Melissa Flores is a biology student at the University of Houston who grew up in Cypress, Texas. Flores recounts her experience with tropical storms and hurricanes throughout her time living in the suburbs of Houston. For most storms, Flores recalls, her family was lucky to see no damage or flooding to their home since they lived higher than the rest of the neighborhood. When Hurricane Harvey made the news, Flores’ parents requested she return home from campus.
Melissa originally thought they were overreacting and stayed on campus until Harvey flooded the first floor of her apartment and she realized the storm was more serious than she had expected. When she returned to her Cypress home, the family lost electricity but were prepared with coolers and a gas stove. The preparation came from years of experience with significant storms in the area. Another factor that coincides with significant storms is community support. Flores speaks specifically on Houston support after Hurricane Harvey. The interview concludes with the discussion of air emissions and pollution in the city.
Interviewee: Melissa Flores
Interviewer: Diego Garcia
INTERVIEWER: This is Diego Garcia interviewing Melissa Flores for the Houston Harvey project. We’ll be talking about Hurricane Harvey.
DG: So Melissa, tell us a little bit about yourself.
MF: So I’m a Biology student here at U of H, and I — my parents live here in Cypress. I grew up in Cypress — decided to come to U of H to go to school close to home. Yeah, I’ve spent my whole life here in Houston — in the suburbs of Houston.
DG: And then you ended up here at the University of Houston?
DG: And what are you majoring in at the University of Houston?
MF: Biology with a minor in Math.
DG: And in your life prior to being here at the university, did you experience any hurricanes or flooding events of that type?
MF: I did. We experienced a lot of like — I guess like tropical storms. Every couple years, you have one really bad one and a pretty bad flood. But it wasn’t consistent. I don’t think, as far as I can remember, it ever was as bad as Harvey.
DG: During those floods [0:01:00], did your family experience any kind of negative impact or anything like that?
MF: I think we were very fortunate to be in a good neighborhood where we didn’t flood much. But we were always stuck on like an island sort of. Like all the surrounding areas would flood, so we couldn’t get to grocery stores and work and anything like that. So although our home was safe, we were stuck.
DG: So you were aware of the negative impact of flooding and hurricanes?
MF: Yeah, we were. We were just fortunate not to have to experience it first-hand, but we did — you know, lots of our close friends and family members in surrounding areas, we had to come help them like get out of their homes and move their stuff and save their furniture on the second floor, because the furniture on the first floor was ruined and a lot of things like that.
DG: Well, that’s good that you were helping them. When Harvey came and you and your family — well, Harvey came, and you were at the University of Houston already?
DG: Okay, so when it came, did you think it was going to be as bad as it was? Were you expecting it to be bad? Were you expecting it to be not so bad [0:02:00]?
MF: No, I really didn’t think it was going to be that bad. I had just moved into my new apartment, The Vue on MacGregor, like right off of campus. And my parents were like, “Oh, there’s a bad storm coming. It may flood. You need to come home.” And I like thought they were overexaggerating. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but I was like, “Okay, that’s fine.” And I’m really glad that I did listen to them although I thought they were overexaggerating. But I moved back to Cypress, because the first floor of my apartment ended up flooding. A lot of cars that were parked on the floor that I normally park on like weren’t able to move. Like those cars got flooded, so I was really fortunate to have like moved away from like an area that does flood to my home that doesn’t. Yeah, I was glad that I did move, although I underestimated it.
DG: Were you living, at the time, in the apartment on the first floor that flooded?
MF: I lived on the third floor. My car, I’d always park it near the elevator.
DG: That’s pretty fortunate. And did you take your car with you home?
MF: I did. I did.
DG: Okay [0:03:00]. During Hurricane Harvey, did you experience any negative impacts or effects?
MF: It was about the same thing as previous years. We were lucky. Surrounding areas weren’t. I think in the last — like having experience like how long ago — because we do lose our electricity pretty bad. We’ll lose it for a couple days at a time sometimes depending on how bad the storm is. So previous experiences have helped us like know how much water we had to like stock up on and how many like canned veggies we could stock up on. For years, we’ve been wanting to switch to an electric stove, but we keep deciding to keep the gas stove. Because when storms like this come up, it’s really convenient to have — you know, a gas stove.
DG: And so this year — I’m sorry to interrupt you. Go ahead.
MF: No, you’re fine.
DG: So this year, did the electricity end up going out? Not this year, this hurricane, Hurricane Harvey, did it go out?
MF: Yeah, it did. And we were glad like we had coolers ready, so whenever the like electricity would go out, we’d get all the ice from our freezer. We’d get all the important things to a cooler — canned soups — all kinds of like canned [0:04:00] like foods that we could like just heat up on the stove. We were — we were pretty well-prepared.
