Perla Torres King lived in Baytown before moving to Crosby in 2015. King has experience with tropical storms and hurricanes in the areas, her first being Hurricane Ike. Although her family did not personally suffer damages, it did open her eyes as to preparing for future storms. King’s experience with Hurricane Harvey had more complications because her home was five minutes away from the Arkema chemical plant, which had an explosion due to the storm.
The Kings’ house flooded slightly and their vehicles were damaged. Since the Kings could not evacuate, the Army rescued them in a truck. To stay informed, King reviewed Fox 26 News and Facebook on her phone until she arrived at her parents’ house, where they had access to a television. In recounting her Harvey experience, King mentions the fear and uncertainty of the time. However, she reveals her gratitude for the friends and family who constantly checked on them. Upon returning home, King saw the aftereffects of the Arkema explosion, including puddles of black ashes on the ground. The danger of the explosions led to prolonged evacuation for Crosby residents and, unfortunately, to the death of the Kings’ pet donkey. As compensation, Arkema provided the couple with a rental car for a month and granted them $100. On the first anniversary of Harvey, King reflected on her experience and hoped she would not have to relive it. King concluded her interview by reflecting on returning to a semblance of normalcy post-Harvey and how Harvey will affect her preparations for the future.
Interviewee: Perla Torres King
Interview Date: September 27, 2018
Interview Location: Baytown, Texas
Interviewer: Laura Bernal
INTERVIEWER: Hello, today is September 27, 2018. My name is Laura Bernal. And I am here in Baytown with Perla Torres King as part of the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. We will be talking about Perla’s experience in Crosby, Texas during Hurricane Harvey. She and her husband live less than three miles away from the Arkema plant in Crosby.
LB: Are you ready to start?
PK: Yes, ma’am.
LB: Great. Please introduce yourselves.
PK: My name is Perla Torres King. I’ve been from Baytown — was born in Baytown. I moved to Crosby three years ago. And I’ve been living there since.
LB: Awesome. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up here in Baytown?
PK: Baytown, it been an awesome experience. I love Baytown. Growing up here, it’s a great city to live in [0:01:00].
LB: Living here in Baytown means living close to the water. Did you have any experiences, such as tropical storms or hurricanes, prior to Hurricane Harvey?
PK: Harvey — the last hurricane I remember staying here was Ike. And that was a pretty strong hurricane. And then after that, it was the experience with Harvey, which was in Crosby when that happened.
LB: What do you remember about Ike? I mean, I know you said you stayed, but do you recall anything about it?
PK: It was a pretty bad experience. I mean, we stayed here at home. The winds were extremely strong. And we tried to cover the windows and everything, but still, the wind was pretty strong. The whole house, it was — been like — it was going to tear apart. It was pretty [0:02:00] sad.
LB: Did you suffer any damages from Ike?
PK: Thank God, we didn’t, but other people around us, they lost part of their roof. Their trees have fallen on the streets. And we had electricity for a couple weeks. And yeah, that’s about it.
LB: After experiencing Ike, what lessons did you take away from that?
PK: I learned that next time a hurricane comes we have to leave. We have to evacuate, because — was a pretty dangerous situation by staying here.
LB: You said that you moved to Crosby a couple years ago. When you moved there, did you research if Crosby had flooded or how it had dealt with these situations before [0:03:00]?
PK: We talked to the neighbors. And they said it was barely any flooding around. They flooded but not as bad as they did with Harvey — that the water went down real quick. But when Harvey came, it was like really bad — something that had never happened in like 20 years.
LB: Why did you move to Crosby?
PK: It’s a really — we wanted the country — real quiet, real nice — and something away from the city.
LB: Your property is located less than five minutes away from the Arkema chemical plant. Did your proximity to the refinery ever concern you?
PK: It really didn’t, but when the Harvey came, yes, it kind of did. Because we had to evacuate. They made us evacuate when the water start rising. It was mostly [0:04:00] — then we went back while the hurricane was going on — well, after the hurricane. But they didn’t let us go in. While we was trying to go in, the plant started exploding. And it was pretty scary. We hurry up and left.
LB: Do you remember your first impression about Harvey?
PK: Yes, it was early in the morning. I didn’t think it was going to get flooded. Me and my husband woke up at 2:00 in the morning, and we looked outside. And the water was already covering our tire of our trucks — of our vehicles. So I told my husband, “We have to hurry up and get out of there.” But we tried, and we couldn’t. Because the water was already up to our waist. So then help came the next day [0:05:00]. And they got us out, and it was pretty sad. There were dead animals everywhere already, because it had already flooded. We have a donkey, and we couldn’t get him out. Because the water was already way too up, so we was worried about him.
