Herman Baker

Herman Baker is a private security guard who works in Fifth Ward. During Hurricane Harvey, he and his family went to Brenham, Texas. While Baker did not receive damage to his own home, and credits the fact that his family did not have to be rescued to following weather forecasts. Baker recalls watching continuous news coverage of the disaster. He believes that the city government and first responders did a good job reacting to the storm. After the storm, Baker remembers how neighborhoods and communities came together to clean up and make repairs. For his family, the roughest time during the storm was returning to their homes and seeing the damage. He explains that he believes God sent the hurricane to bring communities together. For those without insurance, getting claims filed and repairs started was an ongoing challenge at the time of the interview. At the end of the conversation, Baker discusses the looting he witnessed in Fifth Ward after Harvey and says that the crimes continued for about two weeks until power was fully restored. 

Interview Date: April 11, 2019 

Interviewee: Herman Baker 

Place: Lyons Unity Missionary Baptist Church 

Interviewer: John Brundrett 

Transcriber: John Brundrett

JB: okay, so we are recording, and I am going to start this one as well for backup. I’ll delete this one as long as that one is working properly. 

Today is Thursday, April 11, 2019. The interviewer’s name is John Brundrett and we are conducting this interview for the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. Sir, could you give us your name and the date that you were born? 

HB: My name is Herman Baker and I was born 2-28-57.  

JB: Alright. How long have you lived in Houston or the Houston Area?  

HB: I’ve lived in the Houston area approximately 35-40 years or longer.  

JB: Where are you from originally? 

HB: I’m originally from Brenham, Texas.  

JB: We’ve talked a little bit of this before we started recording, but what has been your past experience with other tropical storms and hurricanes?  

HB: Basically what I usually experience with tropical hurricanes and storms is mostly wind, rain, and the biggest part is flooding – water. People getting caught in floods can’t get home and stuff like that.  

JB: When did you recognize that Harvey was going to be a serious weather event?  

HB: I started listening to it a week or so before it actually happened. And I knew then because I followed the weather and I knew then that it was going to be one of the worst storms that probably ever hit Houston.  

JB: It absolutely was, but how did you personally weather the storm? 

HB: TV, radio, newspapers, stuff like that. 

JB: So how did it really affect you though, and your home?  

HB: It really didn’t affect me and my home a whole lot, but I did experience some high winds. We did get quite a bit of rain. We had some roads flooded, some bridges that were shut down and impassible. But to the most part the thing that really happened to my home was that it affected my roof.  

JB: So what would you say was the most significant moment of hurricane Harvey for you – whether it’s damage or just impact on maybe the community around you? 

HB: It was basically the other people in the community area. Let’s say Houston, Pearland, Humble, Baytown, and the surrounding area that got really, really flooded and affected. And I kind of felt for those people. 

JB: How did the storm affect perhaps not you, but your family in the greater Houston area? 

HB: Some family in the Houston area was impacted pretty hard because they had to evacuate – leave their homes – leave stuff behind and grab what they can and get out in a period of time so that they didn’t get stuck so that they had to be rescued. So unfortunately I was blessed that none of my family had to be rescued or nobody just lost a whole lot, especially lives.  

JB: Of the people that you just referenced – that did kind of have to evacuate – did they need any assistance during the storm? 

HB: No. They didn’t need any assistance during the storm because they listened to the weather like I did and they got out before the storm actually hit. So they didn’t have to be rescued or anything like that. They drove their own personal cars from Houston and the surrounding area to my hometown. So they were able to make it without being rescued. 

JB: Well that’s fortunate and good to hear. So maybe like larger in the neighborhood or maybe the neighborhoods that your family lived in – what role did you see the local, state, or federal government play in relief efforts to help affected families? 

HB: I saw it quite a bit. I mean it was just really amazing because I glued myself in the recliner and I glued myself on the TV screens and I watched. And it really was a disaster, and I think the people in the surrounding area, neighbors, I think Sylvester Turner, and the rest of the people  – the mayors, not just the mayor, but mayor Sylvester Turner and the other neighbors. I think that brought a lot of people together because at that point people started to … [his phone rang, and he took it out of his pocket to silence it] 

Sorry about that. I’m going to put it on vibrate. Now, where was I? 

