Kenneth Knox lived in Kingwood, Texas at the time of Hurricane Harvey. Before moving to Houston, Knox lived in Louisiana, where he understood the importance of living away from floodplains. After seeing news reports about Hurricane Harvey, Knox began to stock up on food and water. Fortunately, Knox’s home did not flood, placing him in a position to offer help for those who were affected more severely.
Knox recalls helping fundraise and pool money together for his fellow employees at Kinder Morgan that suffered property and flooding damage. Knox speaks on the emotional toll it takes to see neighbors and friends go through traumatic experiences of home rebuilding. Knox acknowledges how effectively and compassionately the state of Texas and the city of Houston responded to the crisis of Harvey. Knox finishes the interview about finding a Sherriff airboat in the middle of the road and when the Sheriff returned for it, he told them he had been out for 14 hours helping people, and he was so tired returning home that he did not notice the airboat detach from his trailer.
Interviewee: Kenneth Knox
Interview Date: October 17, 2018
Interview Location: Kingwood Community Center
Interviewer: Zalma Cruz
INTERVIEWER: Hello, today is October 17, 2018. My name is Zalma, and I’m here today at Kingwood Community Center with Mr. Kenneth as part of the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. We will be talking today about Mr. Kenneth’s experience as a Hurricane Harvey survivor.
ZC: Are you ready?
KK: I’m ready.
ZC: Great. Please state your name and your date of birth.
KK: Kenneth Knox. October 1, 1962.
ZC: And where were you born, Kenneth?
KK: Port Arthur, Texas.
ZC: Port Arthur, Texas. Prior to moving to Houston, did you encounter any type of natural disasters in Port Arthur, Texas?
KK: We’d been through several hurricanes in my life. I’ve lived along the Gulf Coast, mostly in Louisiana. So we’ve experienced a lot of hurricanes — never anything as nearly as drastic. Although Hurricane Andrew for south Louisiana [0:01:00] was pretty severe, it did not impact us where we were.
ZC: So when you moved to Houston, was there a specific reason as to why?
KK: I came for the career. I’m in the oil and gas business, and this is the epicenter for that.
ZC: Oh, the epitome of it. Prior to moving to Houston, did you have a family? Or did you begin your family?
KK: Oh, no, my family came over, my wife and two daughters when we got here — and had one more daughter after.
ZC: What were you doing in the days leading up to Harvey?
KK: Just working. Just going to work and knowing that it was coming and hoping that — for the best.
ZC: And how did you prepare for the storm?
KK: We typically have a hurricane preparedness box or, you know, extra food and just stocking up. But I don’t have a generator [0:02:00]. I don’t have the normal stuff. You just never know what you —
ZC: The water supply.
KK: Yeah, just had the normal food and water — and kind of get ready.
ZC: How did you feel the first night of Hurricane Harvey?
KK: Just kind of worried for Houston in general and the people in the low-lying areas. We know where Houston likes to flood or typically floods. So you know, Kingwood had never — we moved to Houston in ’95. And in ’94, there was a pretty significant flood event that impacted Kingwood. And so when we bought, we made sure that we knew, kind of, the boundary of that flood and tried to not buy in those areas. Just having been in Louisiana, the water does come back.
ZC: You tried to keep away from the floodplain ones?
KK: Uh-huh, yep.
ZC: By any chance, when hearing about Hurricane Harvey, did you think it would pass by quickly?
KK: [0:03:00] You know, watching the weather, the way it responded, it seemed like it was going to be a long event. And the weather forecasters predicted it pretty good. I felt like that, you know, you had long, advance knowledge of what it was doing and what the water was likely to do.
ZC: On the first morning after Hurricane Harvey when you stepped outside of your house, or if you evacuated, how was that first morning?
KK: Well, we have friends that got flooded, so that night, they were impacted and trying to salvage what they could and move upstairs. So that morning, they called to say that they couldn’t get out of their house. They were stuck. We were not physically flooded, so my story is more about the rescue and the aftermath. But yeah, we were really concerned about several friends that had water in their house [0:04:00].
ZC: Did you tag-team with other neighbors? Or was it yourself doing the duty of rescuing in your neighborhood?