But thank God that my parents came and got us at a church nearby where it wasn’t flooded. And we went and stayed at their house for a couple days until we got the chance to go back to our home. And when we went back to our home, it was really sad. We — all we seen was just animals dead everywhere, houses flooded, where — well, the water was already down, but it was really stinky smell. And then passing by the plant where all the — where it had exploded — and yeah — and [0:06:00] our house, thank God it didn’t go inside the house. But I mean, our donkey had died because of the flood. My neighbor had a lot of animals. All of them were dead. All of them — all the neighbors’ animals had died because of the flood.
LB: Did you take any precautions before Harvey’s arrival?
PK: No, we didn’t, because we never thought it was going to get flooded. I mean, nobody knew it was going to get flooded. And we didn’t think that Arkema was going to affect us either.
LB: You said somebody rescued you. Do you remember who rescued you?
PK: It was the Army. They had one of those big trucks, and it was driving by to see who needed help getting out. And me and my husband, my dog, my neighbors [0:07:00], we all left with them, because the water was way too high and dangerous. Because they were — you know, because of the water — dirty water because of the feces everywhere of the animals and the water wells and stuff like that. So it was kind of dangerous, and we had to get — and, plus, Arkema made us get out. We couldn’t stay.
LB: Did you go up to meet the Army? Or did they see you?
PK: They was yelling everywhere to see if we — that we had to get out. We really didn’t have no choice. They told us, “No, we — y’all have to get out. You know, Arkema’s making y’all get out.” So we have to get out.
LB: Social media was an important aspect of the Harvey experience, because it helped survivors communicate with friends, community members, and family members. Did you use social media during Harvey? And if so, how?
PK: Yes, we did through [0:08:00] — mostly through Facebook on our phones. We was looking at Fox26 news on the news, because we couldn’t really have touch with the TV. But once we got help from our parents and we was already at their house, yeah, we started watching the TV and started, you know, trying to figure out when we could back home, especially because Arkema wanted to see what as going to happen and when was they going to let us go back home.
LB: Did you communicate with your parents to let them know that you had been evacuated? Or how were they notified to where they could pick you up?
PK: Yes, I called them. And I told them the water was raising too high, so they tried to go and pick us up to our house. But they couldn’t, because the water was too high. And, plus, Arkema wouldn’t let nobody go in [0:09:00]. And so when we finally got help from the Army, the Army told us that we was going to be at Crosby Church on 90. And we told them to meet us there, so they can pick us up. When they did pick us up, we didn’t have no other way but go through Highlands way to the house, which thankfully, they didn’t flood. They didn’t have that much water, and that’s how we got in touch with them.
LB: As you went to your parents’ house, did you notice flooding in any other areas?
PK: Yeah, a little bit of Highlands and on 330, but that was it — not — it wasn’t that much flooding on our way to our — to my parents’ house, which is on Main Street. And it wasn’t that much flooding there.
LB: Were you able to bring anything with you?
PK: Not really, because we had our water all the way to our [0:10:00] waist. And we really couldn’t carry nothing. We just had to hurry up and get our important papers and my doggy. And that was all we could carry with us. We didn’t have time at all to carry nothing else.
LB: How did your friends and family help you following your evacuation?
PK: They helped us a lot by just keeping in touch with us to see if we was okay, if we needed anything, we needed help or any water, if we was okay. They was calling us and just keeping in touch.
LB: I know you have family in Mexico. Were you also able to communicate with them?
PK: Yes, I was able to communicate with him through the internet. They was writing me and seeing if we was okay and how was everything [0:11:00] and stuff like that.
LB: Did you let them know the whole story? Or did you just give them little snippets of it?
PK: At first, I only give them a little bit of information. I didn’t want to get them too worried. And then after everything happened and I let them know about how everything — how everything went down and, you know, how we had to evacuate and stuff like that.
LB: As you were being evacuated, do you remember what your thoughts were?
PK: Yes, it was a very scary feeling. I didn’t know if I was going to see my home again. I was mostly worried about my animal — my donkey, I didn’t know if, you know, he was going to be okay — if he was going to make it. And then the vehicles, you know, that can make up. I mean, they got flooded. We lost our vehicles, but — I mean, the most important [0:12:00] thing was my — me and my husband and my family. We was okay, but you know — and then I was worried about most of my stuff in my house, how we worked hard for our stuff, and — but yeah, the most thing that we lost that it hurted was my pet, my donkey.
