Greg LaPolomento
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, behind some of the biggest stories on the news, there are real people affected. It’s even harder when those people are your colleagues. In this amazing first-hand account, ANCILE’s Manager of Product Consulting (Professional Services), Greg LaPalomento, recalls his experiences leading up to and withstanding Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Houston area of Texas, USA, in late August, 2017. If you would like to donate to help victims of this terrible natural disaster, Greg recommends Team Rubicon. Here are his words:

Thursday 24 August – Crawley, UK

It was 2am in the UK when I received the first call from my wife. “There’s a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and they say it could come our way.” I said “let me research a little bit, and get back to you.” This was the first I had heard of the storm since it wasn’t major news in the UK yet, and honestly, I was taken by surprise, how much had transpired in the hours prior to my wife’s call. I wasn’t too worried at the time. I mean, we had been through so many of these. As we like to say in Texas, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” Seriously though, a tropical storm to those of us on the Gulf Coast is kind of like a severe thunderstorm for most places in the US. However, it was quickly becoming apparent that this was no ordinary tropical storm. It had appeared quickly, but was moving so slow, and building so fast off of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, that all prediction models where showing this to turn into a category 3 or 4 Hurricane by landfall. Still, no worries. It was predicted to head south of the Houston area. We would get wind and rain, but nothing like what they would get where the eye comes on shore. Landfall prediction for the Gulf Coast was Friday, 6pm CT.

My flight was scheduled to arrive home Friday at 1:30PM CT. It was going to be close. We knew the drill, but my family needed reassuring on what to do, and that it would be okay. We talked through the necessary precautions, and I continued to monitor the flight status to see if it would change. I probably don’t need to tell many of you the helplessness I was feeling being 5,000 miles away, but so far so good. My flight was going to be on time. The airlines wanted to keep their schedules up to the last possible flight, and for good reason. If this thing was going to turn out as bad as they were predicting, the airports would be forced to shut down by Friday evening.

Friday 25 August – Houston & Katy, TX

I arrived in Houston right on time. We were beginning to see the first bands of rain from the storm, but it was light rain and wind at this time. Just to help your perspective a little, I have added a picture of the radar image which includes my home location in relation to the storm. Notice how far the rain reaches compared to where the eye of the storm makes landfall? The farthest bands were a good 5 hour drive East from the eye. That’s about 300 Miles! My home was about 185 miles from the eye, but I still had felt as though we were just going to see some rain storms, but no real high winds or storm damage so all would be ok once the storm weakens after making landfall. It’s what they do…

Hurricane Harvey eye

As mentioned, this was no ordinary storm. The prediction models couldn’t get a handle on what this thing was going to do, but they knew for certain this storm was going to hit the coast hard, and then it was going to dump a lot of rain anywhere it could reach, and Houston would take a large brunt of that rain. I want to take a moment to mention that I have no intention to downplay what the folks in the area around the eye have gone through. Imagine a tornado the size of a large city coming your way. Oh, and by the way, in the cloud bands surrounding it, there are actual tornados bouncing down and back up all around the area. Nothing is safe. This bad boy was slamming the coast with sustained winds at 140MPH minimum and gusts way beyond that. God help the people in Rockport, TX. I have ridden out a storm with 115 MPH winds. It’s no party. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat. You pray. That’s all you can do. Then you watch the water rise in your backyard through the flashes of lightning until you’re standing in it while looking out the breakfast area window. The next day, you’re wading in waist-high water trying to avoid the occasional group of fire ants. Aptly named for their sting that burns like fire. When flooded, the colony attaches themselves together to make a large raft. The majority of the mound standing on top of the ones willing to die for the colony. The moment you run into one of those, you would quickly become their safe-haven, and survival ration of food for the remainder of the flood. Then there’s the Water Moccasins. Smelly black snakes that swim fast, and have a poisonous bite. You see that little ‘V’ in the water, get out now! That was my experience as a youth in Angleton, TX when Alicia decided to make her debut.

Saturday 26 August – Katy, TX

Back to Harvey. By Saturday, we were still waiting for the images and reports to come in about the people of Rockport. The Houston area is a relatively long way from Rockport in Texas terms, but in Hurricane terms, it’s right next door. We didn’t see the high wind gusts that they did, but we certainly saw the tornados, and rain and everything that comes along with those. The weekend was a rollercoaster. The deluge of rain was constant and the occasional tornado warning kept you alert. If you hear something that sounds like a train coming, get to an interior room and cover up. Pictures and video were coming in right and left about the destruction from the hurricane, the accompanying tornados and of course, the flooding. The bands of rain from this hurricane were relentless. Thankfully, we were still doing fine. Whoever designed our drainage system in this housing subdivision deserves an award. The water would build up on the street, and as soon as the band of rain would let up, the water would drain off.

Sunday 27 August – Katy, TX

Sunday morning we began to see a more steady rain over our area. Turns out, there was a band from the hurricane that decided to march over our area the entire day and into the night. This would prove to be the worst of it for my family and I. The water just kept coming, and there was no break in sight. We watched the water rise in our street as the drainage system just couldn’t keep up any longer. In Houston, the rain was no longer being measured by inches, but instead by feet. We tried distracting ourselves by watching a movie, but I couldn’t help but keep one eye on the weather channel website, and every once in a while, I would get up to see where the water was on the street. It was creeping up the sidewalk, and then over time began to work its way into the driveway. I am so thankful we still had electricity, but I have to admit, I was becoming a little worried that the rain would not let up in time for the street to drain. At this point, we were stranded. No access to the outside world for what could be days. Watching Twitter, I began to see reports of people saying they were moving up to their 2nd story to escape the water, and others pleading for help. I was remaining calm, but this did not help my anxiety level at all. Nevertheless, I had to know what was going on. The biggest question in my mind was, “If the water is no longer receding on my street, what does the rest of the city look like? Was my home now sitting on the banks of the newly created Lake Houston?” By 9:45pm, there were hints in the radar that gave me hope the rain would let up. At 10:30PM my wife and I noticed the relentless sound of water pounding on our roof had subsided. I walked out front to assess the threat. The water had made it half the way up our drive.

