Rhonda Davis has lived in La Porte, Texas, for forty-three years. Upon recounting her experience with Hurricane Harvey, Davis revealed that many believed the news to overestimate the potential threat since Harvey did not land until a day after anticipated. Since Davis’s work granted her access to a detailed storm analysis (StormGeo), she and her family had remained hunkered down when Harvey hit La Porte.
After Harvey struck, Davis remembers watching the news and seeing warnings of high-intensity floods. Floodwaters came into her family home, forcing the removal of most furniture and redoing the floors. Davis mentions post-storm consequences, the smell of the water in their home, and the bugs that the water attracted. A key frustration for Davis involved FEMA and their selectiveness for granting loans for those without flood insurance. For a few weeks after Harvey, local shops remained closed to fix damages. Despite the communal consequences, Davis recalls a strong sense of community among La Porte families and individuals. Davis concludes her interview by saying she believes the connections made post-Harvey will last forever.
Interviewee: Rhonda Davis
Interview Location: La Porte, Texas
Interviewer: Isaiah Johnson
INTERVIEWER: My name is Isaiah Johnson. And I’ll be conducting this interview today for oral history over Hurricane Harvey and previous tropical systems.
IJ: Could we start by having you state your full name?
RD: Yeah, so first name’s Rhonda. Last name is Davis. Rhonda Elizabeth Davis.
IJ: In what city are we conducting this interview?
RD: In La Porte, Texas.
IJ: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and, I guess, just your story about your history in La Porte, Texas?
RD: Well, I’ve lived in La Porte my entire life for the most part. I moved here when I was three years old. So now, it’s been 43 years that I’ve lived in Texas.
IJ: So you definitely can answer this next one about — have you experienced any previous flooding or damage from tropical systems in the past?
RD: Oh, yes. So [0:01:00] like I said, I’ve lived here for many years. So I can go back to — well, it wasn’t a tropical storm. It was an actual hurricane, but back in the 80’s with Hurricane — I think it was Alicia, yes — so been through that and multiple floodings and Tropical Allison, and Hurricane Ike, and, most recently, Hurricane Harvey.
IJ: Great, so where were you on the night that Hurricane Harvey made landfall, which was August 25th? I believe it was a Friday.
RD: Yeah, no, it was a Saturday.
IJ: It was a Saturday.
RD: Because everybody thought it was going to be okay, and it was another, kind of, tropical that was not really going to happen. I think there was a tropical storm that had — we had received warnings for like maybe a month before that, so — and it ended up not happening. So everybody was just kind of like [0:02:00], “Okay, we’re really not going to have anything happen.” Matter of fact, most people started to venture out and go do their normal kind of Saturday routine. So that’s how come I remember it was a Saturday. And I did not go out. I actually continued to hunker down and remain at home. And so that’s where I was.
IJ: You kind of already stated previously being that Hurricane Harvey was on track to hit Rockport and wasn’t really focused on the Houston area, were you concerned at all about the weather in this area before Harvey made landfall?
RD: Not as far as it being hurricane-strength and those type of issues that we would be dealing with. I work in the field — in the safety field in the petrochemical industry. And so we get kind of a heads-up before most people do with our StormGeo that we pay for — services that we pay for that give us a little more details [0:03:00] in what to anticipate. And so I knew we weren’t going to be dealing with a hurricane, but I did know that we had the potential for life-threatening flooding coming our way.
IJ: Could you take me through the night Harvey made landfall and the day after, primarily with the implications on the La Porte area?
RD: So of course, these things always come through in the middle of the night. Why would they come in the daytime? And so, yeah, it started to rain. I did my normal I’m-tired-and-going-to-sleep kind of routine. And as usual, the system moved through very late and very early morning hours that — the flooding began to happen. And I was awoken by my children that I needed to get up due to the water being in the house.
RD: And the flooding — and so [0:04:00] that was the beginning of Hurricane Harvey.
IJ: The nightmare.
RD: Yes, the nightmare.
IJ: Did you tune into any local or national news stations throughout the Harvey episode, whether that be before, during, or after?
RD: I can’t say that I did much before. Like I said, I get normal communication through my job in email fashion, StormGeo. And so — and I’m on the emergency response team in responding to different alerts and those type of things. So outside of that and prior to — and even probably during, most of my feedback and communication came from that. However, I did – as we did get power back – start watching The Weather Channel and those type of things that were a little more detailed into what we were expecting.
IJ: What was the information given in terms of how catastrophic [0:05:00] Hurricane Harvey might be from the news stations?
RD: Oh, I mean, it was things that we hadn’t seen and heard before. Like this was going to be a catastrophic event. This was going to be a life-threatening flood. The colors, I remember, of the — of the rain level that you would get were colors that we had not seen before.
RD: And so it was — it was pretty scary. It was something that we’d not ever seen. We didn’t really know what to prepare for. However, I just kept saying, “Okay, this is not like your storm surge.” And as long as we’re not dealing with something of that respect, then I felt that we were going to be okay.
IJ: Did Hurricane Harvey exceed your expectations in terms of rainfall totals?
RD: [Off-record speaking, 0:05:51]. Yes, absolutely. Like I said, the band of levels that we received were off the charts. And [0:06:00] when we thought we were done, it was starting again.
IJ: Yeah. Was there any significant flooding in your area from Harvey?
