By Richard B. Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad -Final Call Staffers- | Last updated: Aug 29, 2017 - 1:37:51 PM
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Hurricane Harvey unleashed unprecedented rain, causing massive damage in just a three-day span, but the worst was yet to come for Lone Star State.
The terrible Texas storm system began as a tropical wave east of Barbados in the Caribbean gathered strength in the southern area of the Gulf of Mexico and then it struck.
It stalled over Houston for about 24 hours as a Category 3 Hurricane before hitting landfall, and then Aug. 25, Harvey was upgraded to a Category 4 and pummeled the city of Rockport, Texas with 130 mph winds.
Eight people died, according to reports, as Harvey dumped trillions of gallons of rain on Houston and other parts of the state and region. Meteorologists predicted rainfall would reach 50 inches or higher at Final Call presstime.
“You have to keep in mind that flooding is not abnormal in the Houston area, but this storm lingered over this area for so long that it spawned tornadoes that impacted parts of Missouri City and the surrounding areas, and the flooding that came, dropping gallons and gallons of rain,” said Jeffrey Boney, councilman-elect of Missouri City, Texas’ District B and associate editor of the Houston Forward Times.
In three days, Houston received the amount of rain it typically gets in a year and Harvey visited Austin, San Antonio, Central Texas, and moved further northeast and to the east, he stated.
“It was surreal in a couple of instances, just thinking about where do you go? But you have no other place to go but back home and sit put and wait it out and pray and hope for the best,” Mr. Boney told The Final Call.
“What makes this unprecedented is that it is not a 100 year, 500 year, but a 1,000-year flood event, which is to say that it is unprecedented because it goes beyond any records that have been measured in modern times,” said Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad, an urban planner, environmental consultant, and Nation of Islam student minister for the Southwest Region. He is based in Houston.
Harvey’s devastating floods poured into the nation’s fourth-largest city and rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with the constant calls for help.
The incessant rain covered much of Houston in turbid, gray-green water and turned streets into rivers navigable only by boat. In a rescue effort that recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighborhoods and high-water vehicles plowed through water-logged intersections. Some people managed with kayaks or canoes or swam.
Volunteers joined emergency teams to pull people from their homes or from the water, which was high enough in places to gush into second floors. They urged people to get on top of their houses to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.
Residents living around the Addicks and Barker reservoirs designed to help prevent flooding in downtown Houston, were warned that a controlled release from both reservoirs would cause additional street flooding and could spill into homes. Rising water levels and continuing rain was putting pressure on the dams that could cause a failure without the release.
The Army Corps of Engineers early Aug. 28 started the water releases at the reservoirs ahead of schedule after water levels increased dramatically in a few hours’ time, a Corps spokesman said.
The timetable was moved up to prevent more homes from being affected by flooding from the reservoirs, Corps spokesman Jay Townsend said. He added that water levels were rising at a rate of more than six inches per hour in both reservoirs.
Meanwhile, officials in Fort Bend County, Houston’s southwestern suburbs, issued widespread mandatory evacuation orders along the Brazos River levee districts.
County Judge Robert Herbert said at a news conference that National Weather Service officials were calling it an “800-year-flood level.” Judge Herbert said that amount of water would top the levees and carries a threat of levee failure.
Judging from federal disaster declarations, the storm early on affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties. Some 50 counties were declared state disaster areas.
“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.
The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA’s involvement for years.
“This disaster’s going to be a landmark event,” Mr. Long said.
Rescuers had to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves. And several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated due to the rising waters.
It was not clear how many people were plucked from the floodwaters. Up to 1,200 people had to be rescued in Galveston County alone, said Mark Henry, the county judge, the county’s top administrative post.
Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center was quickly opened as a shelter. It was also used as a shelter for Katrina refugees in 2005.
Gillis Leho arrived there soaking wet. She said she awoke to find her downstairs flooded. She tried to move some belongings upstairs, then grabbed her grandchildren.
“When they told us the current was getting high, we had to bust a window to get out,” Ms. Leho said.
Some people used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the water to safety. Others waded while carrying trash bags stuffed with their belongings and small animals in picnic coolers.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help, with more coming in. He urged drivers to stay off roads to avoid adding to the number of those stranded.
The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane. Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey’s path, but the Houston mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home.
The governor Aug. 27 refused to point fingers.
“Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made,” Gov. Abbott, a Republican, said at a news conference in Austin. “What’s important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild.”
The mayor, a Democrat, defended his decision, saying there was no way to know which parts of the city were most vulnerable.
“If you think the situation right now is bad, and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare,” Mayor Turner said, citing the risks of sending the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants onto the highways at the same time.
The Coast Guard deployed five helicopters and asked for additional aircraft from New Orleans.
The White House announced that President Donald Trump would visit Texas on Aug. 29. He met by teleconference with top administration officials to discuss federal support for response and recovery efforts.
Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.
A new normal for disasters?
“There is a reality that we have to come to grips with, and that is we are just beginning the process of responding to this storm,” said Gov. Abbott during an August 28 press conference from Corpus Christi, Texas.
“We need to recognize that this is going to be a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region, but we will not stop until we get as far as we can,” Gov. Abbott said.
President Trump declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on Aug. 28, and pledged the government’s full support. He said recovery will be a long and difficult road, and nothing can defeat the unbreakable spirit of people in those states.
He asked for God’s wisdom and strength.
“We will get through this. We will come out stronger, and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” President Trump said during a press conference.
Harvey has been called a landmark event, storm of the century, and its aftermath “like a war zone.”
But Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has continually warned President Trump that Almighty God Allah would use natural disasters to cripple America. He issued such a warning a week before Harvey struck. “Let me tell you what my teacher told me,” said the Minister speaking Aug. 20 at Mosque Maryam in Chicago. “Whether you know it or not, America is a preserved area: No bomb is going to fall here, because the God has you here—and the White man knows he’s keeping you a hostage, because God is after you. …
I want to say something to the president of the United States, Mr. Donald J. Trump. I would advise him, from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.”
“Brothers and sisters, Kim Jong-Un may get a nuclear warhead to put on his ballistic missile, but the God won’t let it come here. You are God’s people. He said this area is preserved for Him; He is going to take your enemy out in His way. He said America is ‘No. 1’ on His list to be destroyed. I didn’t say it. God said it, so says the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. ‘Well how are You gonna do it, God?’ He (God) said, ‘Well, he doesn’t have any defense against the force of nature.’ Allah is going to use the wind, the rain, the tornadoes, the hurricane, the fire, hail, sleet, snow. He’s whipping America bad.
“Mr. Trump: The God is after America for her evils done to His people. You have a chance to relieve yourself of some of the heaviness of the Judgment that is against you by letting my people go.”
“Don’t you ever laugh when you see nature doing its work under the direction of the God that I’m talking to you about,” instructed Min. Farrakhan, as he waved his index finger during his keynote address at the Family Summit Conference in Atlanta on Aug. 29.
“But our teacher Elijah Muhammad named four great judgments that will come against America and the first one was unusual rain! Unusual snow. Unusual hail. Unusual earthquakes,” Min. Farrakhan continued.
“Is God angry?” he asked. “I said to Mr. Trump that America is a preserved area, according to our teacher. No bomb from a foreign government is going to fall here, according to what the Messenger taught me, but this area is preserved for God.”
“All of us talk about God, even if we don’t believe in him, but God desires to make himself known to us by doing something that no one else could do but he, himself, so that the scripture might be fulfilled: Every knee will bow, and every tongue will be forced to confess that Allah is God,” Min. Farrakhan continued.
In his enlightening book, “The Fall of America,” Elijah Muhammad devotes a chapter to the “Four Great Judgments of America.” “To be plagued with too much rain will destroy property and lives. It swells the rivers and creeks. Too much rain floods cities and towns. Large bodies of water at the ocean shore lines will be made to swell with unusually high waves, dumping billions of tons of water over the now seashore line,” he wrote.
“Rain destroys property and kills cattle by drowning them in low lands. Rain destroys the hiding places of vicious beasts and reptiles bringing them out fighting in small towns in peoples’ homes and farms.
“Rain weakens and destroys railroads, truck line beds and bridges. Rain undermines foundations of all types of buildings. Rain makes the atmosphere too heavy with moisture causing sickness. Wind with rain can bring destruction to towns and cities, bringing various germs, causing sickness to the people. It produces unclean water by the swelling of streams and destroying reservoirs of pure drinking water used for the health of the people. Rain is a destructive army within itself.”
He also warned, “God, in the Person of Master Fard Muhammad, will not be defeated. The more evil, deceiving, tricking and making of false promises to the American so-called Negro only increases America’s divine chastisement—doom.”
“But God has chosen us to be His people, and He delights in fighting the enemy. According to the history of the former people, He delighted Himself by going forth against them when they exceeded the limit. So it is with America,” he wrote. “They must be separated. America will not agree to see the Negro separated from her until she has suffered divine punishment, as Pharaoh suffered. The same thing that other evil nations suffered before them is now coming upon this people.” “The Fall of America” was published in 1973.
Some 8,000 people were in shelters in Houston alone at Final Call presstime, officials said. They asked for donations of money, food, clothing and medical supplies.
The task is to now ensure aid reaches those in need, Mr. Boney said, noting that many plaintiff’s attorneys and consumer watch dog groups are urging disaster victims to file written notices of insurance claims before new Texas law which they argue restricts homeowners’ protections (House Bill 1774) takes effect on September 1.
Meanwhile, develop strategies for survival, particularly Blacks, who lack money and resources to evacuate, said Mr. Boney.
Callers have overloaded the 911 system, with 75,000 calls processed on August 28, down from 220,000 the day before.
A long road to recovery
Roughly 8,500 FEMA agents have been dispatched to the region, 1,100 of them performing search and rescue missions, according to the FEMA administrator.
Gov. Abbott has deployed all 12,000 Texas National Guard members to help maintain public safety. Four people attempted looting, but have been arrested.
Some have questioned why some negatively targeted Mayor Turner alone, and not other officials who acted similarly.
“People have begun finger pointing, but there’s no need to point the finger. If you’re going to point the finger, point the finger at the Son of Man, because he is the one that brings rain, hail, snow and earthquakes,” said Dr. Muhammad.
There are also questions about how the GOP-controlled Congress will handle requests for disaster aid and whether the will be budget fights and demands for cuts to offset increases in disaster funding.
Far reaching implications
The Texas Gulf Coast is home to nearly one-third of U.S. refining capacity, and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico accounts for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. crude oil production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The American Automobile Association reported that gas prices shot up across the country as Hurricane Harvey blasted Texas.
“At $2.37, today’s national gas price average is four cents more expensive on the week and one of the largest one-week national gas prices surge seen this summer,” AAA stated on its web page Aug. 28.
About one quarter of oil refining capacity in the Gulf Coast had been taken offline, reported AAA, according to forecasts by Oil Price Information Service. That equals about 2.5 million barrels per day. AAA said Harvey also caused eight refineries in Texas to shut down.
“For the rest of America, this is the lull before the storm, and we need to make note of what’s happening in Houston, because you’re gas price is about to go up,” Dr. Muhammad said. “While you’re praying for Houston, pray for yourself,” he advised.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.