JB: We were talking about maybe the government’s role in helping with relief efforts. 

HB: Yeah. I personally think they did a pretty good job, and not only the government because they opened up the astrodome, they opened up Star of Hope, and I think everyone pitched in and did a wonderful, wonderful job as far as helping each other to try to – I mean I saw helicopters going in and rescuing people. I saw people on top of their houses being rescued. I saw people in attics that couldn’t get out of their attics because they were trying to get from the water, and they got rescued. So it was just truly a blessing that a few lives was lost, but it could have been more. So I think the government and the first aid responders did a wonderful job.  

JB: So of course you witnessed a lot of this on TV, but here we are in 5th Ward today where you work. Did you witness any of this first hand – like any of these efforts when you came down perhaps, to do any work in the aftermath of the hurricane? 

HB: No. I just saw a lot of people getting together as I just stated. They were getting together and coming together as one big family and everybody was trying to help each other with whatever needed to be done. As far as removing trees, removing debris and all that kind of stuff. So I think everybody did a wonderful, wonderful job as far as doing that.  

JB: So even outside of government, then, you saw local nonprofits, charities, and religious institutions helping out as well? 

HB: Yes, yes, yes.. A lot of churches pitched in and stared helping. A lot of people did just other things and put money together that had needed to do what needed to be done right then and then after they I guess they just waited on government assistance to go and do the rest. So I think it was a beautiful thing that everybody did come together and not being selfish and individually take care of what just happened to them. Even though people that did get affected as bad was not helping people – I mean it was really, really terrible. It was terrible. I drove through neighborhoods, especially out there at West Road and Highway 6 and Copperfield. It was a disaster. I felt sorry for these people. Everybody out there pretty much lost everything. Matter of fact, I have a friend out there that has a business out there. He lost everything. So he had to start all over.  

JB: I think at the end of the interview, if you’re comfortable sharing his contact information. I think [if] he’s comfortable discussing this I might want to explore that further. But we can talk about that in a minute. Some of these questions you know they’ll be rehashing some stuff – I mean that’s alright if you want to go into more detail. Could you maybe take me through a day of the hurricane, and maybe what was taking place in the weeks afterwards during the cleanup – perhaps what challenges did you face, or maybe your family? And how did that change over time from when the hurricane actually hit up to a couple weeks out – because clearly it impacted people over the long-term. 

HB: Well, the day of the hurricane it wasn’t as bad as the aftermath. For instance, some of my family members had to leave and be evacuated. Their roughest time was going back to face and see what they actually needed to do. What damage was caused, and what they needed to do and once they got back they saw water in the house, roof being torn off, but to the effect that no lives was lost. And again I think everybody – at this point, even today, people are still struggling from that hurricane. Trying to get their homes re-done, rebuilt, remodeled, whatever. I still see people in the neighborhood with the blue tarp on top of their roof. And apparently – I don’t know what really happened – but I guess they didn’t have insurance or didn’t get the proper government assistance that they needed. So it’s still an ongoing thing from that particular day.  

JB: So what impact do you think the relief efforts have had on – for example your family members who you’ve said that had a tough time coming back? 

HB: I don’t think it had a whole, whole bunch of impact. It was just that it was time consuming as to what they needed to get done. Like roofing, and from inside sheet rocking and whatever needed to be done. They had to go through so many channels and changes with the insurance company to prove this, prove that, prove that before they actually – and a lot of them actually just had enough money to get started with on their own, and then they waited to see if the insurance company would come and reimburse them. Because it was so many people that was already filing for help, and they wasn’t even at home yet to do so. 

JB: So now we’re looking at, I guess – is it a year? Or two years past? We’re a little over a year, right? 

HB: We’re a little over a year, I think.  

JB: A little over a year past the storm – what do you think the storm’s impact has been long term on – I mean you can speak to  yourself, your family members that were affected, or maybe even their community or your own?  

HB: I think it’s an ongoing thing, because people always say “mother nature,” but mother nature is not the answer to that. It’s God’s will and what he wants done and what he’s doing. And I think – and I don’t know if you want me to say this or not – but I think God is doing all this stuff to bring people closer together. Because the whole world now is just spreading out. 