Harvey Neighborhood 2

Harvey Neighborhood 1

For the moment, the question would remain… Will there be enough of a break in the bands to allow our street to drain off? It turns out, that’s exactly what happened. Our home is within about a 3 mile radius that must be high ground and amazing drainage. We were some of the fortunate few to catch a break. It continued to rain in other areas and would not let up for many more hours.

Monday 28 August – Katy TX

Monday, it began to rain again, but it was light in comparison to the day before. Word got out that the grocery store across the street from our home had opened its doors, and people were lining up. I made my way over there as soon as I could, and stood in line while the rain began again. I stood there for about 45 minutes. Then, I heard from the front of the line “They’re closing!” Word circulated that other stores were opened, so the crowd of people rushed to their vehicles in hopes to find a way around or through the water, and catch the other stores while they were still open. I was compelled to remain there a little while longer. A quiet voice inside was telling me not to go rushing off. I literally watched the entire crowd leave, and all I could do, was stare ahead up the sidewalk to where the front door of the store was. I began walking towards the door, and saw two men talking. One had his back to me. When I reached the men, I asked about one of the other stores that were open, and the guy that had his back to me turned around. It was my neighbor from across the street (he’s actually in the picture of the flooding above!), and he was one of the acting managers at the store. I had no idea he was even there! He looked at me, smiled and said, “Come with me.” He walked me into the store, and said “Get what you need. I was closing to give the staff a break, but it’s ok. we can take one more.” He didn’t realize he would not only be helping me out, but my wife and I spent the rest of that Monday through Wednesday cooking, and delivering food to our extended family and friends who had all decided to huddle up in one large home. It was the least we could do. We had stocked up pretty well, thanks to my friend, and they were running out. Fortunately for them, their home was one of the few we had access to in our little island sanctuary. Thanks to divine intervention, the store manager’s blessing extended way beyond the one friend he thought he was helping out.

 

Tuesday 29 August – Katy, TX

Tuesday was spent cooking, delivering food, and hanging out with family. The rainfall was still light with the occasional downpour, but never as relentless as the weekend before. So, our family’s homes remained safe. All we could do was watch the devastation unfold and pray for people. We don’t own a boat, so bringing food to the families was the least we could do. I tried working a little (answering emails, etc…), but my mind just wasn’t there yet (sorry, ANCILE).

 

Wednesday 30 August – Katy, TX

By Wednesday, I checked the roads, and found I could make it to my church, PowerHouse Church in Katy, TX. I was getting cabin fever, and I knew they would not be sitting idly by during this crisis. We had managed massive efforts in the past to help hurricanes Katrina and Ike victims, so I was certain they would need help. It turns out teams of volunteers were gathering for the monstrous effort of getting rid of anything that was destroyed by the flood waters, or anything that could grow mildew. I met up with the pastor of the church, and told him to send me with a crew where ever I can help. He asked me to head up the effort of dispatching demolition crews. I felt bad not getting out in the field, and putting my hands to the plow so to speak, but having worked for this church previously by handling the IT, and eventually running the day-to-day business as the Chief of Staff, he needed someone with my experience to manage the volunteer effort. As of Monday, Sept 4th, we had 226 Volunteers show up from all over the country, and had serviced 36 homes. Sadly, more than a week after Harvey made landfall, we still had homes under water! New flooding continued into Monday, 9/4, due to many factors. There’s water runoff dumping into rivers that were already at their banks. Once the rivers breached their banks there was widespread flooding in many areas along those rivers. Also, in order to avoid flash flooding from local area reservoirs, the cities had to release water from the reservoirs into the bayous. However, this caused the bayous to slowly breach. That was actually the point. At least the flooding caused by the release was slower in nature to a reservoir that couldn’t take any more, and spilling over its banks into surrounding neighborhoods. It’s easier to save people from slow filling neighborhoods than to try and save them from under a waterfall. The lesser of two evils, I guess. The clouds had cleared, and it had been a sunny few days, and while some people began the horrible task of gutting their homes, and piling the debris on the sidewalk outside, others were standing outside their homes watching the water rising in front of their eyes waiting for the boats to help them get to dry land.

As mentioned, I spent the rest of the week helping to manage the volunteers by taking phone calls from those in need, returning calls from the messages left, and then dispatching teams of demolition crews, and making sure those crews were fed, and of course, doing my job with ANCILE. I was so thankful that I was not scheduled to travel to deliver Professional Services that week. Once again, divine intervention prevailed. A special thank you to ANCILE Solutions for taking up contributions to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and allowing me to work in a dual role that week. You, too, played a role in coming to the aid of the victims.

Some statistics:

  • Fortune magazine reports the cost of damages could reach up to $180 billion
  • Over 35 people lost their lives as of Wednesday 30 August. FYI, in a hurricane, the largest cause of death is not the wind. It’s the rising water.
  • By Wednesday 30 August (four days later), there had been a total of up to 51.5 Inches of rain in several areas. Normally, the Houston area might see that in a year.