Posted on September 5, 2017 in Recovery

Surviving the Trauma of Hurricane Harvey

The Right Step’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Powers is among the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Here is a first-hand account of his rescue.

We have flooded twice before and it was inevitable that we would play this game again. We all thought it would be a foot or two, maybe three at the most. In preparation during the days preceding the Category 4 hurricane hitting Texas, we raised everything to what we thought was more than an adequate elevation.

Having been devastated in the past, once with no flood insurance, we gained the unfortunate wisdom that hardship provides. Sadly though, we only thought our preparedness plan was adequate. At least my wife and children were safely tucked away at the home of friends who have been like angels, opening their doors to us generously this time and the last. Life is most important. Still, I’m losing my home again. It stings.

I remained, maybe foolishly hoping that I would be able to get things into the attic. But as the water flooded through our house, quickly reaching 5 feet, it was only because we had stacked all the mattresses that I was still dry. Carrying only a baggie with a few items, I climbed out of our bedroom window onto a pool float and had to work my way through debris and what seemed like a million spiders, beetles and other insects clinging to the floats and anything dry.

‘Screaming for Help From the Rooftop’

I opened the gate and swam against the current to a neighbor’s house across the street, who has also generously opened their two-story house to any and all victims in the past. Although their house was raised, by 1 or 2 o’clock the next day water was going halfway up the stairs and kept rising. One of the neighbors who was also holed up there started screaming for help from the rooftop until a helicopter arrived and dropped a rope with a little yellow loop.

Now, I’ve done rock-climbing before and I’ve been in harnesses, but this was a very simple rope loop that I attached under my arms. I was pretty freaked out, and, as the helicopter lifted, I quickly realized that there was no basket and I was not going to be lifted up into the helicopter. I feared — as somebody who is afraid of heights — that I was going to die as I tried to get back to my family. I was holding on for dear life for what seemed like forever, although it was probably no more than 15 or 20 minutes. My arms were so exhausted that they felt like noodles and I had to keep my eyes closed to deal with the altitude.

Finally, I felt something under my seat and then my backside and realized that I was on dry pavement. I took off the little yellow loop and gave the helicopter a thumb’s up so they could go back for the rest of the stranded group. But when the helicopter returned to them, they waved it away because it was too frightening a proposition for them to do what I had done. And, if I had known what the experience would be like, I’m not sure I would do it again. Seriously, in my imagination, I expected to be taken to some sort of rescue center. Instead, I was dropped onto the freeway. It was dry and I was grateful, but I was also a little surprised as there was nobody around me for a few minutes. Soon I learned that I could either wait at a grocery store for a ride to the convention center or figure things out myself, so I chose the latter and walked in the direction of my family.

Losing Hope

Parts of the freeway were literally underwater, so I was scaling the wall between the northbound and southbound traffic. It was scary, but not as bad as dangling from a chopper while holding onto a loop of rope. While scaling this beam-like freeway divider and trying to keep from falling, I counted steps. I stopped counting at about 530. Then I tried to hitch a ride from one of the rescuers, but I was denied. I just wanted to get close to my family and was willing to jump out of the boat if they needed to pick someone up. I thought that I would have to walk back to the grocery store. My hope was fading.

Just then I saw two young men who had a flat-bottom boat that they were putting into the water and I asked them for a ride. They obliged, but their engine was broken so one of them got out and was walking the boat in the deep water. We stopped at a house to borrow a screwdriver and try to fix the motor, but after we spent about an hour paddling and walking the boat without any success in fixing the motor, I got out and walked the last couple miles, finally arriving safely where my family was.

Many people here have it worse than we do and we recently received the most generous gift from friends who are allowing us to use a house they just moved out of. My wife and I cried when they met us at their house and still tear up when talking about them.

Our home is worthless now. There’s no going back.  I’m not sure what will happen.

The Right Step Houston

The Right Step Houston facility was evacuated ahead of the worst part of the storm and reopened a short time later. A number of employees from Houston accompanied our clients to Dallas and helped them settle in.  Meanwhile, two employees stayed on at the Houston property throughout the storm, reinforcing roofs and taking other action to minimize the damage. The center is grateful for everyone’s efforts and to continue serving people in need of help for addiction and co-occurring disorders.

How You Can Help

To support local nonprofit organizations that will transfer 100% of financial donations to individuals impacted by the storm, you can make a make a contribution to one of these local, reputable charities that have set up a dedicated fund for Hurricane Harvey. Elements Behavioral Health has made a contribution of its own and encourages you to do the same if you can.

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