Erin Galland was interviewed on November 20, 2022, in the backyard of her home in Nesbit, Mississippi. Mrs. Galland lived in Houston until 2020, when her family relocated to Mississippi, and during Hurricane Harvey, her home did not flood but many homes in her neighborhood did. Mrs. Galland, her husband, and her three children all volunteered following the storm. Located in Tomball at the time of the storm, part of her neighborhood was in the 100-year floodplain, but her home was in the 500-year floodplain. She discusses how her job as an elementary teacher was impacted following the storm, and how she navigated returning to school at the same time her students did, with no time to plan. She also discusses how being a mother impacted her tactics for hurricane preparation, and what she experienced living in Houston through other major storms. Finally, she discusses how strong she believes the Houston community is and the strength she feels it took for the community to come together in such a hard time. This interview was conducted as part of the Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston Project at the University of Houston.
Read on for a full transcript of the interview:
Q: My name is Katherine Galland. I am in Nesbit, Mississippi at my family home on November 20, 2022, talking to Erin Galland about her experience during Hurricane Harvey. Can you state your full name and your birth date?
A: Erin Galland, June 28, 1978.
Q: And can you tell me about the area you lived in when Hurricane Harvey hit?
A: We lived in the northwest suburbs of Houston, near Tomball. Our address was Houston but we were in the Tomball School District right on the line in a regular suburban neighborhood, homes built in the late 1970s, early 1980s.
Q: Was the neighborhood in a floodplain?
A: Part of the neighborhood was in the 100-year floodplain. We were in the 500-year floodplain.
Q: Was your neighborhood impacted by the storm?
A: Yes. The backside of the neighborhood runs a bayou from the MUD District and over that week, I don’t know how many houses, but many, if not all of the houses that line the bayou had water in them and then houses across the street and in a few of the cul-de-sacs along that road also were damaged significantly within our neighborhood, and several neighborhoods around us were impacted as well.
Q: Was your home impacted at all?
A: No, it was not.
Q: Were you able to go to work after the storm?
A: No, we did not go to work or school for two full weeks after the storm. We could not leave the neighborhood for the first couple of days.
Q: What were you doing as a job at the time?
A: I was an elementary school teacher. I was teaching 3rd grade in Tomball Independent School District at Lakewood Elementary School.
Q: How, if at all, was your job impacted following the storm?
A: Well, we were not able to work at all for two weeks, we were out of school, and we did have several students whose homes were impacted, so, of course, that made a difference for us as teachers and school community. And then, also, after being out of school for two weeks and having all of this happen, we came back to school the same day that students did, which, for us, was pretty difficult not having a day to kind of figure out how we were going to manage things, like, questions from the kids and what was happening and who was impacted and how the city moves forward and stuff like that. So, that was a little bit difficult, but overall, once we got back to school, things fell back to normal pretty quickly.
Q: Had you been through a hurricane, a flood, or any other natural disaster before Harvey and if so, what was the experience like?
A: Well, we had been through multiple floods and hurricanes by that point. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison hit the city and I was pregnant at the time and working in an apartment, and 2,500 of our 5,000 units flooded. So, that was a really crazy experience that we had during that time. And then, during Hurricane Rita, when many people were evacuating the city after Katrina, we chose not to evacuate and we stayed at home. I was nursing a baby at the time and had a 4-1/2 to 5-year-old, and the thought of leaving was really scary, so we just buckled down and stayed at our house that whole time. We also went through Hurricane Ike, where we didn’t have power for 13 days and we were out of school for, well, about a week that time. And during the Tax Day flood, I was working in Spring and my kids were in school in Tomball and I had a very difficult time getting from my school to their school to pick them up because of the flooding in the street. So, we have a lot of experience with hurricanes and flooding just living there for so long.
Q: Did those experiences impact how you prepared for Harvey?
A: Absolutely. Each time, you kind of figure out what things you are going to need for, if you are out of power…. Luckily, we have never been out of water but we definitely prepared with food and water and making sure we knew where all of our people were, making sure they knew where we were, how we would get to each other should we need to do that, and kind of making a plan
Q: Did you hear the rainfall projections for Houston prior to Harvey hitting the city, and what did you think if you did?
A: Yes, we did know it was coming. We did hear the rainfall projections, and I don’t know that we necessarily thought it was going to be worse or better than any of the other times. It was just kind of, like, oh, here we go again; not necessarily, oh, this is going to be the worst thing ever type of thing.