DG: How long was your electricity out?
MF: It would go out just about every day for, I want to say, maybe a week.
DG: Oh, wow.
MF: Yeah, it would go out for like maybe 12 hours at a time. We’d get a little electricity for a couple hours — literally, just enough for us to like charge our phones, and it would go out again.
DG: That’s quite a lot of outages.
DG: So I heard you say a little bit ago you were prepared for Hurricane Harvey?
DG: So what kind of preparations did you have in place?
MF: So it like — for previous hurricanes and tropical storms, it was maybe like hit or miss. Sometimes we were prepared, and sometime we weren’t. And my parents aren’t Houston natives, so they were — we were all kind of like learning this like on our own together for the first few times. But we were all prepared with [0:05:00] — like I said, like canned foods, like frozen pastas, little things that like even if the power went out, we could move to a cooler and it’d still be good. And when it was ready to cook, we’d just throw it on a stove and, you know, be prepared with that. Lots of water bottles — like an excess amount of water bottles. But yeah, we were pretty prepared.
DG: Yeah, sounds like some common preparations.
MF: Yeah, portable chargers, too, that’s a big thing. Portable chargers, we always had them like charged and ready.
DG: I know that your house wasn’t negatively affected by the flood, but were there any residual effects that affected you because of the flood or the hurricane?
MF: Yeah, my brother, he goes to high school in the area. And the school was flooded, so he couldn’t go back to school for a while. The carpets had to be removed. Like our community was greatly affected by it. A lot of our loved ones had — you know, their carpets had to be like pulled. All kinds of like — what seemed like small damages [0:06:00] were very costly — like a carpet, or like, you know, dining room tables had to be replaced, because they got wet. And when wood gets wet, you can’t really do much with it anymore. Yeah, although everybody was safe, everybody did suffer some sort of damages around us.
DG: In your immediate area, did you see any business damage? Were there businesses that were flooded or affected?
MF: Yeah, there was a lot of — I think just the buildings in general that weren’t in a, I guess, lucky spot in Cypress, the whole first floor was like completely flooded. Some had a couple inches. Some had a couple — like what looked like a couple feet of water. It really depended on what side of the suburbs you were in.
DG: At what point during the hurricane or the moments leading up to the hurricane did you say, “Oh, man, this might be a bad one?”
MF: So we actually like — growing up, it was kind of like a fun thing for us to do — is when we knew that it was going to flood, we kept — because we live near the [0:07:00] Bear Creek reservoir, which is, you know, put there for us to not flood ideally. So we would go check the reservoir and see how high the water was getting. And it was always so fun for me as a kind like to go watch it and see. Like every day, we’d go like look at it, and the water would get higher and higher. But I think, now, as a like young adult, you know, we did the same thing with my family. We’d go check on it, and when I realized how high the water had gotten – and it was higher than I remembered ever seeing before – that’s when I was like, “This is — this is probably going to be bad. Like this isn’t fun anymore. This is pretty bad.”
DG: The reservoir you’re speaking of, about how much of it was full at the time of Hurricane Harvey?
MF: It was completely full, like overflowing. The surrounding neighborhoods were — their first floors were under water. Like it was pretty bad.
DG: Wow. How did you and your family keep up with the storm? Weather apps, news channels, what was your main tool to keep updated?
MF: Yeah, weather apps were really big [0:08:00]. We watched the news, but I think just nowadays anything on your phone is so much more convenient. So we just checked it like every couple of minutes. Every like maybe 15 minutes or so, we’d check to see like where the storm was going — see if it would clear up for a little bit, yeah.
DG: That’s a pretty common thing. So big question for you — or I should say a multi-segmented question for you — I know that all Houstonians know about Mattress Mack and the people that really did big things to help the city. Do you know of anybody or did you and your family ever reach out to an organization like that for help? And/or were you involved in any kind of help organization at a time after the hurricane and during recovery?
MF: Yeah, so my — the church that my family goes to, they had multiple volunteer groups put together to go out and help, you know, the less fortunate people like out of their homes safely — kind of like — like not [0:09:00] rebuild their homes but basically tear out the carpets — like help them in any type of way possible. This all started right around the time that, you know, my parents were allowed to go back to work. And I was allowed to go back to school, so although we weren’t able to physically volunteer, we did donate. And we did try to help in any type of way possible. And I think that is really important — that if you are one of the more fortunate ones — and even if you can’t give your time — even 10, 15 bucks, an organization that’s doing so much for the community really does go a long way.
DG: During the storm, how did you communicate or keep in touch with family members and other friends that were experiencing negative effects?
