Tag: Texas flooding

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.”

‘Texas has never seen an event like’ Harvey, FEMA Chief Says

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Swollen rivers in east Texas aren’t expected to crest until later this week, but federal officials are already predicting Tropical Storm Harvey will drive 30,000 people into shelters and spur 450,000 victims to seek some sort of disaster assistance.

And yet, forecasters say, more rain is coming. Lots more.

Several locales have already received 2 feet or more of rain, and forecasters say a reprieve won’t arrive till week’s end at the earliest. By then, rain totals could reach another 2 feet — with isolated instances of 40 to 50 more inches — along the upper Texas coast.

Follow live updates

“This is a landmark event for Texas,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. “Texas has never seen an event like this.”

But, Long warned, Harvey presents a dynamic situation, and “every number we put out right now is going to change in 30 minutes.”

Harvey will likely surpass 2008’s Hurricane Ike and 2001’s Tropical Storm Allison, two of the most destructive storms to hit the Gulf Coast in recent memory, he said. Around 13 million people from Corpus Christi to New Orleans were under flood watches and warnings as of Monday morning as Harvey’s storm bands repeatedly pummel the same areas.

Keep track of Harvey

Early Monday, Harvey was just barely clinging to tropical storm status, but the danger is far from over. The storm is forecast to head southeast toward the Matagorda Bay and Gulf of Mexico where it will pick up additional moisture before sliding back over Galveston and Houston, cities it’s already hammered.

Even when the rain is gone, dangers will persist, said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini, because “the flooding will be very slow to recede.”

Here are the latest developments:

— The average annual rainfall in Houston is 50 inches. The city has seen 25 inches of rain in two days. Another 25 could fall by Saturday.

— Several cities, including Alvin, Friendswood, League City, Pasadena, Pearland, Seabrook and Webster, have issued 11 p.m. curfews.

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

— 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 for the district’s 215,000 kids.

— President Donald Trump will travel to Texas on Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, are scheduled to tour the coastal bend region Monday.

— Energy provider CenterPoint says 96% of its Houston customers have power, but more than 93,000 are without electricity as the company’s crews experience difficulty reaching the affected areas.

— The storm killed two people in Texas — a woman in Houston and a man in Rockport — authorities said, and the death toll will likely rise.

Finding a ‘new normal’

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

“It was shocking,” daughter Pam Jones said of the floodwaters. “It just creeped up.”

At Monday’s press conference, Long encouraged more citizens to come forward, saying the rescue and recovery efforts would require community involvement. He said the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website would direct folks to religious and nongovernmental agencies through which residents can help out.

Nursing home residents rescued

“It’s going to require the citizens getting involved,” said Long, who was headed to Corpus Christi. “Donate your money. Figure out how you can get involved as we help Texas find a new normal.”

The victims so far span at least 30 counties, the FEMA chief said, and that number may be as high as 50 counties.

1,000s of rescues

One victim, Aaron Mitchell of Aransas Pass, appeared shell-shocked as he recounted riding out the storm in his mobile home, which he said “felt like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ man.” He had walked 12 miles to find his father in Rockport, to no avail. Left without cell service for days, he hadn’t been able to touch base with his mother in Oklahoma, either.

Though he has no intention of abandoning the place he calls home, he was second-guessing his decision not to evacuate, he said.

Why didn’t Houston evacuate?

“I just lost everything I worked for. Everything,” he told CNN. “I don’t know. Maybe I should’ve left.”

(Following his interview, Mitchell was able to reach his father via telephone and, in tears, told him, “OK, dad, I’m going to jump on a bus. I’ll be there.”)

Houston resident Louise Walker also chose to brave Harvey’s wrath, leaving her trapped in a neighbor’s apartment, watching as authorities prioritized rescues based on who was in the most immediate danger.

Recovery could take years

“Our bottom level is waist-deep in water,” she said. “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.

State, local and military rescue units have plucked thousands of stranded residents from the water and from deluged homes. That includes well more than 1,000 victims in Houston and between 800 and 1,200 in Galveston County, officials said.

The US Coast Guard has contributed 19 helicopters to the effort, Capt. Kevin Odditt said. Gov. Abbott late Sunday called in an additional National Guard troops to bolster the force of 3,000 he initially mobilized, he tweeted.

Dam releases

The US Army Corps of Engineers began the controlled release of water from the Addicks and Barker dams in west Houston early Monday, said Jeff Linder, Harris County flood control district meteorologist

This is ahead of schedule because the water levels at the dam began to rise quickly, Linder says.

Harvey’s impact by the numbers

“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.”

In Conroe, an hour’s drive north of Houston, record levels of water are also being released from Lake Conroe Dam and flooding is imminent in some areas. The city will be evacuating some neighborhoods as a result,

“Public safety officials have been overwhelmed by the number of calls and are currently prioritizing calls as they come in,” the city said in a statement.

Cities, counties struggling

In Fort Bend County, a voluntary evacuation order was made mandatory for areas along the Brazos River, with the National Weather Service 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.”

In Brazoria County, south of Houston, officials set up an evacuation route for its more at-risk residents, 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.

Stuck in the floods? Here’s what to do

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Sunday night 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 had received 2,000 requests for rescue, 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.

As Abbott equated driving into the state’s high waters with “taking your life into your own hands,” officials reported that many thoroughfares throughout eastern Texas were submerged and unnavigable. Among them were portions of interstates 10, 45 and 610 in Houston.

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.

With neighboring Louisiana in Harvey’s sights this week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote to Trump on Sunday requesting that he issue a disaster declaration for the state. Search and rescue initiatives and shelter accommodations will be especially important in Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermillion parishes, the governor wrote.

Trump approved the emergency declaration Monday.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Addicks and Barker dams are in Galveston. They are in west Houston.

Reporter Shares Photo of Dogs Left Behind as Family Flees Flood

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DICKINSON, Texas — It is a heartbreaking picture that shows the devastation caused by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

CNN reporter Ed Lavandera shared a picture that shows two dogs sitting in a boat in Dickinson, Texas.

The dogs apparently had to be left behind when their owners had to evacuate due to flooding caused by heavy rains from Harvey.

In a comment on his Instagram post, Lavandera provided an update. “I should add, I think the people have every intention of coming back to get the dogs. Food was left behind and I suspect it had to be a tough choice and that they will come back for them as soon as they can.”

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