Q: Do you remember how old your kids were during Hurricane Harvey?
A: High school, junior high, and 1st grade, I think. So, 7, 12 or 13, and 15-ish, I believe.
Q: Did having kids at home impact the way that you felt during the storm?
A: Absolutely. Of course, you are more scared to make sure that your children are safe and also with our youngest one, trying to manage helping him understand what it emotionally means for people to lose their homes, and helping them understand how the process of how a community comes together to help and why it is important for us to do that. Those were all things that were kind of forefront in our mind of how to, you know, once they are safe and everyone is okay, then how do we help them manage the emotional impact as well as trying to help them be a part of the community that they live in.
Q: Are there any stories that stick out to you from that time period?
A: Well, you know, we did a lot of things like washing clothes for people and seeing elderly people that weren’t able to do things for themselves like that, or one gentleman’s house that we took sheetrock out for him. They were trying to stay for a really long time and had their animals up on their kitchen island and I just thought about what a sad picture that was to have, you know, these animals waiting to be taken to safety on their kitchen counter. And another single woman who lived in a home for 50 years and she was elderly and her adult children were trying to get there to help her, and just what a tragic thing it was for this woman to, you know, she didn’t know where her insurance papers were, and she didn’t know where things were from her husband that had passed away, and she was trying to just navigate, like, what do you do next when 50 years of your life is now under water.
Q: Did you know anyone personally who was impacted by the storm?
A: Yes, one of the teachers that we worked with actually lived right across the street from that elderly woman that I was talking about. But as a community, as a school community, we all kind of got together to help her financially if we could, and with supplies and things like that. We also had our friends in River Plantation in Conroe that, when their home flooded in Harvey, they had literally just completed the renovations from the previous flood and we spent some time out there with our kids mucking houses and tearing sheetrock out and digging through mud and washing things off for people.
Q: Why did you think it was important to take your kids with you to do stuff like that after the storm?
A: Well, I feel like one of my most important roles as a mom is to teach my kids that service to others is important and being connected to your community is important and, you know, we all step up whenever there is a time of need. It also helps kids to just be grateful for what they have whenever they see other people that are going through things that are much worse than them and that we can offer help and light to those people.
Q: Did you volunteer with any specific group of people or was it just through word of mouth?
A: Both things. I washed clothes at Houston Northwest Baptist Church. We did some things with the other teachers and the staff at the school. Mike went out with the group that was organized at 3P I think it is called, the ATB shop, so we worked with different organizations. And then, sometimes we just… One of the days, we just made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and lunches and took them in a wagon and handed them to other volunteers. And that was something we just did on our own.
Q: And if another storm like Harvey was going to hit, what sort of things would you do to prepare?
A: I think probably if we lived in the same place that we lived in, we probably would do similar things. I don’t necessarily think we would change things living where we lived, knowing that probably we were safe, we would just make sure all of our people were safe, know where they were, have our network in case someone needed something.
Q: Would you volunteer again?
Q: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about during that time period that you would like to discuss or any other stories you can think of?
A: I just think it is cool that, you know, I haven’t lived anywhere else during a disaster, so I don’t really have a comparison, but I have always felt like, you know, something that’s really cool about Houston and Texas in general is just that kind of Texas strong attitude where everybody pulls together in time of need and just kind of does what is necessary and there is no… People just step up. And I think that is really cool. It was very cool to see our friends in River Plantation just, you know, have all the resources that they needed and people just willing to give what they had and things like that. I do think that some of the areas that maybe were not as socioeconomically affluent as our area may not have experienced that as much as we did, and I would like to see that change or maybe I might go to those areas as opposed to just the areas that I know. But I do think that Houston as a whole, is just a really cool place and everybody is familiar now. Everybody kind of knows the drill. And so, it is, like, okay, everybody get your hurricane stuff out and let’s all just do this together. But I cannot necessarily think of a specific story. When you guys were volunteering out in River Plantation and one of the houses we were in was not even completed with the renovations from the previous flood, it had boxes of brand new appliances that hadn’t even been put out yet – That was really, really sad to me. And how awful and hard it was for you when that woman found her cat that had died and things that you just don’t think about until you are actually in this huge, disgusting mess of mud and trash and stuff that underneath all of that were people’s animals and people’s wedding photos and baby blankets and things that are just tragic to lose.
Q: Well, I don’t have any other questions so thank you.
A: Thank you.
Q: And if I think of more, I will just ask you.