JB: Whatever you’re comfortable talking about. 

HB: Because you know it’s just so many people. I mean if you have a home in a neighborhood- you don’t know your neighbor across the street – your neighbor don’t know you. You don’t even know your neighbor next door. But when that hurricane came everybody, rather they knew each other, spoke to each other, or just waved at each other. When that time came that everybody needed help there was no doubt about it. There was people coming from everywhere. And the good thing about it – they had people that didn’t get affected at all from different states – different parts of the world that was coming to Houston to pitch in. That was a great thing.  

JB: Would you say that there was some value in the way that communities reacted and the relief efforts that followed the storm? 

HB: Yes. I would. I think that was a great value. 

JB: This question may a little bit rehash and go into what we discussed just now, but does your neighborhood specifically face any special long-term challenges that are unique to the community? Perhaps a situation that is different that is facing your community than let’s say other parts of Houston regarding storms? 

HB: You mean the community that I live in or?  

JB: I mean you work here, so you could speak to the 5th Ward as well. 

HB: Well, yes. I would say so. And the reason why I would say that is because people in the 5th Ward area, 5th Ward, Acres Homes, 3rd Ward, South Park, those people most of them, the majority of the people out there – and it’s not a secret – most people does not have insurance. So that really puts an impact on them when something like this happens. Most of the people out in these areas – but there’s other people in the surrounding area as well – Meyerland – they don’t have insurance either. So when something like this happens, they are very devastated. They don’t know which way to go. Which way to turn.  

JB: What else would you want people to understand about Hurricane Harvey’s impact on 5th Ward? 

HB: I want them to know and realize and understand that, that is something that God planned to do. And it’s just not – and I hear people say it all the time: “mother nature.” And that should be clarified. I don’t think it’s just mother nature. I think it’s just what God planned to do in order to get everybody to communicate, and come closer and help each other. Not only when a disaster like that comes, but on a regular and on a daily basis. And I think people are starting – since this hurricane I think people are starting to do that. Because if I’m your neighbor – I see you every morning, and all I do is wave at you, you wave at me, maybe. I don’t know your name, you don’t know mine. I see someone break into you house – I’m closed mouth. I don’t say nothing, but I see it. I don’t want to get involved. I feel like that’s no right. We’re supposed to help and look out for each other at all times. We’re all humans.  

JB: So Mr. Baker, before we wrap up here as we’ve gone through most of the questions that I have; is there anything else you would like to add? 

HB: Yes, I would I guess. I would like to see 5th Ward, and the surrounding areas that have been truly impacted get together and help each other. If they have to do one community at a time and just get everybody back up situated where everybody is comfortable living in the area that they are living in. I would like to see a lot more improvement, and I see some now, but I would like to see more.  

JB: Could you tell me a little bit more about what types of improvements – maybe specifically what you would like to see in the area of 5th Ward? 

HB: Okay, in the area of 5th Ward, if I drive down on Lyons Avenue right now, from this point where we are, I drive down Lyons Avenue I see a lot of abandoned houses. I see a lot of abandoned businesses. And I see a lot of businesses that are not abandoned, but there’s no one, you know. And I think that the city of 5th Ward, or the community of 5th Ward, I think that most people is probably afraid to start a business because they feel like “that’s not a successful area to put a business in.” But I think the 5th Ward could be just as great as River Oaks. So I would like to see a lot of these businesses, a lot of these houses out here be remodeled or torn down and replaced. And I think that would help the community a whole lot.   

JB: Do you think that the 5th Ward, considering how heavily it was affected by the hurricane and past hurricanes that that may prove to be a problem? Or perhaps how do you see people overcoming that? 

HB: Well, I think 5th Ward has been heavily impacted on, but I see areas of Houston that has been impacted even more, and I think if I’m not mistaken, southwest has been impacted at least what, three or four times in a row, compared to what 5th Ward has? I think the worst one in 5th Ward was the last one we had. And I think they had a big impact on Hurricane Katrina I believe it was, but to the most part 5th Ward did not get impacted as much as some other parts of the city.  

