Charles Clark, Jr., was not worried about Hurricane Harvey. He says that this house in Missouri City and the surrounding area had not flooded in the past, but he still made basic preparations like filling his cars with gas and making sure he had enough food. Clark explains he learned how to prepare for the storm from previous experiences with other tropical storms. Clark, who used to work at a chemical plant, explains the perils of not knowing the dangers of hurricanes. He says that the plant he worked at was bought by a new company that did not understand hurricanes, and this resulted in a shortage of workers during the storm due to mismanagement. Clark, who also owns a cattle ranch, says that his animals fared well during the storm, and talks about the hazards that ranchers face during hurricanes and floods. He says that he is lucky because he fared better during Harvey than others. Clark explains that while there is nothing Houston can do to stop disasters, there is much that the city can do to prepare for a flood, like making sure that the waterways are ready to accept flood waters. At the end of the conversation, Clark recalls the generosity of a neighbor who still had electricity during the storm.
Read on for the full transcript of his interview:
Interviewee: Charles Clark, Jr.
Interview Location: Missouri City, Texas
Interviewer: Kaleb Clark
INTERVIEWER: Hello, my name is Kaleb Clark. I’m a student of the University of Houston. And I am doing an oral history interview for the Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. With me, I have Charles Michael Clark.
KC: Mr. Clark, if you would, could you tell us your full legal name, what year you were born, where you were born, and where you grew up?
CC: Charles Michael Clark, Junior. I was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Year, 1970.
KC: Where did you grow up most of your childhood?
CC: I grew up right here in Missouri City, Texas, suburb of Houston, Texas.
KC: That is where we’re doing the interview today. So you were one of the people that was hit by Hurricane Harvey because of where you lived and where you currently live in 2017 — now being 2019. When you first heard about [0:01:00] Hurricane Harvey, how did you feel?
CC: Really wasn’t that worried. I’ve been through several hurricanes before. And particularly in the area where my house is, we don’t usually hold much water. So I wasn’t particularly worried about home.
KC: If you could, describe the area where you live.
CC: I live in a neighborhood called Lake Olympia, which is a suburb outside of Houston. It’s a fairly nice neighborhood. We kind of live — we live up on a hill — I guess you would say the highest point in the neighborhood. So I really wasn’t worried about flooding.
KC: What was the first thing you did in response to the news that Harvey was headed here? I imagine you just stayed in place.
CC: Well, usually, I go fill up all the vehicles, get water, and I’ll make a bunch of ice. I should say ice. I take empty water bottles [0:02:00] and fill them up with water and freeze them. And I fill all the bathtubs up with water and just make sure there’s food in the house enough for quite a while. Those are the things we do.
KC: Basic tropical storm/hurricane preparedness?
KC: Where did you learn to do all these things in preparation for a storm?
CC: Actually, I learned most of it just from being in a lot of storms growing up. So one year, I can remember it was — dang, I can’t remember the name of the storm, but it was many, many years ago — big storm. And we run out — the water went off, so we couldn’t flush the toilets or anything. So that lesson taught me, okay, fill the bathtubs up with water, so you can flush the toilets. And you want to have enough water to last you a few days, because you don’t know how long the utilities will be out.
KC: Did your utilities go out during Hurricane Harvey [0:03:00]?
CC: No, we did not lose power at all during Hurricane Harvey.
KC: So Harvey was clearly not your first experience with a tropical storm or hurricane. What was your first experience?
CC: Oh, man, that was so long ago — Alicia — Hurricane Alicia, I believe. I don’t remember what year it was, but I was — if I’m correct about the name, I was a kid. And it was a pretty good storm. My mom actually told me to go out to the mailbox – and this is during the storm – to get the mail, so it wouldn’t get wet. And I wound up like four houses down the street once I got to the street. It was a pretty good one. And needless to say, I learned never to go outside during the storm.
KC: In comparison to your first storm, Alicia, how did Harvey compare? Not as bad?
CC: Not as bad. Harvey was not that bad in my area. Now, other places [0:04:00] in the city were hit pretty hard. But it wasn’t too bad out here. And my job got hit pretty bad. I used to work at a chemical plant in Freeport, Texas. And they flooded. They lost power. The plant went down. And we had actually sold our plant to a company called Olin. And the funny thing about that was they had brought in their people from management. And they were from Missouri or somewhere like that. So they never really experienced a hurricane. So they had this guy. He was, you know, all-knowing everything. And so I was on the hurricane crew, so normally, we spend the night. You stay there until the storm’s over to make sure the equipment continues to run and nothing goes wrong.
So this guy, during the eye of the storm — which is the calm part, right? So you get the storm, and then you get an eye. An eye last an hour or two. Then the storm continues on the back side. So we tried to explain that to [0:05:00] this guy from Missouri. And he knew hurricanes better than we did, you know, because we only grew up here and been through a lot of them. He sent us all home. And once we got home, it was fine. And we kept telling him, “Listen. It’s not over with.” “Oh, no, the sky is clear.” He kept telling us, “The sky is clear. Looks good. Y’all go ahead and go home.” But we had already spent the night. The deal was, if you’re on the hurricane crew and you spend the night, you triple time all night. So the whole time you there, you triple time.
