‘It was like riding on a boat’: How one Texas town weathered Hurricane Harvey

on Aug27

No one dared go outside.

Hundreds of men, women and children waited on cots inside the Red Cross shelter in St. Joseph High School, which doubles as a protective storm dome, where the walls were painted with the messages “You’ll love the journey” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

They had little news of what was going on outside in the rest of Victoria, a city of 62,000. No TV, weak phone service, but they had also quickly run out of toilet paper. Signs taped on the wall near power outlets said “20 minute charging only.” Some men sat slumped over on their cots, not watching anything, not reading anything, just waiting out the storm.

An older woman could be heard counseling one young boy to stay strong: “Let me tell you something — the Lord is watching over you. This is a big house God gave us.”

But outside, Hurricane Harvey was giving the town a whooping.

The highway into town was empty as the hurricane bore down on the Victoria on Saturday morning. Hard rains lashed sideways across the naked roads. Harder winds snapped the trunks of proud trees like pencils.

Near town, the storm’s power had toppled gas station overhangs and punched through several billboards, leaving the advertisements drooping like rags. A 30-foot-tall business sign for the Baytown Seafood restaurant waggled in the wind like an accidental weather vane. Mobile homes in a trailer park were flattened.

There was not an emergency vehicle in sight.

But inside the Red Cross shelter, people were safe, if restless and worried. One older man who fled nearby Port Lavaca grumbled at the noisiness of the playing children, saying, “If I was their father, the disaster coming to them would be standing up.”

Natalie Hernandez, 33, of Victoria, a mother of nine kids — six of whom had come to the shelter with her — began crying as she described the tension of waiting for more supplies to arrive. But, she added, “I’d rather be safe, and that’s why we came to the shelter.”

Outside, water began to pool up on the streets. Water gushed out of a storm drain instead of going in.

The aluminum roof of Anthony and Patricia Erevia’s carport rattled with the breeze as they watched the storm from beneath their overhang at their house on the edge of town. Longtime residents, they decided to ride it out, figuring that it might be even riskier, in a way, if they left.

“It’s our home,” said Anthony, 52, whose garage was decorated with Dallas Cowboys memorabilia. “And it’s a lot of looters out there.”

Like everyone else, they had lost their electricity, and so it was dark and hot inside.

Fortunately the couple had stocked up with five cases of water and put several 3-liter bottles of water in their freezer to use as ice to keep their food cold. “And then when that melts, you can drink it,” said Patricia, 42.

While watching what was happening to their town, they hadn’t seen people out and about — just a dog, running scared from the storm, one of several lost dogs roaming free around town, dirtied by all the water and looking for shelter.

Addyson Hilgart, 10, found a small squirrel clinging to a bramble of tree debris behind her house. Out front, a tree had collapsed on a white Dodge Ram.

“He scared me. He didn’t even look like a squirrel, he looked like a rat,” said her mother, Nancy Bram, 39, wearing a shirt that said “Normal People Scare Me.”

They decided to name the squirrel after the hurricane.

“I can feel Harvey moving,” Addyson said, swaddling the squirrel in a white towel.

“He’s going to live, I didn’t think he was going to live when we got him,” replied Bram, as her daughter stroked the squirrel’s fur.

“We thought he would have bit us or something, but he’s so sweet,” Addyson said.

Nearby, a homeless man and woman walked down the street in the pounding rain, carrying a crate of water bottles and snacks that they said they found in a dumpster. They said they were squatting in an abandoned house with another man who was sick, though they declined to give their names or let journalists accompany them.

“We’re walking back here, dodging the water and dodging the storm, and we’re gonna save that man and save us too,” the woman said, confidently.

And as they walked away, the rains began to let up.

Victoria lies about 30 miles inland, and though damage was noticeable all over town, it was spared the flooding and devastation of other communities in Texas.

Cars returned to the roads, weaving around the downed trees and power lines. The flooding even seemed to go down in some places. In nicer neighborhoods, pet owners went out to walk their cooped-up dogs.

In a trailer park on the edge of town, Benito Garcia, 38, emerged from his trailer to survey the damage that had torn through his neighborhood.

A neighbor’s trailer had part of its roof sheared off. Garcia looked up and noticed that the two trees above his trailer had broken apart but had avoided hitting his home. Lucky.

“It was like riding on a boat,” said Garcia of the winds that had made his trailer rock and sway through the night.

Then, he added: “It wasn’t too bad.”

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Twitter: @mattdpearce

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