JB: well Mr. Baker that’s just about it for my questions. But I’ll go ahead and open the floor to you one last time if there’s any other things that you would like to add to the interview before we close up. I’m all ears.  

HB: I would really just like to see – 5th Ward is like a historic area, and I would like to see 5th Ward just grow back like it used to be back in the years past. 5th Ward has some popular things going on around here. They had matinees, they had theaters, I mean they had all kinds of stuff that used to go on out here. On this particular street right here – right down this strip. They had all kinds of stuff going on out here. All kind of night buildings and stuff like that. I would like to see them regrow.  

JB: So you’ve seen significant change in 5th Ward, then? 

HB: I see changes now in different part of 5th Ward as far as them trying to build it back up. And I think it’s a good thing.  

JB: Well alright Mr. Baker, I think that just about wraps it up for the questions that we have. And I’m going to look at this recorder to make sure I’ve been recording this whole time. That’d be awkward if it wasn’t… It’s still counting, so I think we’re good.  

HB: If we had to start over, we’d just have to start over. 

JB: Well thank you for your time, and definitely for contributing to the project, and after the interview here after I’ve turned this off I’d like to talk to you about that friend you mentioned that owned that business. 

HB: Oh yeah, in Copperfield?  

JB: Yeah.  

[Herman Baker Rec. 1.wav END] 

JB: So this is the second recording with Mr. Baker and John Brundrett on Thursday April 11, 2019. We’re here at Lyons Avenue Baptist Church. And Mr. Baker wanted to talk a little bit more about the impact that the hurricane had in the weeks after it hit. So I’m opening the floor to you.  

HB: Okay. As we were sitting here talking and discussing – and I am Herman Baker at Lyon’s Unity Missionary Baptist Church, 3215 Lyons Avenue – as we were sitting here discussing a few things and a few places I discovered another big, big impact that that hurricane had on a lot of people in the surrounding area. And that was looters. Because me, myself, is a private security officer and after the hurricane I did a lot of security in different areas to try to keep people out of people’s homes, out of people’s businesses, because that’s what they was doing. They was going in and taking, because there was no light. They was going in taking people’s item that they could get. Food, it didn’t matter, stores, grocery stores. It didn’t matter as long as they could get in and it was easy access getting in, because a lot of places didn’t have windows, doors wasn’t locked, and they could just go walk in and get whatever they wanted – whatever they could. So yes, I did have to do a lot of security work after the fact that the hurricane was over.  

And I actually think that that’s wrong for people to do, but that’s just part of what goes on in this world.  

JB: How long did you see looting and things like that taking place during the aftermath? 

HB: It went on, and on, and on until pretty much everybody got their lights back on. And that took weeks. Some of them was longer than that. It was weeks and months. So as we moved around as we needed to, because if I was doing security in 5th Ward, and most people out here had their lights back on, then there was another area still waiting to get lights on to where looters would move to those areas to where there was not any lights. And this is what they would do. And it was mostly at night. 

JB: Did you see any reactions by local government in relation to any of the looting or anything like that? 

HB: Yes. Government, they stepped in and they did some extra security – put extra police officers on duty. Extra patrolmen. So it was pretty much covered, but you just can’t cover everything at one time. As a security officer I’m being watched, just like police officers are being watched, these guys are watching us just like we’re watching them. And they time us just like we cannot time them. We just have to wait and see what happens. But they’re watching us. They know what moves that we make and it’s kind of hard but I mean it’s tough.  

JB: So, you’re probably sick of me asking you this, but … 

HB: No, go ahead.  

JB: Is there anything else, now that we’ve talked a little bit more, even off recorder, that maybe you might want to add? 

HB: No I think we pretty much covered everything. And then just that one friend of mine that I was telling you about in Copperfield. I would love for him to do an interview and I think he will. He’s a personal friend of mine that lost everything. So I’m sure, and I know for a fact that he has a great story to tell. Because it actually happened to him.  

JB: Well alright Mr. Baker, I appreciate it. I’m going to press stop on the recorder again.  

[Herman Baker Rec. 2.wav END] 



















JB: well Mr. Baker that’s just about it for my questions. But I’ll go ahead and open the floor to you one last time if there’s any other things that you would like to add to the interview before we close up. I’m all ears.