KK: We helped more after the initial rescue. I went and picked up my friends after they got picked up by a boat. And we brought them to our house, and they stayed with us. And then we talked to other friends and made arrangements, where as soon as the water went down, we were in working in houses and trying to help with the demolition.
ZC: Demolition part?
ZC: You speak about your neighborhood being impacted. I know you said you came here for the oil part. Did you, by any chance, go back to work immediately? And if not, did you hear news about your work being impacted?
KK: Yes, Kinder Morgan — I work for Kinder Morgan. And they put an impact list of families that were severely impacted. And so we [0:05:00] formed a community group at work to raise funds the help with one of our co-worker’s families down in the Clear Lake area. So we raised money and provided them with assistance for their recovery.
ZC: Was it FEMA assistance-related?
KK: No, it was just individuals at work pooling their resources and funds to deliver needed supplies and money to one of our co-workers. And so we had a very large outreach within the corporation. And I think there were excess funds delivered to other organizations to help, too. So we provided as much as we could to our employee base. And then we helped the community as well.
ZC: How long did the funding process last in your workplace?
KK: I think our part — we — it took us about two weeks to make two, [0:06:00] I guess, deliveries of supplies. But you know, we were raising the monies and trying to coordinate with the families to make those deliveries. Several more of them were displaced to hotels and to other places. And so we were trying to coordinate where we could be on site and help where we could.
ZC: That’s very nice of you. I know you said that more of your neighborhoods got flooded. You were mainly like the rescue house. How were you able to update these families and yourself without many of them having electricity?
KK: Well, like I say, a lot of them stayed with friends and family within Kingwood that wasn’t flooded. So our role was just to get out and help with the demolition and the wet stuff out of the house to prep the house to be dried. And so we did three houses, I guess, in the days following, which was quite a bit of work [0:07:00]. And then, you know, you have to go back to work, so you do what you can.
ZC: You got more work, okay. I know you said you experienced hurricanes and other natural disasters being in Port Arthur and being near Louisiana. Did any of that experience help you during Hurricane Harvey?
KK: Oh, yeah. If you live along the Gulf Coast, you know how to prepare yourself mentally and physically with the necessary supplies and things you need. You just grow up with that knowledge.
ZC: Now, I’ve got to ask the [unclear, 0:07:33] question. Was Hurricane Harvey different this time around?
KK: It was different only because I knew so many people that were directly impacted. You know, when a hurricane comes through south Louisiana and the village and the area you lived in isn’t directly impacted, you have an opportunity to have friends and family that are impacted. This one was very close to home. This one was right across the street, so it was [0:08:00] — it was different in that regard.
ZC: What was the most difficult part? I know you were a rescuer. What was the most difficult part?
KK: Just to see the size and scope of the impacted area was probably the most difficult thing — to just mentally comprehend how big that storm was and how many people were severely impacted. You know, we watched Hurricane Andrew move across the peninsula of Florida back in the ‘90s. And that was a pretty devastating event, but we didn’t know — physically know people in that area. When it moved into south Louisiana, it impacted more people that we knew. But still, it was not directly situated on top of us. This one was the closest I’ve been that really —
ZC: Hit close to home?
KK: It hit very close to home.
ZC: I know you said you stayed in your home while [0:09:00] your neighbors stayed at your house. How long did that last? How long did they stay at your house?
KK: I want to say they were at the house for four nights. I guess four or five nights.
ZC: And you were just supplying them water and food?
KK: Uh-huh, yep. We had electricity and everything we needed, so they were, you know, just welcome guests.
ZC: I know you said just a little bit of flooding happened at your house. Did you have any intense damage to your property?
KK: We had a little bit of water damage. One of the walls — outer walls on the second floor, I guess, during the height of the storm moved a little bit and let water run into the kitchen. So we had minor damage — nothing — for a storm that size, I’ll take that every time.
ZC: It’s okay. Compared to three feet, right?
ZC: Did you feel like the City of Houston dealt with Hurricane Harvey well?
KK: I felt like [0:10:00] the City of Houston did very well in that. That was a — the State of Texas did very well. Houston did well, but the State of Texas, I felt like, really showed a lot of compassion. The people reached out and really did a wonderful job at making that recovery go, in the early stages, as fast as it could go. Because the critical mass is getting the wet stuff out of those houses as fast as you can. It salvages the house. It allows the house to begin to recover. And the amount of outreach for that was pretty impressive, I felt.
