Tag: Houston

From Katrina to Harvey: Honoré Reunites With Twins Saved 12 Years Ago

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HOUSTON, Texas  —  Almost 12 years to the day after her babies nearly succumbed to the hellish aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Alexandra Wheeler finally got to thank the man she credits for saving their lives.

In the throes of another devastating flood, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré arrived this week in Houston, where Wheeler and her boys put down roots after Katrina’s flood forced them from New Orleans.

Historic rain from the storm known as Harvey left Wheeler’s home unharmed this week. But the storm gave her an opportunity to tell Honoré what he has meant to her and sons, now almost teenagers, since they first encountered each other a dozen years ago.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,” she told him.

Facing disaster a dozen years ago

It wasn’t Katrina that upended Alexandra Wheeler’s life in 2005. It was the aftermath, when the federal levees broke and Wheeler’s 3rd Ward neighborhood began to flood.

The rain had passed. The heat had returned. But the worst still lie ahead.

“We didn’t even know the levees were broken yet,” Wheeler recalled. “It was just like a spot of water on the ground that looked like just a pipe or something burst.”

“The water went from the middle of the street to the sidewalk, and then it got to the first floor of the house,” she said. That’s when she decided it was time to go.

Wheeler’s main concern was her twin boys. J’Mari and A’Mari Wheeler Reynolds were just 6 1/2 months old. She tried to load them into a stroller, but the current pulled it away. Mom and sons made it across the street to a friend’s fourth-floor apartment. There, they hunkered down with other neighbors, hoping the water soon would recede.

It didn’t.

So, in the morning, Wheeler started to make her way through the flood toward the Superdome, the boys strapped to her body in baby carriers — one in front, one in the back.

At one point, something in the murky water caught her foot. Fearing it could be a snake or an alligator, she hesitated. When she lifted her leg, the reality proved worse than what she had imagined.

“It was two bodies, collided,” Wheeler said. “Their arms were stretched out. They were full of water, and they raised up to the top from me lifting my leg up.”

Wheeler kept going. She reached the city’s convention center, which had developed into a makeshift shelter — without adequate provisions — on a sliver of high ground along the Mississippi River.

There — dehydrated, starving and exhausted — Wheeler and her boys waited, she said.

A savior arrives in camouflage

“We hadn’t eaten in, maybe, six days,” Wheeler recalled. “We hadn’t had any water or anything. I ran out of formula and food for them, so they were really hanging on by a thread.”

Desperate, Wheeler and few other people tried to walk from the convention center to Harrah’s casino, just a few blocks away, to find a way out of the city. Instead, they ran into military personnel who, with guns drawn, stopped them. Wheeler was terrified — and confused.

“We’re like, ‘We’re the victims. What are you pulling guns on us for?”” she recalled.

That’s when Wheeler first heard the voice of Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the retired Army commander and Louisiana native dispatched to lead the Defense Department’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and, later, Rita.

“Put those weapons down, dammit!” he yelled at the troops in a moment now famous for recalibrating the military’s role in the disaster zone from enforcer to helper.

Honoré, dressed in his camouflage uniform, instantly became a savior to New Orleanians desperate for food, water and rescue. To Wheeler, he became the man who saved her boys.

CNN’s Barbara Starr was there in 2005 when Honoré encountered Wheeler and her twins, who by then were lethargic from too little nourishment and exposure to overwhelming heat.

‘We would have died’

“Grab the babies, c’mon!” Honoré said as he took the children from Wheeler and handed them off to soldiers. “C’mon, tiger. Let’s go!”

Honoré walked with the family to a US Coast Guard boat that took them to a Navy ship. There, they bathed and got clean clothes and food.

All told, Wheeler estimated that Honoré spent about four hours with her and her boys, whom he cradled in his arms.

If they hadn’t met, she said, “We would have died. There’s no question, we would have died.”

The family was airlifted to San Antonio. At a hospital there, it became clear just how much the babies’ health had deteriorated.

“They were completely dehydrated. Their veins — everything — it was really hard for them to put in IVs,” Wheeler said. “They were there for a week and a half. A’Mari actually coded blue, and then J’Mari went directly after him.”

12 years later, a reunion in Houston

A dozen years later, Wheeler kept one eye on the rain and the other on her sleeping boys as Harvey pushed through Houston. Unlike after Katrina, floodwater only came close to their apartment this time.

When news of Honoré’s arrival in Texas spread, Wheeler messaged him on social media — and he responded. They planned to meet.

When Wheeler’s twins saw the military man this week — their first encounter the boys will remember — they ran into his arms.

“Boy! You guys grew up in 12 years!” the lieutenant general said with a smile.

“I am so grateful to you for saving my children’s lives and my life,” their mother told him. “And there’s no way possible to pay you back for that. … We are eternally grateful to you for that. And I thank you for saving us because you didn’t have to do that.”

But Honoré wouldn’t take all the credit.

“I will take that hug, he said, “on behalf of all our military people that were there on the ground as first responders.”

