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Black, white, rich, poor: Storm Harvey didn't discriminate

Published:Sunday | September 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Harvey did not discriminate in its destruction. It raged through neighbourhoods rich and poor, black and white, upscale and working-class. Across Houston and surrounding communities, no group sidestepped its paralyzing deluges and apocalyptic floods.

"Harvey didn't spare anyone: The whole city is traumatised," said Lynnette Borrel, whose backyard pool filled with murky water and schools of minnows from Brays Bayou on the city's southwest side, not far from downtown.

Far to the northeast edge of the sprawling city, a flotilla of boats rescued affluent residents of the pine forest villages of charming Kingwood psychologists, doctors, business owners. And on the far west side, the release of storm water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs pushed a devastating tide into some of Houston's more wealthy neighbourhoods. Clear across town to the southeast, low-slung brick and clapboard homes in the heavily African-American and Hispanic Lockwood area were swamped. Missouri City, home to Houston's largest Asian population, endured more than 40 inches of rain.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, fearing that a full-fledged evacuation of the nation's fourth-largest city in the face of the oncoming storm would be dangerous, advised residents to remain in place. So when Harvey submerged roughly 70 per cent of the land mass in Harris County, all demographics were inundated.

The poor tend to suffer most in disasters. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the world was left with nightmarish images of residents of New Orleans' impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, screaming for help from their rooftops. That storm, which claimed 1,800 lives, stands as a prime example of urban inequality and environmental injustice.

And there is every expectation that Houston's poor and working class, lacking the resources of the affluent, will struggle most to rebuild.

But in this moment, as the waters begin to recede, Houston residents of all colours and socio-economic status find themselves united in their loss, their despair and their resilience.

Lois Rose, a 55-year-old school teacher in northwest Houston, knew she had to leave her home in the east when the rising floodwater in her living room began lapping at her calves. Outside, it nearly reached her neck. She and her panicked neighbours formed a human chain, battling against the push of brown water and powerful currents to make their way to a gas station on higher ground. Frightened and shivering, they waited in the dark and in three feet of water for seven hours before they were rescued.

Rose's home of 25 years, in a predominantly African American and Hispanic area, had been flooded by a storm twice before. But when she was taken to the city's primary disaster shelter, all she had to do was look around to realize that Harvey was something else entirely.

"Every nationality you could see was in the George R. Brown Convention Center," she said. "Harvey hit everywhere. It's not just one section of Houston where people were displaced. It's everywhere, from southwest to northwest, southeast to northeast. It hit the lowest-income areas to the richest. It just didn't stop. This was just different. It's going to take years to recover from this."