Linda Vogel moved to Kingwood, Texas in 1979 and has lived here since. Vogel briefly touches on her experience with Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Allison, admitting that when she heard of Hurricane Harvey in the news, she believed electricity outages would be the worst consequence. During the beginning of Harvey’s rainfall, Vogel and her husband were driving a family member to the back of Kingwood.
On the way home, the Vogels had difficulty getting through the water on Kingwood Drive. Vogel recalls returning home safely, thinking of the loud sound of the rain, unaware that it had caused significant flooding to the rest of her neighborhood. She repeats multiple times that the high and dry location of her home led her to be naive to the rest of the community’s danger, although she had a premonition that something horrible was occurring. Vogel found out about Kingwood’s damage when she communicated with friends in and around the area. As their home managed to escape damage, the Vogels offered their help to the community, checking in on those who were impacted, helping to supply them with anything they may need, and offering emotional support. Vogel recalls a prayer walk with her daughter, where they walked through the damaged neighborhood, praying for those affected. As a chaplain and a life coach, Vogel helped many patients deal with the stress and trauma caused by Harvey. A few minutes of the interview are dedicated to Vogel recounting other’s experiences with the storm; a couple who walked to the nearest safe shelter, a friend who had to be rescued three times. Vogel then describes her disaster training and debriefing for psychological wellbeing in the time of events such as Harvey, revealing that she was glad for the training as a means to help and console those more drastically effected by the storm. She continued on the topic of support and care for others by recalling the efforts made by her church for those afflicted. Vogel created a project called ‘Hope in the Forest’ for offering help to those in Kingwood, given its nickname ‘The Livable Forest’. The First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood joined in the mission for ‘Hope in the Forest,’ inspiring joy during the holidays with a forest of two-hundred miniature trees designed by individuals. The project enabled people to show their love and compassion for the families and individuals who had experienced flooding damages. When asked if the Kingwood community is returning to normal post-Harvey, Vogel says she hopes not. Vogel hopes that the good that resulted from the storm and the remarkable experiences of compassion stick around. Vogel finishes her interview by acknowledging the thankfulness felt by those who survived Harvey. Despite horrible conditions, the overall reaction post-Harvey was one of gratitude for making it out of the storm alive and experiencing love and support from their community.
Interviewee: Linda Vogel
Interview Date: October 27, 2018
Interview Location: Kingwood Community Center
Interviewer: Calvin Blair
INTERVIEWER: Hello, today is October 27, 2018. My name is Calvin Blair, and I’m here today at the Kingwood Community Center with Linda Vogel as part of the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. We will be talking today about Linda’s experience as a Hurricane Harvey volunteer.
CB: Are you ready?
LV: I’m ready.
CB: Perfect. Okay, please state your name, and tell me a little bit about yourself.
LV: I want to thank you for this opportunity.
CB: Of course.
LV: Because Harvey was a huge event. And my name is Linda Vogel. And what else do you want?
CB: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do? You know, you could state you live in Kingwood or anything about yourself.
LV: Okay, well, I do live in Kingwood — a very long time. And I’m a professional chaplain and a life coach. And so I’ve [0:01:00] absolutely loved doing that. And I continue to do that. And a wife, a mother, a mimi.
CB: How many kids do you have?
LV: I have three.
CB: Okay, and how many grandkids do you have?
LV: I have twelve.
CB: Oh, wow. There you go, okay. And are you from Houston?
LV: I am from Long Island.
CB: What made you move to Houston?
LV: It was a divine appointment. We had no intentions of leaving Long Island. We bought our forever home, and then the taxes went crazy. And we decided that we didn’t want the house to own us. So my husband came down here and was originally thinking we were going to be going to Florida. But we ended up with a U-turn to Texas [0:02:00]. And as pathetic as this sounds, living in my little world of Long Island, I honestly thought people rode horses. Is that awful? I thought, “Oh, wow, really?” But we ended up moving down here. And it was a great, great, great adventure. We came with a great attitude of thankfulness, because it was such a beautiful community. To find Kingwood, we had — we didn’t know anything about Houston. I hardly ever left Long Island much less moved to Houston. And we looked all throughout Houston, because we didn’t know about areas or sections. And then somebody told us about The Livable Forest.
CB: Yeah [0:03:00].
LV: And so we drove into Kingwood Drive. And this is back when the furthest Kingwood Drive went was to the empty lot where the high school would be built — not even to Town Center.
LV: So we just immediately fell in it and called it home, so we’ve been here ever since.
CB: Awesome, and when was that?
LV: That was in 1979, ancient of days.