LB: Once you started gathering more information about what was going on at the Arkema plant in Crosby, did you learn any specific information or just general information about the issues?
PK: It was just the general information. I mean, the neighbors said that all the chemicals was through the water — that we have contaminated dirt now because of what happened. A year after that, they still say it’s contaminated, but [0:13:00] it wasn’t mostly because of Arkema. It was mostly because of a lot of dead animals were floating around. And since we live in an area with septic and all of the dirty water was all around us.
But Arkema, yeah, it was kind of scary, too. I mean, we didn’t know if it was going to be big, big explosions. It was big explosions, but it wasn’t to the point where, you know, it was going to be too bad, I guess. But we really couldn’t see the explosion, because we wasn’t there. We just seen it on the TV. But when we went back, that’s when we see — we seen all the burnt stuff that had exploded in Arkema. But I still will stay there though. I mean, I wouldn’t move because of Arkema. I’ll still stay there [0:14:00].
LB: Can you describe what you saw at the Arkema plant when you first returned to your home?
PK: Yeah, it was like — like a — like big black things on the floor. I don’t know what they was — like big puddles of black ashes, I guess, all over Arkema. And the like — yeah, that’s all I could really see, because they had it blocked — but until now, it’s still like the — they have it covered. All this stuff that exploded, they still have it covered, so now, they haven’t really moved it. It just like big black things in there that got burned.
LB: Once you arrived to your parents’ house [0:15:00], how did you deal with the rest of the storm?
PK: It was — my parents’ house, it was — they treated us very well. I mean, of course, I miss my home, but at least, I knew it was safe just in case anything — the water start rising more or just in case the Arkema exploded — I mean, exploded way more. There’s time where it would have affected our health. So we were safe in a safe environment.
LB: Where did you stay in your parents’ house?
PK: We stayed in a — in their house. We stayed in an extra room that they have, me and my husband. And we — they treated us very well. And the rest of the family did, too.
LB: Did they help you gather supplies to make up for what you didn’t have?
PK: Yes, they did. They helped us when we weren’t back home. But when finally went back home [0:16:00], my parents got — helped us with food, water. And the rest of our family members — some of his family members helped us, too, if we needed anything — any water or anything like that since we couldn’t barely — we couldn’t get any water anyways because of the aerobic system that we have — that it wasn’t working, because it got flooded out. So we didn’t have no water at all for a few days.
LB: When did you first try to return to your property? Were you able to access it on that first try?
PK: When we first tried? No, we didn’t, especially — like I said, Arkema wouldn’t let us go in at all. We tried from every other entrance that we couldn’t. We tried to tell the sheriffs that we was just trying to check on our donkey to see if it was okay. And they didn’t let us in at all until [0:17:00] finally — one sheriff, he said, “Just hurry up and go in there, and just come right back out. Just go check on it.” So we went in there. We checked on our donkey, and he was — it wasn’t doing too well. I mean, the water had went down. It wasn’t flooded no more, but he wasn’t doing well. But we was trying to give him food and stuff. That’s when the plant first exploded. So we had to hurry up and get out of there. The sheriff just told us to get out of there, because the plant was starting to explode. So we was driving through — like 10 minutes from there. And we still could hear the plant exploding. I mean, the whole ground was exploding. But we had to hurry up and get out of there. And we finally went back home like a week after that.
LB: During that week, did you try to get help for your donkey?
PK: Yes, we did [0:18:00]. Our vets — well, everybody tried to go in there, but, because of Arkema, nobody could go in there — not even a vet, not even animal control, not even animal health, SPCA. Nobody could go in there because of the plant. So we really couldn’t help our animal because of Arkema.
LB: Your donkey, were you able to say goodbye to it before it died?
PK: Yes, a week after, we was able to go back. There was — one of our neighbors was finally there before us. And she was helping us like give him medicine and try to feed him. But once we got there, his legs were like really, really horrible from the water. And they were peeling off, and his stomach and everything was really bad. When we got there [0:19:00], we finally — you know, us trying to say goodbye to our donkey. And once we got there, he passed away.
LB: Was that also when you were able to return to your home to finally assess the damage?
PK: Yes, we got home. We walked around our property to see if anything else was damaged. And we just saw the water was up to our door, but — so it’s our trailer, but our trailer’s up like — up to our waist. So thank God it didn’t go inside the house.
LB: Did you notice any debris around your home?
