Bayou City

As Flooding from Harvey Continues, Meyerland Residents Fend for Themselves

Flooding in Brays Bayou near Meyerland had receded as of Monday morning, but had devastated homes a day before.
Flooding in Brays Bayou near Meyerland had receded as of Monday morning, but had devastated homes a day before. Photo by Curtis Lawson

From the front lawn of his house in Westbury, the neighborhood just south of Brays Bayou near the 610 Loop, Brandon Webb could see rescue helicopters flying in and out of the heavily flooded area Sunday morning.

The neighborhood is one of the many in Houston that have been devastated by Tropical Storm Harvey, with some residents receiving as much as three feet of water inside their homes.

“They’ve been here for 40 years and this is the first time they've had something like this happen,” said Webb, a pastor at Westbury Baptist Church, about talks with his neighbors.

That the area surrounding Meyerland, the suburb just south of the Loop, has flooded is not a surprise. This marks the third time in three years it has been inundated by floodwaters from rainfall, which even resulted in three drownings in 2015, partially thanks to an underdeveloped flood system in Brays Bayou that’s been under scrutiny for years. But those along the bayou and close to the surrounding ditches and water holes are scrambling to find shelter and safety as the downpours from Harvey continue.

Glen Rosenbaum, who lives on South Braeswood about 100 feet from the bayou, started seeing flooding in his home at about 1 a.m. on Sunday. At its height, Rosenbaum said, the water rose to about 35 inches, which he could see from the shelter in his partial second floor. Other neighbors had retreated to the homes of friends or family, but Rosenbaum chose to stay at his house with a supply of water and food and a generator to keep his lights on. As of Sunday evening, the water had receded to about three or four inches, but he was already feeling anxious about Monday’s incoming downpour.

“I've had several offers from friends who have motorboats,” Rosenbaum said, “but I would like to stay and know what’s going on.”

click to enlarge The Maplewood neighborhood near Meyerland flooded Sunday. - PHOTO BY ALEX WHEELER
The Maplewood neighborhood near Meyerland flooded Sunday.
Photo by Alex Wheeler
From his room, Rosenbaum can hear the whirl of rescue helicopters that pass by low overhead every few minutes. Since Harvey arrived in Houston after weakening from a category 4 hurricane, the City of Houston has received about 6,000 calls for high-water rescues and has completed about 1,000, according to Gary Norman, a spokesman for the Houston Emergency Operations Center. As of 10 p.m. on Saturday, 911 had received 56,000 calls, seven times more than it receives on an average day. The calls became so frequent that the city released a statement asking residents to call 911 only for “life-threatening” situations.

But Webb, the pastor, has been disappointed with the city’s response. Helicopters in the area were dropping off the rescued at Hager Park in southwest Houston and then quickly leaving because of the high volume of calls, said Webb. As the numbers grew, the rescued started congregating at nearby Anderson Elementary, which was closed for the flooding. Webb and some other residents managed to get hold of the custodian for the school and as of Sunday night, about 60 people were staying on cots inside the school’s cafeteria.

Houston has designated two facilities for those stranded: the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, which housed about 1,450 people as of Sunday night, and the M.O. Campbell Education Center in Near Northside, which had about 1,100 people.

That presents problems for those in the Meyerland area, said Webb. Even those whose houses have not flooded still can’t navigate out of their neighborhoods.

“Most of the people last night we talked to had no desire to go down to George R. Brown. They wanted to be close to home,” Webb said. “So that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

As of Monday morning, flooding around Brays Bayou had subsided to within a couple of feet of the lip of the channel. Curtis Lawson, a builder and contractor with Curtis Lawson Homes, was able to drive his truck over a bridge on the bayou that had been completely underwater the day before. Lawson saw several cars on the bridge with weeds and debris that had clearly been there overnight.

Lawson and his team said they will likely begin work on houses Tuesday morning, removing Sheetrock and wet carpets, provided the water has not returned to previous flood levels. His house in Willow Meadows, just east of Meyerland, didn’t receive any flood damage, but Lawson was surprised about the lack of concern from some residents in the neighborhood beforehand. As Harvey approached, his office offered free cinder blocks for anyone who wanted to raise furniture. Not a single person took him up on it.

“I was really surprised. I don't think people were as concerned as they should have been,” he said.

Now Lawson and others are trying to clean up the aftermath. Webb said Monday he’ll try to reach his church, where he and his congregation plan on setting up a shelter for the neighborhood. They’ve reached out to the Red Cross to designate Westbury Baptist Church as a relief point and have a group from Memphis traveling down with food and smokers.

They are asking for help, but they’ll do as much as they can on their own.

“It was really disappointing,” Webb said about the city’s response. “I didn't feel like there was any effort on the city’s part to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to help you guys,’” Webb said. “Instead, they said, ‘Let's ship everyone to George R. Brown.’ We can’t. We can't get out of our neighborhood. You have vehicles to get in. We don't have any to get out.

“We just sort of felt stranded.”

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Joseph Fanelli is a reporting fellow at the Houston Press with an interest in education, crime and eccentric people everywhere.