ZC: For future references, do you think there’s something the City of Houston should improve on? Or the State of Texas, you said we did a really good job. But is there something?
KK: I think you learn — you take pause and learn from every event. And I think the leaders in those areas should definitely circle back around and take note of the lessons learned from [0:11:00] this one, because it was so massive that different areas of the state had to deal with different types of impacts. Those people down along the Gulf Coast, when it first came ashore, are still recovering, because it was such a devasting and just massive — you know, just wiping away everything. The flood victims here had different needs and different issues than what those folks along the Gulf Coast did.
ZC: Do you think we are prepared for any other future big storms?
KK: You know, you’re as prepared as you want to be, you know. I think you’re as prepared as you — there’s people in our government that that’s their job, disaster preparedness. And I think that they’ve had enough differing events over the last 10, 15 years that [0:12:00] that they should be prepared. Shame on them if they’re not. That’s their job.
ZC: And to wrap up this interview, how did you acknowledge the first year after Hurricane Harvey?
KK: How did I?
ZC: Acknowledge the anniversary? How do you remember it?
KK: You know, we went over and had dinner with our friends that had been displaced. By that time, they were back in their house. And so we just kind of celebrated with them and gave thanks that they were back in and doing well. I do have one more Harvey thing. That’s why I came in here. I wanted to offer it to you.
ZC: You can add on anything, yes.
KK: So we had an event the second night. I guess the rescues were still going on. We were in our house, and we heard a loud boom outside. I mean, it was loud enough to make you wonder, “Oh, maybe a tree had fallen on a house.” We ran outside to see what it was, and there [0:13:00] was an airboat sitting in the street — not on a trailer, just an airboat randomly in the street. And we began to kind of look around to see, “Where could an airboat have just come from?” The airboat was clearly labeled, “Harris County Sheriff’s Department.” And we walked around it. And there was no one there. I mean, it was just this random boat sitting in the thing. So I own a boat. I knew the boat had probably fallen off the trailer. So I climbed up on the boat and said to everybody that had come out to see this strange thing — I said, “Well, under salvage laws, I’m claiming it. It’s mine.”
ZC: First to claim.
KK: And they took pictures of me sitting in the airboat. And you know, what do you do? You got this big airboat just sitting in the street. And it was several minutes before a vehicle came back. And it was pulling an empty trailer, so we figured, “Okay, the guy’s [0:14:00] come back.” And the sheriff said he had been out for 12 or 14 hours rescuing people all day. And he was exhausted. And the strap to the trailer broke. And the boat just fell off in the street. And he went home and parked his supposed boat and trailer and got out and realized the boat was gone. And so we — you know, we asked him, “Obviously, this is your boat.” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Well, under salvage rights, I’ve already claimed it.” And he looked at me, and he said, “I have a gun, so I think it’s still mine.” And I said, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” So we helped me him load the boat back on his trailer. And that was kind of a comical thing, because he actually cranked the boat up — the motor on the airboat up — yeah, at 10 o’clock at night. And all of the neighbors could hear this thing. And so social media blew up. There’s a plane landing on Tree Lane.
ZC: Tree Lane, oh, no. It’s a boat [0:15:00].
KK: But we felt for that sheriff, because he had been out really working hard all day long and for a long time. It was a — he was just physically and mentally exhausted and just lost his boat there in the street.
ZC: Did you ever hear back from that police officer?
KK: No, but we waved at him for several days later. He would go by. He lives fairly close to us. And so when he would go by, he had a great big yellow strap all over that boat, making sure it didn’t fall off again. We’d wave at him as he went by. But no, I never talked to him again after that.
ZC: That wraps up our interview, Mr. Kenneth.
ZC: Thank you for sharing your story today. And also, it’s very nice of you just to take your time to do this interview.
KK: It’s good to help you students.
ZC: People can look back to our archives, and they can use this as a remembrance of Hurricane Harvey.
KK: That’s one of the funny stories of Harvey. It blew up all over social media.
ZC: It’s going to go back, and they’re going to see the photos. Those photos are going to reemerge [0:16:00].
KK: You want a picture of the boat?
ZC: Oh, you know, if you have it, that will help. [0:16:06]