PK: Yeah, our — the skirt around the home was destroyed. And we could see how much the water went up. And we have another little building, but that one was lower than the trailer. And that one did get [0:20:00] a lot of water in it. It was around 12 inches of water, but that’s not including the — how much lower — I mean, how much higher it was — and yeah.
LB: How did you feel when you finally returned?
PK: It was kind of scary and sad. It was really sad when I finally went back home. I was mostly worried about, you know, seeing my neighbors — all my — you know, it was a really strong smell, but that was because of all my neighbors’ animals that was there. They had a lot of goats. He had ponies. He had chickens — had cows. All of them were dead. None of them survived. And it was pretty sad.
LB: Did friends and family help you clean up after the storm?
PK: Yes [0:21:00], they did offer their help and everything. But we really wasn’t — really much to do.
LB: Did the City of Crosby or Arkema provide any services for you?
PK: Yes, Arkema did offer us a rental car for a whole month for us since we lost our cars. And they gave us a hundred dollars each. And they was in touch with us to see if we was okay and if we needed anything else. And that was about it, yeah. And I was going around our neighbors to see if we needed any help, but they did — they did try to help us with at least the rental car. They paid for the gas. They paid for the vehicle for me and my husband for a whole month [0:22:00].
LB: Was the money in cash or a gift card?
PK: It was cash. It was a hundred dollars per each person that lived in the house.
LB: And it was only one rental car, correct?
PK: It was — yes, one rental car per person — whoever lost a car, their vehicle.
LB: Is there anything else you remember about Harvey?
PK: No, not right now. It was just a pretty sad experience, and I wouldn’t like to pass through it no more — and also that we could have went back and saved our animals and stuff if Arkema wouldn’t have blocked us and wouldn’t let us go back in. I mean, but nobody knew we was going to get that flooded. Probably not even Arkema knew it was going to get that flooded [0:23:00]. But hopefully, we won’t have to pass through that no more. Now, next time, we’ll know that when it starts raining like that again, we’re going to have to evacuate before the water start raising up.
LB: Were you aware of Harvey on the news when it first started pouring rain?
PK: I was, but we didn’t know it was going to get that bad — that flooded. Probably nobody knew around our neighborhood around Crosby, because nobody evacuated before Harvey.
LB: So even though it started raining hard, you still decided to stay at your home?
PK: Yes, we — I mean, we didn’t know it was going to get flooded. It wasn’t flooding at all. It would just start — the water start rising like in a couple of hours. We just to sleep for like four hours, and we woke up at 2:00 in the morning. That’s when we said the water was already covering our tires [0:24:00].
LB: Did you acknowledge your Harvey experience on the hurricane’s first anniversary? If so, how?
PK: I just sat down and just kind of thanked God that we was okay. And you know, I still have my family. And I just remember everything we went through and hopefully won’t have to pass through that again.
LB: What lessons did you learn from Harvey?
PK: I learned that next time there’s a hurricane coming this way or a big storm just go ahead and leave and get out. If we have animals, a horse or a donkey again, we need to get it to a safe area before [unclear, 0:24:45].
LB: Did you get another pet after losing your donkey?
PK: A year after, we got a horse. And now, we know that if we start getting water again, we [0:25:00] going to get the horse out before it even starts raining or before the storm gets to — I guess hits land.
LB: You recently had a baby. How will you explain your Hurricane Harvey experience to her when she’s older?
PK: We’ll just let her know how everything — how everything happened, and you know, let her know that we need to thank God for everything that we have. Because other people who lost — they wasn’t so lucky. They lost a whole house. They got flooded all the way to the top. And we need to thank God for everything we have. And you know, and take care of our stuff, because, you know, we never know when we going to go through another thing like that or anything could happen.
LB: I want to talk a little bit more [0:26:00] about when you were evacuated. I know we’ve talked about it, but you said you went to a church. Can you explain a little about the set-up there? Because I’m assuming that more people from other areas were also brought in there.
PK: Yes, it was really packed in there. I mean, people were outside, too. I mean, I couldn’t really go in there, because my parents was already waiting for us outside. So — but I seen everybody’s face. It was like really sad, and everybody looked like they didn’t know what to do — and just sad and stuff like that. But yeah, I really didn’t stay there, because my parents was there. So I just hurry up and left.
LB: So they were able to arrive before you?
PK: Yes, they was.
LB: Were you the last ones picked up by the Army? Or did they stop at other areas?
PK: No, they [0:27:00] drove around the other neighborhoods that was around to see if anybody wanted to ride with us. And yes, a lot of people did — got on the Army truck and rode out.