CB: That’s okay. And what would you say was the biggest difference between living here in Kingwood in that first year and your life in Long Island?
LV: The people. The people. Houston’s about the people and beautiful, beautiful people — friendly people. Coming from the world that I live in, honestly, if somebody greeted you, you just [0:04:00] kind of looked the other way, because it wasn’t safe to respond to people. Because it was just a different culture. It was truly a different culture for me.
CB: Right, right, okay. Alright, well, I guess tell me about a typical day for you, say, leading up until the days before Harvey. What would have been your normal routine?
LV: Well, life is about people. And so I think, for me, it’s — it was finding ways to make a different in people’s lives anyway, because I’m a hospice chaplain. And life gets sorted out when you’re dealing with the essentials of life. And so it’s a great privilege to do what I do [0:05:00] and to share in the journey of people’s lives for the good and the not-so-good. So up until then, I was just doing what I could to just help people walk through very difficult times in their lives and find meaning in it and purpose in it.
CB: In the lead-up to the storm, I know you’ve lived here since ’79, so you’ve been through a couple storms. What made this one unique? Or what were your thoughts going into preparation for this storm to make landfall?
LV: Well, we heard so much about the storm coming and the amounts of rain. We said — because it was going to be a storm that came in, looped around, and came back — so that was pretty different [0:06:00]. That was a very different scenario than most of the storms that — all of the storms as a matter of fact. So the preparations were the basics that you do, never, ever, ever anticipating what was about to happen — never, because it was so far beyond that.
CB: Did your experiences with Allison and Ike impact your preparation for this storm?
LV: I dreaded the thought of losing electricity, which I thought was going to be the worst part.
CB: Did you lose power during Ike?
LV: We did, but with Ike, it was a week, yeah — miserable week.
CB: Walk me through when the storm hit. Did you [0:07:00] get water initially? Was the street flooded? How did that happen for you?
LV: When the storm hit, they’ve done a lot of construction in our area, so we lost a lot of trees. So thought, “Hmm, wonder if we’re going to get flooded?” Because, you know, it could easily happen. So we were a little bit worried about the flooding but not having any understanding whatsoever what was going to happen. So yeah, little bit concerned about, but what can you do, you know?
CB: After the storm happened and after we started getting the rain, what were your next steps in dealing with the flooding and preparing to move on for life after the flooding?
LV: Well, the [0:08:00] day that the flooding really began and the storm had come and the rain was — you know, just going crazy, we were — we had family that was here. We had family that was traveling in Austin. So we were going back and forth with helping one of the family members back and forth to her house and our house with just some of the preparations for the storm. And we came past Kingwood High School to deliver her to her home in the back of Kingwood. And we noticed that the water was coming across the road. And we thought, “Hmm, that’s weird.” And we thought, “Oh, well, that’s probably going to be the worst that it’s going to be.” So then as we came back — and this is [0:09:00] like at the very, very most maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, because we just dropped her off and turned around. We could almost not get through Kingwood Drive. My husband had a truck, and it was like way, way up there. And we’re going — we were just shocked at how much water was still coming. But we were blessed that we were able to get through it and go on home.
CB: What day was this? Do you remember?
LV: I don’t know.
CB: Was it like Tuesday?
LV: See, I don’t know when the initial rain started. Was that –?
CB: I believe it started Saturday.
LV: On Saturday, yeah, I couldn’t even tell you. It’s like a big, old flood.
CB: Yeah, okay.
LV: But it was before the community really got flooded. It was probably close.
CB: You said you had family in Austin [0:10:00], but then what family was this that you were helping?
LV: Well, it was family that live here, but they have a daughter at UT. And she was — she’s a swim champion. Give her a plug. And so they were there at her swim meet. And so actually it was — it was the day — now that I’m thinking about it. It was the day that the whole community flooded, so it was the post-release of water.
CB: Right, from Lake Conroe?
CB: When they did release the water, did you hear about them preparing to release the water in Conroe?
LV: No, I didn’t hear anything about that. The main thing that we heard is, you know, just the rain — the rain, the rain, the rain. And I had no idea, because I was high and dry. But I heard a lot of noise [0:11:00] on the main road. And it was still raining, and I said to my husband, “You want to just walk down and just — boy, that’s a lot of noise.” Because you could hear — which I had no idea that the flood had come in and flooded all my friends and family that live back here. So it was crazy.
CB: What kind of noise was it like?
