At the time of the interview, Sammy Ford had lived in the Houston community for approximately forty years and had experienced multiple natural disasters, with flooding from Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Allison. After Ford’s first flooding experience with Allison, he found himself naturally concerned with the news of Harvey threatening landfall. To prepare, he stored the necessary supplies in his home but admitted that beyond that, there was little else to do besides wait. During the storm, Ford had constant access to the news and remained in communication with immediate family members. When further recounting his experience with Harvey, Ford stated that his house had three feet of water, and by the time of evacuation, the water reached his chest. The flooding led to an entire renovation of Ford’s home and the loss of all cars. Ford notes that throughout the tragedy, the community and FEMA supported him and his family. At the end of the interview, Ford is honest that no one can truly understand the impact of a hurricane or tropical storm unless they have experienced it themself.
Read on for the full transcript of the interview:
Interviewee: Sammy Ford, III
Interview Date: November 3, 2019
Interview Location: St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Church
Interviewer: Rachel Hunter
INTERVIEWER: Today is November 3, 2019. I’m here with Sammy Ford, III at St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Church to talk about Hurricane Harvey for the UH Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project.
RH: To start, could you please state your name and tell me a little about yourself?
SF: My name is Sammy Ford, III. I live in Houston, of course, in the Riverside Terrace community. I’ve been a part of the community now for — approaching 40 years — about 38 years.
RH: Could you tell me about your experiences with storms or natural disasters prior to Hurricane Harvey?
SF: Well, I had had a similar incident with Allison, which was not a hurricane, but it was a tropical storm. So I had the same basic effects. It was just a little bit different, but I got about the same amount of water [0:01:00] each time.
RH: Could you tell me a little about yourself, such as when and where you were born and where you grew up?
SF: Well, I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, but I’ve always lived in Houston. In fact, my parents had just migrated from Louisiana. And they went back right before I was born, but I spent about two weeks there. So I’ve always lived here in Houston — initially in the Third Ward area. And we moved to Sunnyside — and back in Third Ward for, as I said, about 38 to 40 years.
RH: What was life like in your neighborhood prior to Harvey?
SF: I loved my neighborhood first of all. That’s one reason why, after even a second flood, I decided to redo my house again. But it’s [0:02:00] — I like it a lot. I like the convenience of it. I like my neighbors. I like the privacy that it offers me as well, so.
RH: What were your first impressions when you heard about Harvey?
SF: When I heard about it or when I experienced it?
RH: When you heard it on the news that this was something that was coming to make landfall?
SF: Well, you know, you always take precautions the best that you can, especially if you’ve had those types of incidents before. And as I mentioned to you, I had the same basic incident with Allison. So if — it gets to a point that once you’ve gone through that, if you have a hard rain, you get concerned. So with Harvey, of course, it was a concern on my behalf.
RH: How did you prepare for Harvey?
SF: Well, the same basic things that everyone does. I mean, you want to make sure you have the proper things in the house, like your batteries and [0:03:00] your food and so forth and so on. But there’s little more — there’s not much more than that that you can do. Some of the things I think I would prepare for a little differently moving forward would be my automobiles. Because on two different instances, I lost all of my cars.
RH: Just due to the rising water?
SF: Right, I had — like with Allison, I had both cars in the garage. And they both were underwater. And the same thing happened with Harvey as well. So I think if I had to go back in to prepare, I would prepare a little bit differently in reference to automobiles and maybe getting valuables up and out of the way quicker.
RH: How did you communicate with friends and relatives during the storm?
SF: Well, thank goodness for cellular communications. That’s pretty much how I was able to do it.
RH: So social media didn’t really play a role?
SF: Of course, social media always plays a role, but in reference to my [0:04:00] immediate family, we had direct contact with — a lot of times just the cell phone did a lot as well. Lucky for us, we never lost communication via the television as well. So I had that as well.
RH: During and after the storm, describe your access to necessities.
SF: Well, during the storm, of course, there was no access outside of what you already had. Afterwards, it was a bit difficult. The interesting thing is that where I sat my next door neighbor just got water in their garage. I had three feet of water in my house, but there’s like an 85-foot difference between where my house stops and where the fence line to the next property is. So because of that, my damage was a bit more. I’m on a corner. And I’m like in a bowl. So the experience would have been different.
RH: Did you have to leave you home because of the rising water?
SF: Oh, most definitely [0:05:00]. Well, we couldn’t leave during the rising water, but we did leave as quickly as we could the following day. And it took quite a while for the water to recede. But we actually had to leave out, and we got to a point at the end of the driveway where the water was well-above our chest just to get out of the house. So it was quite a bit.
RH: So you waded through the water?
SF: Yes, we did. Yes, uh-huh.
RH: What kind of property damage did you sustain?
SF: Well, the house had to be totally redone. And of course, I lost all the cars.
RH: Where did you stay while your house was being repaired?
SF: I moved — we moved in with my — with my daughter who lives in the neighborhood as well. So it gave us easy access back and forth on a daily basis to check on the house and the repairs that were being done.
RH: How did you feel when you first returned to your home [0:06:00]?
SF: Well, it’s like moving into a new place really. It’s the same house, but it is different. Because if you lose all of your things or most of your things, you’re starting from scratch.
RH: What support did you receive from family and your community, FEMA, or other resources?
SF: Some from family and from FEMA. FEMA was very instrumental as well. But a lot — you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to those types of things — when you’re trying to put things together. And the interesting this is that the things that you have — that you truly do like, when you go in and try to replace them, you really can’t, because even if you try to get the same thing, the cost is just too prohibitive. Everything is just much, much more expensive than it was when you purchased it the first time. So there [0:07:00] was some help, but you know, it just seems that you never get quite as much as you’d like. And I think a lot of times, too, people think that you’re better equipped to handle these types of things than perhaps you are.
