My first time in Houston was on a trip with fellow Six Flags over Georgia workers, to visit sister parks in Texas. One night, we got to go see the Braves lose in the Astrodome. (It was the early 80's; they always lost.) We had fun and our hosts were great.
Twenty years later I was working between coasts, and would find myself in Houston from time to time. It never went well.
"Don't curse this place," I heard, and stopped dead in the concourse to look around. I knew I hadn't said "I hate Houston" out loud, but somehow I'd just heard a response. It was an audible voice. But no one was near me, and now there was silence. Clearly (to me in my world), God was telling me to change my attitude toward a city in Texas. Okay.
From that day, I began to see Houston news everywhere. And I began to pray for its people. And I went to a conference there, and did some mission work there, and even learned I'm kind of from there. Huh? Yeah, I had no idea my dad spent some early years there growing up. So Houston, you got my attention.
And then -- Katrina. It was a couple years after my airport encounter that Houston became the new home of countless evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. One of the main shelters was the abandoned Astrodome. News of conditions there hit me hard.
Here was this great facility, with room to spare, but no one knew what to do with it, how to organize it. Government agencies were understaffed, and collaboration with other groups was chaotic. The place was dangerous. Water scarce. Toilets overflowing. Workers stealing from victims. People fighting, raping, and killing. A horror show. And conditions weren't much better in other locations.
This time, even before Harvey struck, lines of buses were helping Texans evacuate. The buses came before, not after.
And as the storm lingers today, pouring a year's rain within a week, civilians are mobilizing themselves. They're not waiting to help. A loose band of boaters dubbed the Cajun Navy was first launched post-Katrina, trying to find stranded survivors. It was brutal work, but these Samaritans found they'd rather be wrung out by weather than pelted by news images of people dying on rooftops.
So the flotilla is back, helping with Harvey early. They've learned time equals lives, and that anyone with a boat is on the front lines. Small towns still await help tonight, hoping this casual coast guard has enough sailors, speed, and stamina to get them in time. We are in a life-and-death window right now.
That Houston interstate where I nearly wrecked is a lake today. And so is the airport where the city first got my attention. The convention center next to the old dome is open for evacuees, but the stadium itself has not yet recovered from Katrina. It is being rebranded and developed.
Harvey survivors are being taken to local aid stations, and to facilities farther away. People are opening their businesses and homes to them. So far, this response seems better, calmer.
But it's still raining.