LV: You know, just a lot of heavy traffic. You could hear, you know, just the sounds of trucks and trailers and just that real swishing — just a lot of unusual sounds. And when we got to the corner, we stood at the corner. And we looked and saw this truck with this trailer with [0:12:00] this sign. And it said, “Cajun Navy.” And I said, “What is that?” I had never even known about it. So I saw that, and I thought, “Something bad has happened.” And it was, but we didn’t even know that. We had no idea that people were in such terrible danger and all of that, because we were high and dry. And we didn’t hear anything about it. And I — you know, I wasn’t on the website, Flooding Kingwood. And I don’t even know if it was working at that point, but I had no idea. But I said to my husband, “Something really bad has happened.”
CB: How did you find out about the scope [0:13:00] of things and how bad it had gotten?
LV: Yeah, well, I think it was just probably online at first and then, of course, just hearing from friends and finding out what was going on. It was so big and so overwhelming that — it’s the weirdest thing that you can be in the middle of a disaster and not even know that it’s happening. And that’s kind of how it was for us.
CB: Were you just reading the news? Or were you on Facebook?
LV: Yeah, it was just being online with different things that people were starting to say. But you couldn’t comprehend what was really happening, because nothing like that scale of things had ever happened here. So you wouldn’t even have a frame of reference, [0:14:00] you know, kind of thing.
CB: Did you get involved with volunteer work? When the water started to recede a little, what were your steps?
LV: Yeah, we did. We started checking on people and realized that one of our family members who lived in one of the apartments was completely flooded out. And he didn’t even know it, because he’s the one that was in Austin. And so it was just kind of an unfolding as things went on. Then you start checking on people and realize the scope of it. So it was pretty overwhelming to say the least. And yeah, we got involved with the friends that we knew [0:15:00] and just, you know, tried to help them with the after effects. But there wasn’t much you could do when the whole thing was happening. You’re pretty limited in what you could do at that moment.
CB: What did you do after the waters had finally receded? What was your routine in trying to get life back to normal?
LV: Well, mainly, it was checking on those that were impacted and just going and helping them physically with what they needed — you know, mucking out houses and bringing food and giving the emotional support. I guess the day that it — when the water had finally receded, the first day that you could even get anywhere, because it was such a disaster [0:16:00], I just went to some of the communities with my one daughter who was not impacted. And we just prayer walked the neighborhoods and met people that were just kind of dazed because their houses were just completely flooded and just went on the street and just supported the people — let them just talk, you know, on what was happening to them and provide some prayer support and encouragement and compassion. That’s — that was the only thing at that moment, because everybody — the world stopped when the flood came. The world stopped for the people that were flooded out, you know. So that’s what we did in the beginning.
CB: And how was your work as a chaplain affected [0:17:00]? Or did your role evolve? I know you mentioned the prayer walks, but how did your role in that change?
LV: The role of chaplain just switched locations, because Kingwood was isolated. You couldn’t — you couldn’t get out through Lake Houston. And you couldn’t get out across the bridge on 59. And so I could not get to work for a week like many other people. And so all the support switched to phone. And unfortunately, every patient that we had was impacted by Harvey one way or another. And a majority of them were impacted eventually by the loss of life, because it’s so difficult for somebody that’s so compromised to be able [0:18:00] to cope with that degree of a disaster. And I visited one of our patients who was in a local care facility, which was fine, except for her very room, which ended up flooding. And they relocated her. And because of her fragile state, it just impacted her very negatively. And she eventually just passed away.
CB: Was that something that you were expecting before the storm? Or were the stress and the after effects something that —
LV: I think it contributed. I think that there were a lot of loss of life [0:19:00] that were impacted indirectly by Harvey. And I’m thankful. I still cannot believe that not one person drowned in Kingwood, because the water was up to the necks of people. And one of my dear friends had to leave her house and walk through that flood up to her neck to get to a house. She didn’t have a boat rescue her. She and her husband just got out and walked to the only house that was high enough in her community not to be impacted. And so that — I thought about, “You know what? She’s about a head taller than me.” So I mean, I would have had to swim [0:20:00], because it would have been over my head. I know that’s crazy, but — and I had — oh, my goodness, you know, the stories that you hear from your friends, you know. If I can just tell you, this one friend of mine got rescued three times.
CB: Oh, wow.