LB: Did you talk with any of the other people that were rescued?
PK: Just our neighbors that live in front of us. They left also with us — which they have a baby, too. And they was trying to get to safety because of their baby.
LB: Did you see any of the activities that were going on at the shelter?
PK: No, I just seen a lot of people handing out waters and just trying to calm people and making sure they was okay.
LB: What did you do first as soon as you arrived to your parents’ house?
PK: As soon as I arrived, I just went ahead and — I was just sitting there and just thinking — you know [0:28:00], I thank God that we was okay and I was able to get out of there — and just praying that everything was going to be okay at our house.
LB: Did you turn to your religion throughout Harvey?
PK: Yes, I did. I kind of was just praying, hoping that, you know, everybody was okay and everything was going to be okay.
LB: When another storm strikes Texas Gulf Coast, how will you prepare besides your pets?
PK: I would pack some more clothes and pack my pictures — and most important, pictures and my paperwork — and just get them ready ahead of time and maybe — and just [0:29:00] get out of there.
LB: Is there anything else you would like to add?
PK: No, not right now at this moment.
LB: You don’t remember any other storms, correct?
PK: Before this one, I only remember Ike, which I barely remember, because I was still kind of small. But Ike, we stayed here, and — but we didn’t get flooded as bad as Harvey did, you know. That’s the only one I remember.
LB: Okay. Well, thank you very much for agreeing to share your Hurricane Harvey story. And once again [0:30:00], do you have anything else you would like to add?
PK: No, I just thank God that we’re okay and for the other people that lost everything. I hope they doing better now. I mean, hopefully, they won’t pass through something like this again.
LB: Okay, thank you.
PK: Thank you, ma’am.
LB: One last thing before we finish, I did mean to ask you earlier. Was it hard to go back to work after Harvey?
PK: It was pretty hard, because I was still trying to get it together at my house. And by me going back to work and getting used to going back to work since our school — I work for the schoolhouse. And I was off — already off for like three months and going right back a month — it was like a month after Harvey — no, a month — yeah, that I was supposed to go back to work. And it was pretty hard [0:31:00]. And then, you know, after everything that happened and then my co-workers — and some of my co-workers lost their house. And it was pretty hard.
LB: Where do you work?
PK: I work for Goose Creek. I’m a manager at the cafeteria.
LB: What school?
PK: I work at Lee High School.
LB: Okay. Did you and your co-workers try to help each other out?
PK: We did. We actually got together and got money together for one particular — one of my boss that she lost her whole house actually, and — because the water got up to the roof, and she lost everything. I mean, she not even have clothes to go back to work or nothing. So we all got together and got, you know, money and help out with clothes and whatever we could.
LB: Who returned to work first [0:32:00], you or your husband?
PK: My husband did. He went back to work a couple days before.
LB: You were able to work out schedules to be at the house and basically complement each other’s schedules?
PK: Since I only worked until 2 o’clock, so I was able to go back home and just finish getting it all together when he came back home a little bit later, but we hadn’t have nothing we couldn’t solve. So it was — it was alright.
LB: Were you nervous about returning to work the first few days and about driving in general?
PK: Yes, I was actually pretty nervous going back to work. And — because actually, at that time, I didn’t know I was — when was I going to have to return the rental from Arkema. But a couple days after I got — after working, they called me [0:33:00]. And they told me I could keep the truck for a whole month, so that kind of helped me out a lot since my vehicle wasn’t working no more from the flood.
LB: And did you end up fixing your vehicle? Did you sell it? Or what happened with that?
PK: No, I got lucky that the insurance paid it off. And I was able to get — since that month that I was — had the rental, I was able to get money together to get me another car.
LB: Do you know what happened to your own car after the company paid it off?
PK: It got totaled. They picked it up, and they said they was going total in the end. Because it wasn’t going to work no more. It had electrical problems, and it have — was turning off by itself. It was very dangerous to drive it.
LB: Did the same happen with your husband’s car?
PK: Yes, his truck — he was able to keep [0:34:00] it. He just fix a lot of stuff on it, but since it was an older model and it didn’t have that much electricity on it. So he was able to fix his.
LB: When looking for a new car, were there any specific features that you looked for?
PK: No, I just wanted a vehicle to get to work — something not that expensive, something that I could afford, and a little bit taller than the car I had.
LB: Okay. Is there anything else now that we are finally concluding this interview?
PK: No, ma’am.
LB: Okay, well, thank you.
PK: Thank you. [0:34:42]