Johnny Holmes, a native to Austin, Texas, moved to Houston, Texas for college approximately forty years ago. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Holmes lived on the third story of an apartment complex. Although Holmes did not suffer flooding consequences, he experienced power outages and store closures. He recalls concern he felt for those who lived next to a bayou.
To prepare for Harvey, Holmes purchased water, canned goods, and other items he deemed as necessary. After Harvey landed, stores were closed for a few days to a week due to flooded roads and power outages. Despite a few communication gaps during the storm, Holmes was able to maintain connected with family and friends through cell service. Many who found themselves in a situation with flooding were rescued by boats or cars able to navigate through the flowing roads. Holmes finishes the conversation discussing how Tropical Storm Imelda did not cause damage or flooding to his neighborhood.
Interviewee: Johnny Holmes
Interview Date: October 4, 2019
Interview Location: WALIPP Senior Center
Interviewer: Ursula Renee McKinnis
INTERVIEWER: Today is October 4, 2019. I’m Ursula Renee, and I’m here with Johnny Holmes at WALIPP Senior Residence to talk about Hurricane Harvey for the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project.
URM: What’s your first name, Mr. Holmes?
URM: So to start, would you please, again, state your name and tell me a little bit about yourself, such as when and where you were born? And where did you grow up?
JH: Okay, my name is Johnny Holmes, H-O-L-M-E-S — born in Austin, Texas, but I’ve been Houston around about — I’m going to say 40 years at least, okay. So therefore, I’m a Houstonian. But I was raised mostly in the west Texas — in Odessa-Midland area but primarily in Austin and came to college [0:01:00] to Houston by way of Prairie View and so forth — and attended Texas Southern and the University of Houston.
URM: Oh, wonderful. So you came to Houston to attend college and just decided to stay?
JH: Yes, decided to stay.
URM: So now, you’re a Houstonian?
JH: Yes, uh-huh.
URM: Okay, wonderful. Prior to moving to Houston, had you ever experienced any type of hurricane or extensive flooding event while you were in Austin?
JH: No, no, I do not remember any extensive flooding. We have a lot of hills there, and so it depended upon what part of the city you lived in. You’ll probably escape those unless you’re at the bottom of a hill, you know. But we never — we never really — I never really experienced it in, you know, my years. But when we’re talking about 12 or 15 or so years, okay?
URM: Okay. And so [0:02:00] what was it like in your neighborhood prior to Harvey? Were you living here prior to Harvey?
JH: Yes, I was. I was living here, so this area of town had some high water in the streets. But for the most part, we were effective to — I guess minimum in so far as things like power going out and things of that nature. We had some high water on the streets, but — and there may have been some flooding at some of the apartments on the first level. I think some did have a lot of water, because the rain comes in and so forth. So we did — I do remember that — a little bit of that, yes, uh-huh.
URM: Some flooding on the first level?
URM: What level did you live on?
JH: I live on three, so I was safe and so far from the water, you know. But the only effect is if the lights when out [0:03:00] and so forth. Of course, we were affected, because we could not get to the stores and things of that nature that we needed to. So it’s always — it’s an indirect effect on everyone, okay? You maybe escaped the flooding, but you still can’t travel necessarily.
URM: Right, right, okay. What was your first impression when you heard about a possible storm when Harvey was en route? What were your impressions? What did you think?
JH: Well, number one, I was always concerned about the flooding, because Houston streets in certain areas get a lot of water. And certain areas have flooded more than other. So that’s always a concern, even with us being near the bayou. Previously, this area has flooded several years ago even with the bayou there. Homes in certain areas not too far from here [0:04:00] were flooded out. And it’s kind of — sometimes it’s hard to imagine that if you’re right next door to a bayou. But that has happened, so I had some friends that — who were flooded out. This may have been, you know, 15, 20 years ago. But it always come back to memory that that’s always a possibility, okay?
URM: Yes, that it’s a possibility. And so since you know that it’s a possibility, did you prepare any particular way for the storm?
JH: Only the usual that you do in a hurricane. You try to go out and purchase water, canned goods for eating, and things that you know that you are not going to be able to purchase at the store but that are going to be necessities. So you just sort of follow that — follow that pattern or suggestion. So I started stopping and purchasing bottles of water and so forth.
URM: [0:05:00] When the storm starts, I’m sure there are people who may be concerned who may or may not be in Houston. Were you able to keep in contact with friends or family?
JH: Yes, I was. I was able to keep in contact for the most part. However, some of the communication gaps were closed. And so this here did prevent complete, hundred percent communication.
URM: It did? Okay. Previously, you mentioned that during the storm your access to the stores and getting additional supplies or necessities was limited. How long did that go on where you weren’t able to maneuver to go to the store?
JH: Okay, now, I may be mixing this up [0:06:00]. I will confuse storms one storm from another, okay?
URM: That’s easy to do.
JH: Okay, yeah, the names and so forth. But at least two or three days in this area. I know at one while it was maybe over a week. The reason is that the stores have to close. Supplies cannot get in because the flooded roads. So even though the store may be open, it’s limited. Or it just may simply be closed if the — we’ve had stores to close, because the power in that area was out. So there are various reasons, you know, for that. So what I think in this case here, maybe just a couple of days. I say that because I had to go and purchase supplies to help out those that were affected. And it didn’t take a long time for me to be able to do that.
URM: Oh, okay, that’s good. And how were you able to assist others during the storm?
JH: Well, number one [0:07:00], purchasing supplies for cleaning and so forth, offering to try to get to them — those that were stranded. That was one option or to pick them up from locations where they were being — I would say carried — those that had been rescued, you know. So I had family members that were brought to a location, because they had to be rescued by boat — and so offering to pick them up, to house them until we could get back into their neighborhood, okay?
URM: That’s great. For some of the people who were affected on the first floor, what were they able to do? Was there a shelter set up nearby?
JH: Not necessarily. I think most of — here again, I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure if the apartments were [0:08:00] not livable. And here again, I’ll admit I may be confusing this with another — you know, as you talk to other members that are here that live — some lived on the first floor. They can tell you a little bit more about that, but I don’t think anyone had to go to a shelter. They have had — they may have had to go to, let’s say, another relative’s or a motel if they could get there, okay? Or just move in with someone else, okay? Or it could have been there water was able to — you know, was swept out, and they still could remain there — just wet carpet, okay?
URM: Post-Harvey, we experienced recently Tropical Storm Imelda, which also brought additional flooding throughout [0:09:00] the city. But it was in certain regions. Did it flood in this area?
JH: No, it did not — not that I can recall. No, it did not. Now, some homes may have gotten it. One street — you can go two streets over, and you can get some flooding. That happens in Houston, okay? So all I can tell you is about our immediate streets, especially the one that usually floods behind us here at this location. Water’s usually high there. And I did not see any immediate [unclear, 0:09:40], you know, local streets that were — that were flooded, no. There may have been.
URM: But not that you know of, okay. So is there anything we have not discussed that you would like to add?
JH: No, not for Imelda, except that I’m, you know [0:10:00], real blessed in our area. And that’s always the case — always the case. Had my brother and his wife’s family moved one street over, they could have spared, you know, being — having to be rescued. But that’s just the way it goes, okay?
URM: Okay. Well, Mr. Holmes, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
JH: Okay. Well, thank you.
JH: Thank you so much. I enjoyed it.
URM: Thank you.
JH: Hope you’ve got some valuable information.
URM: I did. Thank you. [0:10:26]