LV: Three times. When I finally caught up with her, I asked her, because I knew she had gotten flooded. But things were just so chaotic for days and days. But when I finally was able to catch up to her, she told me that she was driving to work. She was just leaving to drive to work. She got flooded out. Some truck came by and rescued her and deposited her at a store location. Well, then the store got flooded out. And she had to get rescued again. And they brought her back home. And then her house got [0:21:00] flooded out. And the Cajun Army — I think it was. I don’t know if it was them for sure, but — had to just drive up to their door. And they had to be rescued out of their own home. And her husband did not swim, so he was extremely impacted by the fear of water — I mean, drowning. If you can’t swim — if that’s not a reason to give your kids swim lessons — so just the trauma that I watched my friends go through. Some of them did okay. Others of them — you know, it hits everybody differently. Some had insurance. Some did not — all of those things. It was quite a huge, life-altering event.
CB: Yeah. [0:22:00] Was there something from your past that made you more mentally prepared for the after effects of the storm? Like did you anticipate the psychological effects and like long-term stressors?
LV: Yeah, I’ve had disaster training and done debriefing. And so — not that I really planned on that, but I think that was helpful to know the value of how you could provide support and to be able to be there for people. And Mary Jo, who is one of our friends that has served a lot in the community, she and I got together and devised a plan to provide some extra support for people.
CB: Briefly, [0:23:00] what kind of things does disaster training cover? Or how does it prepare you for something like this?
LV: Well, it was the emotional-support side of it — of going through debriefing sometimes, you know, on the scene and sometimes later depending on what your situation is. And for people, in order to process everything and progress to the next place, they need to be listened to. And so I think — you know, God gave us two ears and one mouth. And it’s real important that you use your ears a lot more than your mouth, because the kind of trauma that people go through isn’t a physical thing a lot of times. But it’s an [0:24:00] injury that can be buried because of just the demands of life. But if — anybody can provide for support for another person. All it takes is listening and giving people the time to tell their story and to have genuine concern about who that person is.
Because every story’s different. And I’m sure you’ve heard that. Every single person has their own story. And each one is so unique and so precious, because it’s life-altering. In any disaster, there’s a rainbow. And the rainbow is what made Harvey [0:25:00] beautiful, because Harvey was a terrible tragedy — terrible, traumatic tragedy. And as I volunteer, I felt so helpless watching what happened and feeling like, “Oh, my goodness. I can’t put a Band-Aid on what happened to you. I cannot do anything to change what happened, but I’m sure going to be your friend. And I’m sure going to listen as best I can.”
And I am so proud of the responses that came out of Harvey, because you hear over and over — you know who the responders were. It was the church. It was the church getting out of the four walls, going to the community, and just lending a hand [0:26:00]. And that was so heartening, because you know, Christ loved people. He came because He loved people. And He wants us to love people. And how do you do that? You get out and you care for people. And you meet their needs. And you put feet to what your faith is. So it was a great opportunity to love people. That is what Harvey did. It gave you an opportunity to love people.
CB: Uh-huh, absolutely. What did your church do specifically? What efforts were you a part of specifically with your church?
LV: Well, I go to a big church [0:27:00]. And so part of their efforts, which became part of my efforts, was to go out into the community — and I had mucked houses with friends beforehand. And I just felt a calling for the heart healings. So I put a team together, and we went out to — with the teams that were mucking out the houses and just brought the families out, the people out, the individuals out and just sat down and just what I said — let them talk to us about what happened and provide some comfort and compassion and some prayer support. So that was the part that I did with our church.
And then also after we had done all the mucking out [0:28:00], I had the privilege of being able to go back and call this huge list of people. And I put a small group together to help me to call people and say, “Okay, you know, we had come and done that physical part.” But we didn’t want people to think we don’t care anymore, which, you know, people can feel abandoned after the initial — so I called people and heard their stories, prayed for them. And if they had a need, I just channeled it. That was that part.
But I have — I have this little quirky way about me that I like to do different kinds of projects and not just get, you know, like a cookie cutter kind of thing. So I had done a project like this with my hospice families [0:29:00]. But because this was the year of Harvey, I transitioned my efforts in a different direction for the Harvey survivors and got together with Mary Jo and told her about this opportunity to support Harvey survivors during the holidays. And so I talked to her about doing a project called Hope in the Forest, because Kingwood is known as The Livable Forest. So I thought, “Okay.” And so I shared this idea where — you know, people lost everything, everything. If they had like a one-story house, they lost everything. People that had a two-story house, they lost everything downstairs [0:30:00].
As Christmas approached, who’s thinking about Christmas? You’re living in such a shell of a house, or you’re living in a hotel. Or you’re living in somebody else’s house. Or you’re living upstairs. Or you’re — I mean, the scattering that happened. So you know that people were not thinking about Christmas. And there’s little children in these families who are thinking about Christmas. So I asked for help from Mary Jo and her church. And they were wonderful. The First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood was a major reason that the project went forward, because the pastor of — that I spoke with, Mark Renn, caught the vision. Because he’s kind of crazy, too [0:31:00]. I don’t know if I can say that, but — and he caught the vision. And he helped me to mobilize — to build a forest, a miniature forest of holiday, little Christmas trees that we asked the community who were not impacted to join us and build a forest of these incredible trees that were designed by individuals. It was just a movement. And so they did that.