So I guess he was going to save his company some money — sent us all home. And so needless to say, the next day when the storm kicked back up good, he’s calling everybody, “Can you come back in?” I was like, “No, pretty much flooded in now. I can’t make it back down. Sorry.” Now, the good part about it for me was, because I’m on the hurricane crew, I was still getting triple time for being at home [0:06:00]. As long as the storm was going on, I’m on the clock. So needless to say, I was pretty good. That was one good thing that happened out of it, so.
KC: Do you do anything else for work other than the chemical plant?
CC: Yeah, I have a cattle ranch. I raise cows. And they fared fairly well during the storm. They didn’t flood bad. It did hold a little water. And I had to take hay down to them, but other than that, they fared fairly well. I did lose a couple of babies.
KC: What are some of the hazards for the cattle and other livestock and animals in general during a storm like this?
CC: Mainly drowning. Now, it’s my understanding during this storm a lot of people that were off the I-10 corridor — they had cows on I-10 where the water had got so high the cows was swimming and getting onto the highway to get out of the water. They were — I didn’t see [0:07:00] it with my own eyes, but I’ve heard there were thousands of head of cattle on the highway. And people still suffering from that storm today.
KC: Do you consider yourself more or less fortunate than the average Harvey victim?
CC: More fortunate. There’s a lot of people that lost their homes and had just fixed them from the Tax Day flood. And I can’t remember the other flood, but we had three in a row. And some of the people had just repaired their homes and got flooded out again.
KC: It floods pretty often in Houston. Wouldn’t you say?
CC: It does. It does.
KC: Do you have any opinions as to why our city might flood so much?
CC: I actually do know why it floods so much. We are fairly low at sea level. We’re 50 feet above sea level. And everything that flows from [0:08:00] north Texas flows through here to get to the ocean. And there are other cities and towns that received a lot of rain prior to that. So the reservoirs were full, and they would open their floodgates, which filled our bayous and rivers up. And then when we got the extra rain, we just couldn’t hold it. So it overflowed.
Now, they know in advance that they’re going to get this rain. So I know for a fact in like Lake Livingston and Lake Houston, they’re going to keep that level in that lake at optimal, you know, depth so that the people — recreational people can have their recreation fun. But to me, if you know this big storm’s coming, going on and lower the level now, seven days out. You know, they’ll tell you seven days in advance. We’re going to get a storm. It’s headed this way. It could hit, you know, such and such day. They’ll show you every path it could take. If there’s a possibility that it’s going to hit your area, go [0:09:00] ahead and lower those levels in those big lakes so that you could hold that extra water, you know. Don’t wait until the last minute and try to dump it all, because then it comes to us. And that’s where we have the overflow.
KC: Right. What do you think that the city overall – you just gave a really good example of one of the methods – can do to prepare for, say, the next Harvey that hits us?
CC: As far as natural disasters, really nothing that you can do to stop it. But you can be prepared to kind of counteract the effects of it. So I think that they should keep the sewer systems clean for one. The bayous are full of garbage and stuff, so debris builds up and makes like little dams. So then it overflows into the neighborhoods. We need to keep those ways clear. And you know, when the storm surge comes in and the tide rises up, the water flows slow. So then the [0:10:00] extra rain, it just builds up. So it’s nothing you can really do about that, but if your waterways are low enough, and it should hold to capacity until it’s able to run out. But they wait until the last minute, and then you’re getting dumped from everywhere. Lake Livingston opened its dams up. Houston opened its dams up.
And one year, I can’t remember what flood it was. There was a reservoir up in the Dallas area. Dallas had been getting hammered by storms. I mean, the storms stayed around for like a week and a half, so they were sending a lot of water down. And then we got the rain, but we were already full from their runoff. And it just — you know, it just got us. I believe that might have been the Tax Day flood. I’m not sure.
KC: Do you, in your current house and neighborhood, have flood insurance?
CC: We do not this year, I think. They did put us in the flood zone a couple years ago. They made us pay for this extra flood insurance that we really didn’t need [0:11:00]. We know. We’ve been here over 50 years. And we know that this area where we’re at does not flood. But because they do the entire area, they put us in that zone. But they took us out, I believe, last year.
KC: What do you think is the most important safety tip for hurricane survival?
CC: Just get your food together. Get all the things that are necessary. Get you some batteries. Get your cleaning water. And you know, buy you some food — non-perishable items, so you can eat for a few days. And if you can, in advance, you might want to think about getting a generator, because one year, the lights went out for two weeks. And it was horrible. But I have a barbeque put outside. You know, the electricity was out, so we just cooked all the food that was in — all the meat that was in the freezer — barbequed it. You know, we did what we could. And I believe Papa John’s [0:12:00] opened up their thing about three days after the storm. Nobody had electricity. And they did on that side. And they gave away free pizza, so that was pretty cool of them. But yeah, it was — it was okay, you know?
And a lot of people came together. I had a friend of mine from high school that had lights. And so she invited us over, and we all went over to their house and got to get in some air conditioning — you know, take a good shower — you know, things of that nature. But you know, if you have a gas stove, you can light the stove. You know, you can cook. You can pretty much make it. It’s just kind of hard. All the luxuries are gone, but you can still — you can still make it.
KC: Alright then. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it. [0:12:52]