Elisa Inman said the road to recovery is “going to be a marathon” for the millions of people in the Houston, Texas, area that have been affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Inman, a 1999 Wadsworth High School graduate, said in her 15 years living in Houston, she’s never seen rain like this.
“When you live in southeast Texas, rain is natural disaster,” she said. “Parts of the town flood, but you deal with it. This rain is unbelievable … no one is believing what they’re seeing.”
Since Harvey made landfall Friday night, some areas around Houston have seen more than 50 inches of rain — well more than what they usually receive in a year.
Authorities said the death toll had risen to 23, including a Houston police officer who drowned in his car on the way to work and six family members — four of them children — whose bodies were pulled Wednesday from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a bayou.
Inman, who is in the process of moving from Houston to The Woodlands just north of the city, said her home has not been affected. But two miles down the road from her is a different story.
“There are high-water rescues happening,” she said. “Interstate 45, the main highway down here, has high water and is still closed.”
“I’m very lucky,” Inman continued. “I’m up high on a hillside near the Buffalo Bayou (river). Most of my family is fine, also high and dry.”
Inman said she contacted her Wadsworth classmates — Katelyn Vujas and Justin Smith — who live nearby to see if and how they were affected.
Inman and Vujas were on Wadsworth’s 1997 Division I state championship basketball team and both are Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductees. Smith played soccer for Wadsworth.
“Everyone from Wadsworth that I know of from here is OK,” she said.
Vujas, who lives within a few miles of Inman in Houston, said her family was visiting over the weekend when the hurricane swept through the area.
“In a six-hour span (from Saturday to Sunday), my area got over 20 inches of water,” Vujas said. “My building didn’t have running water from Saturday night on. That wasn’t fun to deal with.”
“It was nice to have my family there, so I didn’t have to go through that alone. Elisa was there, too.”
Vujas said while her apartment was not affected by flooding, she left Tuesday afternoon for New Orleans, where she said she’ll stay for about a week. Her family headed back to Wadsworth.
“To see the total devastation of the city and all those underwater, you cannot even begin to grasp the severity of the situation without seeing it with your own eyes,” Vujas said. “As resident, I don’t think you understood the magnitude of what was really coming. Quite a few of my employees have lost everything. It’s pretty devastating.”
Vujas is a district manager for the retailer Express and oversees five stores from Houston to the Louisiana coast. She said the company is collecting clothing, household supplies and other items to donate to the victims and its employees who have been affected.
As for her stores, Vujas said two locations along the Louisiana coast were affected by the storm Wednesday, and expects two of her stores in the Houston area to have significant damage.
“We’re trying to assess the damage to the structure of the building and determine when it’s safe to reopen,” she said.
Inman and Vujas said they have seen rescue crews from across the state and the Louisiana Cajun Navy come to help.
“In general, it’s amazing to see how Texans are responding,” Inman said. “There was almost a traffic jam of people with boats coming down to help.”
“It was unbelievable see the people come out to help and volunteer,” Vujas said. “The Louisiana Cajun Navy came late on Sunday with big trucks and boats, and people all over state coming down to help with the rescue. To see everyone come together like that was pretty neat and touching.”
Late Monday night, Sharon Township resident Tom Quinn ventured to Austin, Texas, as a volunteer for the American Red Cross. He is one of 20 disaster workers from Northeast Ohio who have been deployed for the disaster relief operation.
Quinn, 69, is serving as an assistant day manager for a Red Cross shelter at the Austin Convention Center. He is estimated 5,000 people would arrive at the shelter beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“We started setting up (Tuesday) and put tape on the floor where all the cots will go,” he said. “We are ready for the residents who will be coming.”
The Red Cross estimates at least 32,000 people sought refuge in more than 230 Red Cross and partner shelters across the state Tuesday night.
Three shelters also are open in Louisiana with nearly 40 people.
“The fun part is helping people get into the Red Cross shelter and get them talking to helping agencies to make future arrangements,” Quinn said, noting the shelter is welcoming service animals and other pets.
He said the convention center is arranging food service for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Sometimes we have to supply food from temporary kitchens that are set up in disaster areas,” he said. “This will be good because they are used to serving thousands of people at a time.”
Quinn, who has been a volunteer for seven years, said this isn’t his first deployment for the Red Cross.
He previously was sent to Baton Rouge, La.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Houston for a separate incident.
“I’ve seen the devastation that flooding can cause,” he said. “To hear that there was 50 inches of rain in Houston and Beaumont, it is unimaginable to think it has to come one rain drop at a time. The pictures of streams way out of banks is heart-rendering.”
Quinn said he expects the shelter will be open for at least a month, although he only will serve until Sept. 8 due to a pre-planned family trip.
He and his wife, Sharon, have three children and six grandchildren. The couple has been married for 47 years.
Over the years, Quinn has given blood 452 times to the Red Cross. His goal is to reach 500 by his 85th birthday.
HOW TO HELP
Charity Navigator — http://bit.ly/2ggTc2O — lists charities providing assistance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Halee Heironimus at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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