They helped me, and we began to grow a forest from five trees to ten to fifteen to twenty to over two hundred at least of these miniature trees. And there was a tree [0:32:00] right out here in the lobby — this little tree, for people to know about the project. Because, you know what, if you are untouched by Harvey physically, it doesn’t mean you’re not touched in your heart. And people were looking for something to do to express their love and compassion for the families that were flooded. So within a very short amount of time, we had a huge forest that we invited the community to come and to pick out their tree. And then the trees that were still there, because we got way more than we expected, we just gathered them up, went out into the sections of Kingwood that were [0:33:00] flooded out, knocked on doors, and said, “Hey.” And if they were there, we gave them a tree.
We went to the local hotels where families were staying with their children. And I brought a display of trees into their lobby, and there were people that were bringing meals in. I mean, because it’s such a huge community effort. And so while they came down for their meals, they saw the trees. And their children in their little pajamas just picked out the trees. And you just — it was such a joy to bring a little tree into a hotel room. Imagine spending Christmas in a hotel room and not even having a tree. So very little effort to do something like that, what great [0:34:00] rewards to just comfort and encourage people that are hurting.
CB: How close do you feel that the community is returning to normal? Do you think we’re already there or we’ve still got some time to go?
LV: That’s a loaded question. I should let you answer that. How would you answer that?
CB: I don’t know.
LV: Yeah, I know. That’s not fair to ask you. But will it ever be normal? I hope not. I hope we’ll be changed. I hope we’ll be changed by this. I saw so much good come out of such an awful thing. I saw people [0:35:00] loving people — talking to people instead of closing their doors and being nothing. And so as far as the overall recovery, it’s ongoing, you know. And I’m sure you know that. As we go through the community, there’s still plenty of houses that are in need of repair and just continued rebuilding. And you know, it’s just a remarkable experience that I hope I never forget.
Because I can’t even believe it happened. I really can’t. I still — I can still drive by a neighborhood and just want to cry because of what has happened. But yet there’s so much good. So yes, we’re moving forward, but no, we are not there [0:36:00] yet. And there’s a lot more to do in so many ways. And I hope that the friendships that were built will grow, you know, and that life will never be the same. I hope it will not be the same just like with 9/11. You can’t let events happen and not be changed by them. That’s foolishness.
CB: Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you wanted to say or an experience that we haven’t covered?
LV: Well, I’m just thinking about — I’ve heard so many stories from different sources of people. And the amazing thing is that I expected – and I was wrong about this – that there would be such an anger [0:37:00] over what happened. Because it was so costly to people. But what I found in the support groups and just talking with people — you know what came out of their mouths?
LV: You won’t believe — maybe you’ve already heard this, but — thankfulness. Over and over was thankfulness. Is that not amazing? Is that not amazing? They’re standing outside a house of rubble, and they’re saying, “I’m so thankful.” That is life-changing to hear a spirit like that. And in — we’re in such a fragile season politically, socially in our country. The spirit of Harvey that we have in Kingwood [0:38:00] speaks volumes to America to me. Because there was love, care. It didn’t matter your political affiliation. It didn’t matter your color of your skin. You know what mattered? We needed each other. We didn’t care about any of that, because in the heart — in the heart of hearts of people were people. And we should love one another. And so that is the greatest blessing that I saw happen. And for that, I thank the Lord for Harvey, because it brought out the love that we should have for one another.
CB: Absolutely. [0:39:00] Well, thank you for sharing your story today. In the future, researchers will be able to look back at this not just learn, you know, the timeline of what happened but how the people were impacted and what they were going through and what they were feeling. So I really appreciate you sharing with us today.
LV: Thank you for this opportunity. And I pray — and I’m just going to be very bold here. Lord, I pray that anyone that hears this interview — that their heart will be touched and moved to remember the important things in life — that’s people and showing love and care. And I pray, Lord, that that will just go on and that it will spread out throughout our nation. Because we have a great nation. And I thank you. In Jesus’s name, Amen. Amen.
CB: There we go.
LV: I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that.
CB: You’re absolutely allowed to do that.
LV: I am? Am I really?
CB: Well, yeah, we’re trying to capture you as a person.
LV: Okay. You got me there. That’s me. [0:40:19]