Houston Inundated by Water as Harvey Pummels Texas

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Around 13 million people are under flood watches and warnings stretching from Corpus Christi to New Orleans as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey menace drenched Texas and Louisiana.

“Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” continues in southeastern Texas, where bands of storm have been repeatedly pummeling the same areas.

Over the next few days, Tropical Storm Harvey is forecast to head back into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will pick up moisture before moving back over Galveston and into Houston again, CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis says, meaning at least four more days of rain.

The National Weather Service (NWS) warns that flash flood emergencies are in effect for some areas and the rain — which can be measured by feet rather than inches — is not letting up.

It says that up to 25 inches of rain (2 feet) could fall through Friday over the upper Texas coast, while “isolated storm totals may reach 50 inches over the upper Texas coast, including the Houston Galveston metropolitan area.”

Latest developments

— Over two days, Houston got 25 inches of rain — more than half of its annual rainfall.

— 11 p.m curfews were introduced Sunday in the City of Alvin, City of Friendswood, League City, City of Pasadena, City of Pearland, City of Seabrook and City of Webster.

— A mandatory evacuation order was issued for areas along the Brazos River in Fort Bend County.

— Several states and the US military are sending emergency workers and equipment to Texas.

— Dallas is opening a “mega-shelter” capable of accommodating 5,000 evacuees at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center by Tuesday morning.

— The Houston Independent School District has canceled school for the week.

— President Donald Trump will travel to Texas on Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

— 316,000 customers had lost electricity across the state.

Follow live updates

Houston volunteers

Flooding continued in and around Houston on Sunday night as citizens with boats assisted authorities in search and rescue efforts on roads turned rivers.

A CNN crew was with one such volunteer when he used his vessel to rescue an elderly couple, their daughter and two dogs in Dickinson, Texas.

The family became trapped upstairs when flood waters came through the garage, filling the house with about three feet of water.

“It was shocking,” Pam Jones said. “It just creeped up.”

Houston resident Louise Walker told CNN she was trapped in her neighbor’s apartment.

“Our bottom level is waist-deep in water. We have helicopters that are flying over us rescuing people, we have people who are living in these first-floor apartments like I have. They have been breaking into empty second level apartments just to have somewhere to go because we can’t get out. We’re simply completely surrounded with water,” she said, adding that the helicopters were only rescuing people who were in immediate danger.

“My only plan at this point is to stay out of the water. I’ve been keeping in contact with family and friends, but other than that we can’t do anything. We are literally stuck here,” Walker said.

Officials say they have executed over 250 water rescues and rescued over 1,000 people from floods. The US Coast Guard’s Captain Kevin Odditt says 19 Coast Guard helicopters are also involved in relief efforts.

As of Sunday evening, between 800 and 1,200 people had been rescued from their homes in Galveston County, County Judge Mark Henry said.

One thousand additional National Guard members are being called in to help Houston flood victims affected by flooding, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced via Twitter Sunday evening.

The governor is expected to tour the Texas Coastal Bend region Monday with Senator John Cornyn.

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Dam releases

The US Army Corps of Engineers began the controlled release of water from the Addicks and Barker Dams in Galveston early Monday, after water levels began rising quickly, according to Harris County Flood Control District Meteorologist Jeff Linder.

This is ahead of schedule because the water levels at the dam began to rise quickly, Linder says. The engineers are expecting spillways and roads in the area to be impacted, according to a release from the agency.

“Residents adjacent to the reservoirs need to be vigilant because the water in the reservoirs is rising rapidly,” said Col. Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston District commander. “Both reservoirs are rising more than half a foot per hour.”

The City of Conroe says record levels of water are also being released from Lake Conroe Dam and flooding is imminent in some areas.

“The City of Conroe will be evacuating McDade Estates. Other neighborhoods will be evacuated by the County,” it said.” Public Safety Officials have been overwhelmed by the number of calls and are currently prioritizing calls as they come in.”

Evacuation orders

The rainfall threatens to exacerbate an already dangerous situation, as Harvey’s rains have left many east Texas rivers and bayous swollen to their banks or beyond.

Harrowing tales from Houston

“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall are beyond anything experienced before,” the NWS said. “Catastrophic flooding is now underway and expected to continue for days.”

In Fort Bend County, a voluntary evacuation order was made mandatory for areas along the Brazos River, with the NWS predicting river levels of 56.1 feet — nearly two feet above the record during flooding last year.

“Harvey continues to batter Fort Bend County,” said County Judge Robert Hebert. “Residents who flooded last year know how serious this situation is.”

Fort Bend had worked with the Red Cross to establish shelters for residents, Herbert said.

Stuck in the Texas floods? Here’s what to do

911 overwhelmed

The storm killed two people in Texas, authorities said, and the death toll will likely rise. A woman who drove her vehicle into high water in Houston was killed, and fire killed a man in Rockport.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned that some 911 calls are going unanswered as operators “give preference to life-threatening calls.”

The 911 dispatchers in the nation’s fourth-most populous city have received 2,000 requests for rescue, Mayor Turner said. Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said his department had responded to 2,500 calls and have about 1,000 more waiting to be serviced.