And all I can say is it really doesn’t matter how much you have. It’s always good to get a phone call or someone just stopping by. I tell you, we did have — with my kids, both of their — they both know tons of people. And that’s the thing that really got us started. We had a house full of people on several occasions directly after the flood. And they cleared out everything for us. It was massive. We also had a lot of people who donated a lot of things, like beverages and food so that the workers could continue to — so it was a big party, but I was getting the resources of their labor at the same time. So you can’t do it all by yourself. I promise you that [0:08:00].
RH: Could you tell me how your kids fared during the storm?
SF: Well, they did fine. They weren’t at home. They don’t live at home. They’re grown. So it wasn’t the same for them. Their experience was the experience of coming in and trying to help more so than anything else. I’m glad I had them.
RH: So they didn’t take any water damage or anything serious?
SF: Oh, no. They didn’t have any problems at all.
RH: Has this changed how you prepare for hurricanes post-Harvey? I know you mentioned your cars being important.
SF: Well, yeah, of course, it changes. It was a learning experience. Both times were learning experiences. However, you just never know how it’s going to hit you and what the impact is going to be. Like I said earlier, I think if I could do anything, I’d probably move my cars, say, four or five houses down so that I would at least have decent transportation afterwards. But other than that, you really can’t — you really can’t predict [0:09:00] unless you want to get a moving company to come and move all your stuff out. But I’m sure a lot of people would like to do that as well. So it just really depends.
RH: And did you take any water damage during the past tropical storm we had?
SF: Oh, recently?
SF: Oh, no, I had none whatsoever, but of course, it was a fear. Anytime you get rain like that, you always — you always feel fearful, so.
RH: Is there anything we have not discussed that you’d like to add?
SF: Well, I think if you have not been through something of this nature, it’s difficult to actually understand. I can tell you all you’d like to hear, but until you’ve actually experienced it firsthand, you just don’t understand. I know that, in my own situation, several of the bridges in the neighborhood have been closed down. It’s very inconvenient for a lot of other people. It’s inconvenient for me also. However, take as long as you need if it’s going to help us with the flooding situation, because as I said earlier, until it happens to you [0:10:00], you just don’t — you just don’t get it. It’s a whole lot more to it than what you see in the news.
The interesting thing this time, especially with Harvey, is that it was — it was nondiscriminatory, I guess you could say, because it hit — you know, typically, these types of things you see on the news — where it’s these poor neighborhoods and it’s a [unclear, 0:10:23] story and what have you. But in this case, it hit — you know, it hit poor neighborhoods, but it hit very wealthy neighborhoods as well. And so if anything, it lets everyone know that, I mean, you’re not omittable to any kind of thing when it comes to that sort of thing. We all have to be prepared. And no matter how much you have or how little you have, you really are dependent on other people to make these things happen — to get you by. You know, like it’s been two years, and there’s still things that I’m trying to — I’m trying to get back in place, because you don’t think about these things until [0:11:00] you need them. And all of the sudden, you think, “Where did I put this?” And all of the sudden, you realize you don’t have it anymore. So you’re constantly going back to replace things that were of value to you that you may not touch every day, but they are of interest to you.
RH: Do you have any examples of things like that?
SF: Well, to be honest with you, it took a long time even down to appliances and things of that nature, because you know, if they’re appliances that you keep in your lower cabinets and what have you, those are things that you might not use every day. But when you need them, you really need them. So it means having to sometimes go out and repurchase those types of things — or that pair of shoes that you don’t wear all the time. When you get ready to look for them, they aren’t there anymore.
Because you have to understand that you aren’t the one that’s touching everything that goes out of your house. You touch everything as it comes in, because you’re buying it piece by piece by piece. But as it [0:12:00] leaves your house, you have other people, out of the generosity of their time and what have you, come in. And if it’s damaged, they get rid of it. It’s gone. So a lot of times, you don’t realize what’s gone until it’s — until you go to look for it. So that would be examples even down to clothing and what have you. A lot of things we were able to salvage through cleaning and what have you, but a lot of times, you just — you don’t think about it, because you don’t use everything you have all the time.
RH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SF: Nope, that’s about it.
UNKNOWN 1: Can I ask you a question, Mr. Ford?
UNKNOWN 1: How has your experience through multiple storms living in Houston changed how you view life in the city? And how has it changed your community and your neighborhood?
SF: I still like living where I live. That’s very important to me. Of course, you become more cognizant of the fact that you are vulnerable when these types of things [0:13:00] — types of things hit. I don’t know if I’d want to live anywhere else. Perhaps one day, I might have to, but it wouldn’t be by choice at this juncture of my life. So I still like where I am. Now, with the community, for the most part, when you drive through, it’s like nothing ever happened, because it didn’t happen to everybody. It just happened to a select few. Luckily, we’ve all be able to bounce back. It’s taken some people much longer than others. I was lucky that I was able to start almost immediately with the repairs on my house. But there are some people who just — really just stopped working on their houses, because it’s taken that long. You know, you have to deal with getting reputable people coming in to work on your property, making sure you’re getting a fair price that they’re offering you and what have you, and making sure that they finish the job. It becomes a full-time job just to get back into your — into your property [0:14:00].
UNKNOWN 1: Thank you.
RH: I believe that’s everything.
SF: Okay. Thank you.
UNKNOWN 1: Thank you, Mr. Ford.
SF: Uh-huh. [0:14:10]