MF: I think we were all able to keep up through cell phones, which is great. We were all — you know, had just some electricity to charge our phones — just enough like portable chargers. And if not, you know, go to your car and charge your phone, so we were all able to like keep up with each other and make sure that like all of us were safe. My grandpa lives in The Woodlands, so were able to contact him, too. And we were all networking through the greater Houston area [0:10:00], trying to make sure each other were like okay.
DG: That’s good. That’s good. And is this the largest weather event you’ve ever experienced?
MF: That I can remember.
DG: That was impactful I should say?
MF: Yeah, definitely.
DG: Most definitely? Well, it was a big one, so that’s probably why. After experiencing the storm and seeing your community and your friends and family be affected and whatnot, what do you think is something that the community should know and that you would tell the community to prepare for these kinds of storms?
MF: You’re better off being over-prepared that you are under-prepared. Like I said, like I know it takes a lot of trial and error, especially if you’re not used to living in a city that floods so horribly like Houston does. You’re better off having too much water, you know, or too many canned goods, or too many portable [0:11:00] chargers, or too many flashlights, too many candles. Then you aren’t finding yourself in a situation like that where you can’t leave your home and you have nowhere to go and you have no source of communication, you know, with anybody. You’re better off over-preparing always than under-preparing.
DG: And do you think that the preparations that you and your family had done were enough, or too much, or not enough?
MF: I think it was, if anything, maybe a little bit too much, but it was — it was a good amount of preparation.
DG: And do you think that your preparations will change now, considering the size of the storm and knowing that this can happen again?
MF: I think so. I think so definitely, because we planned to have another like Ike or Katrina sort of situation. And it was worse, you know. We went longer without electricity. So I think now we know that it’s just like every storm is different. Like even like the worst storm that I’m pretty sure was Harvey was pretty bad, so we know that it could potentially get worse every time. So I think it will probably change our preparations a little bit more.
DG: Okay. So after [0:12:00] going through all of this, what are some things that you would do differently than you did during the storm? Is there anything you would do differently because of the storm and the events that occurred?
MF: I think maybe I would just, you know, kind of follow in my parents’ footsteps and reach out and kind of, you know, tell all my friends, too. You know, like either come stay with me at my house in Cypress, because we don’t flood. Or reach out and get more people in a safer place, because at the time, I thought my parents were overexaggerating. I was just like — I said bye to my friends that I had at my apartment, all my new neighbors that I just made friends with and left. And I — now that I know how bad it could get, I would probably reach out and try to like spread the message, too — that like we all need to prepare.
DG: We all know that the storm was a horrible event, but do you think anything good came out of the storm?
MF: I think a lot of unity like throughout the communities [0:13:00]. It was really good. Everybody got together. It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is, you know, what your race is, what your religion. Everybody was just trying to help each other out. Like there were neighbors that were in a better position than — like the neighbors like four or five houses down were going on boats, trying to help each other out. Little things like that, I think they created unity. And it kind of put everybody — gave them like a reality check that like no matter who you are, like we all like are here to help our neighbors out. And it also — I think it was a big lesson for everybody. Like I said, it teaches everybody like you can never be too prepared for these kinds of things, especially during hurricane season. Like you need to have, you know, some sort of preparation in mind already or some sort of plan.
DG: Okay, that’s fair. Last and final question, in Houston, I’m sure you’re aware that traffic is terrible. There are worries of air quality. There are problems in the energy industry. There’s a ton of different problems, whether it be crime [0:14:00] or whatnot. Where would you rank flooding if you were to put it in a ranking of one out of five? Where would you put that ranking from the most important being one and least important being five? Where would flooding fall?
MF: I think when it’s — when it’s during hurricane season, the season where it floods like what happened, it’s up there like a four or five for sure. I know it may vary on what side of the city you live on. Like I said, like I live in the side that wasn’t too, too effected compared to those who live like right here at the heart of Houston. But I think just over all it’s a four or five. It’s pretty high.
DG: If you were to decide on whether or not our city officials focused more on making the traffic better and improving our highways or increasing the size of our reservoirs and getting some sort of anti-flood program, which one do you think is more [0:15:00] important to you?
MF: Repeat the options.
DG: If you were to decide between your city officials putting in an anti-flood mechanism of some sort or increasing the size of the reservoirs or have highways streamlined and less traffic, which one do you think you would want?
MF: I think the first one. I think fixing highways or making them more efficient, I guess, in like an evacuation sort of setting — not all of us are fortunate enough to find a place to evacuate or to be able to afford to leave Houston and, you know, make it to like a safer city or town. I think it’s more important to make it safer for those of us in Houston. Make us safer in our homes.
DG: Alright, well, those are all my questions for today. It was great to meet you. And thank you.
MF: No problem.
DG: Alright. I’ll see you soon [0:16:00]. [0:16:02]