People are also taking to social media to announce their locations and ask for help.

How social media is helping

Many roads impassable

In a Sunday news conference, Gov. Abbott said, “We want to stress when there is heavy rainfall and flooding, the importance of staying off the road. If you drive into water, you’re taking your life into your own hands.”

Portions of major highways, including Interstates 10, 45 and 610, were submerged and unnavigable. Houston resident Dion Laurent said the White Oak Bayou flooded I-10 and I-45.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he understands the compulsion to find safer ground, but urged people to think twice before venturing out into high water and to consider unforeseen dangers, such as manhole covers being lifted from their holes.

In Brazoria County, south of Houston, officials set up an evacuation route for all residents living west of State Highway 288 and south of State Highway 6, ordering them to “LEAVE NOW!” under a mandatory evacuation order. Those in need of shelter can take refuge in the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, officials said.

Louisiana in Harvey’s sights

Meantime, Louisiana Gov John Bel Edwards wrote to President Trump requesting that he declare an Emergency Disaster for the state.

“The National Weather Service forecasts that remnants of Hurricane Harvey will bring heavy rainfall to Louisiana posing serious danger to life and property of the citizens of our state. Significant lifesaving efforts such as search and rescue, transportation to shelters, logistical support, and shelter operations are particularly needed in Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, and Vermillion parishes,” Edwards wrote. The NWS predicted 10 to 20 inches of rain between Sunday night and Monday, he said, with “major river flooding” anticipated.

Harvey blasted ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on Friday night, making landfall just north of Corpus Christi before quickly being downgraded to a tropical storm.

Keep track of Harvey

“What is unique in Harvey is that as the storm moved inland, a large high pressure built in to the north and, basically, the steering currents, which guide Harvey, collapsed,” said CNN senior meterologist Dave Hennen. “This has caused the extremely slow movement of the storm, moving only around 60 miles, less than 2 miles per hour. This has allowed the bands of storms to move over the same areas over and over.”

Houston Residents Reel as Water Levels Continue to Rise

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HOUSTON, Texas  —  Residents of Houston, Texas, woke Sunday to flooded streets and homes, submerged cars and news of high water rescues after Harvey dumped between 15 and 30 inches of rain on the city overnight. The National Weather Service predicted that the city could see as much as 50 inches of rain.

More than 1,000 people had to be rescued overnight, according to Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District.

And the calls didn’t show any sign of stopping.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a press conference Sunday morning that there had been more than 2,000 calls to 911 for rescue.

First responders were reportedly inundated with pleas for help while officials asked them to stay put and take shelter so they could focus on helping people in life-threatening situations.

Here’s what it’s like on the ground in Houston right now.

‘Madness’

“I just woke up an hour ago and stepped out of the bed into ankle-deep water,” said Jake Lewis, who was visiting Houston for work and found himself stranded in a hotel Sunday morning.

“I’m not going to go out there and get in a bind,” he told CNN. “It’s been madness around here. The water keeps rising.”

Forecasts predict the rain will continue through at least Wednesday as Harvey lingers over southeast Texas, raising the threat of devastating flooding.

FEMA administrator: We’re ‘going to be there for years’

‘Truly devastating’

Ify Echetebu took to Instagram to post photos of her aunt’s house in Dickinson, Texas, southeast of Houston.

“The severity of the situation just hit me,” she wrote. “I’m overcome with grief due to how helpless I feel in all of this. This is truly devastating.”

The water had risen to her waist, she said.

“National Guard is only responding to emergencies and 911 said do not call them.”

‘I’m getting scared’

Darakniqueca La’Shay Burns took to Facebook Live to show how she and her family were stranded inside their flooded home.

Their belongings are piled high on furniture and countertops as the water rises, filled with floating debris.

Burns and her family said they’re trying to keep a positive attitude.

“I’m trying to laugh to keep from crying,” she said. “I don’t even know if we can get out the door it’s so high. We laughing and playing, but for real, it’s getting too high and I’m getting scared.”

The family was able to escape the home and wade through the water to safety, Burns said. She told CNN that she and her child had nowhere to go, but she was grateful they were able to get out.

This is what South Texas looks like after Harvey hit

Houston ‘completely under water’

Rey Güatzin told CNN the water in his home was rising throughout the night.

“We have about five inches of rain inside the house, and we live at the highest point of the street,” the 28-year-old said. “However, outside it’s about two to three feet of rain, perhaps more as rain is continuing throughout the day.”

“It’s scary,” Güatzin said. “I’ve been through many storms in my city, but it has never been this terrible. The city is completely under water.”

The water is still rising

Janet Castillo and her family found themselves walking through knee-deep water Sunday morning. Her husband Luis posted a video to Facebook of the water collecting in their home.

“Send some boats over here,” he can be heard saying in the video.

“We are still stranded in our home with little kids, and the water keeps rising,” Janet Castillo told CNN. “We have called already to several numbers, but no luck.”

The lines were all busy and phone operators didn’t answer, she said.