said. “I saw the place next to us completely flooded. I feel like I’m in a good enough situation I shouldn’t speak for some of these people because of how bad I know they have it. It’s tough when I have everything still. I know how serious it is.”