RD: Absolutely. We were flooded. We were lucky enough that it flooded and quickly receded. We live higher up in our neighborhood. But unfortunately, neighbors just as close as right next door did not — did not get to deal with that positively. I’d say, probably out of our neighborhood, maybe only two or three were able to walk away from not having to necessarily gut their home.
IJ: Was there any damage in your home that forced removal of furniture, remodeling, et cetera?
RD: Yes, there was. We had lost our furniture, which we couldn’t salvage. We tried to salvage, but we couldn’t salvage because it had taken in too much water. And the smell as the week went by became too horrendous to keep [0:07:00] furniture. So the furniture was lost, and flooring was definitely — throughout the house was something else that had to be taken care of.
IJ: How many days would you say, post-Hurricane Harvey, did it take for your area to go back to some sense of normalcy, if it has?
RD: Oh, well, goodness. We were all out of school and work for — the kids were out of school for almost a week and a half, two weeks, I think it was. Personally, I was out of — not out of work. I was working from home. We were still able to work once the power was restored, but we were not able to get back into the plant that I work in. And so it was probably a good couple weeks before just normal routine of getting up and heading off to school and work and those type of things — and just even with stores and restaurants and those type of things that [0:08:00] weren’t open for at least the first few days after Harvey. So it was — it was — it was a minute before things felt normal, yeah.
IJ: In the aftermath of the hurricane, how was the city’s response in La Porte, like in terms of clean-up efforts to the streets, shelters, the alert systems, bug control?
RD: Oh, I think La Porte did a marvelous job considering all things. And of course, I did have their app on my phone for alerts. As a matter of fact, we ended up having a shelter in place alert that occurred due to a chemical leak — pipeline — chemical leak. And so that was on top of everything else that was going on. But they were very good and — with the alert system that they have in place — making sure that we received them. Of course, they — social media, Facebook page, for the [0:09:00] city and around La Porte was also very helpful in some things and for communication.
Mosquitos was always an issue, because they can’t do anything with that until the water’s completely gone. So that took a minute, but yes.
IJ: In the year since Harvey made landfall, have you experienced any lingering issues in terms of rebuilding?
RD: I have. I still don’t have flooring replaced in my bedroom or my daughter’s bedroom, just ’cause of the time that it took to replace it. We were not able to take that time to get it replaced. It would have meant having to miss work and having to have everything displaced for a period of time. That was not feasible. So we still have boards that are welted [0:10:00] and things of that sort. We were able to get some flooring replaced, but it was not done properly. And so it’s just been a real nightmare to a degree in regards to some of those issues. And then the most important issue is we’ve had a lot of plumbing issues.
RD: A lot of issues with just the backup of water from that — just we took in so much that the septic systems can’t take in any more or the roof can’t take any more. Things — where things are leaking quicker than they used whenever there’s just a sprinkle outside. And then the other big piece that my son absolutely hates is bugs — have been more bigger and more of a — more problematic for us. And they’re just — we’ve had [0:11:00] — we actually had to have, for the first time, because we’ve never had any problems before, an exterminator come out and do an extermination due to the amount of bugs that just popped up that never used to be here. So we definitely have seen the wrath of Harvey, even a year later.
IJ: Wow. Is there anything else that we have not discussed that you would like to talk about in regard to the storm and your experiences?
RD: I think it was frustrating. I know a lot of people. I was very lucky. I can’t say that we lost as much as many people did who — some lost their homes and never even got to go back to them. Some of them lost their homes and are just getting back into them. I think the most frustrating part was dealing with FEMA. A lot of people did not have flood insurance. A lot of people did not need to have flood insurance. They weren’t even near where there should have been any issue with flooding. And they flooded [0:12:00]. FEMA was very selective on who they gave funds and assistance to. And a lot of folks ended up having to lose — literally, just give up and lose things, because they just couldn’t afford to fix it.
And seeing people go through that was just personally very hard — people I worked with not being able to move back and just get back into their normal life. I almost felt guilty for being able to myself. Or having no furniture, we went without furniture for almost a year — just walking into an empty house. And I thought that was difficult, but I had nothing to complain about. Because we had at least have a roof over our head. But yeah, those were some things that were difficult to hear and see first-hand.
IJ: To conclude on a more positive note, many individuals around the country saw Houston come together post-Harvey [0:13:00] in a way seldom seen before. Do you have any positive memories of your local community or family unit coming together in the post-Harvey experience?
RD: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And it is unfortunate that crisis will usually bond neighborhoods and neighbors and families and friends and strangers, for that matter. And that — people want to do what they can to help. And so there was — there were a lot of opportunities in the area within the city of La Porte for volunteering, for donations, for assistance and helping people recuperate and come back to — you know, as far as helping people fix some of the things that needed to be fixed or taking out the trash that needed to be taken out from their home. Even with my company, we had a volunteer group that were going out and helping families within the company that were hit the hardest — and helping them, so it drew co-workers [0:14:00] together, companies closer. Families, probably who hadn’t spoke in who knows how long, were speaking to help each other get through and back to normal. And again, like I said, even strangers — so there’s always the positive. Unfortunately, it does sometimes take that crisis, but the relationships built because of it are going to be there now forever.
IJ: Well, those are all the questions I have. Thank you for your time, Rhonda.
RD: You’re welcome. [0:14:33]