Accessibility links

USA

Running Out of Time in Houston — A Survivor's Story


Flooded homes are seen in the Westbury neighborhood of Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Paul Trinh)

Paul Trinh, who lives with his wife and two young boys in the Westbury neighborhood of Houston, Texas, said it started raining "really hard" late Thursday night.

As Hurricane Harvey swept in, the rain continued through Friday and intensified on Saturday. At 5 a.m. Sunday, floodwaters were approaching the house. An hour later, the Trinhs' home was completely flooded, along with the garage — and their two cars.

Paul shut off the power before the water could reach the home's electrical circuits. "We were running out of time," he said.

Another round of rain was forecast for Sunday evening, so he and his wife, Audra, each took one of their boys — Jet, 4, and Kai, 5 — and evacuated on foot.

A family evacuates from the Westbury neighborhood of Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Paul Trinh)
A family evacuates from the Westbury neighborhood of Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Paul Trinh)

"I put a kid on my shoulders and my wife put a kid on her shoulders, and we were wading through the water, which was about waist-high," Paul said.

A good Samaritan in a boat picked them up and ferried them across the deepest floodwaters. They had to disembark and slosh some more before reaching the edge of their neighborhood, where a relative waited to take them to Audra's mother's house.

Paul called their escape "a bit of an ordeal," but said the boys were excited about the novelty of the experience, and everyone's health is fine.

"We're dry and safe now," he added, speaking by telephone from the family's temporary headquarters, where there is power and food.

"Luckily, the house we went to is really, really high up," and safe from further flooding, Paul added.

He has since returned to his house to view the damage, which is extensive. A filthy black streak on the walls shows how high the water rose. The Trinhs had flood insurance, so they filed a claim the day they evacuated. Both of the family cars already have been declared total losses by their car insurance company.

Floodwaters rise to meet the deck in the backyard of a home in the Westbury neighborhood of Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Paul Trinh)
Floodwaters rise to meet the deck in the backyard of a home in the Westbury neighborhood of Houston, Aug. 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Paul Trinh)

Areas near the Trinhs' home have flooded in the past, but the Westbury neighborhood had stayed dry, so the Trinhs were taken by surprise this time. In the end, Paul said, there wasn't much they could do except to get out fast.

Now, they wait. Audra, a real estate agent, can work remotely from her mother's house, while Paul, a mortgage loan officer, has not been called back to work yet.

"The whole city's pretty much shut down right now for the rest of the week," he said Tuesday.

Schools normally would have begun a new term this week, but will be closed until at least September 5, after the U.S. Labor Day holiday. Gas stations and grocery stores have begun reopening, but at a gradual pace.

In some ways, the downtime at Grandma's house is welcome.

"It's going to give me time to get everything in order," Paul said.

There's certain to be a lot of work ahead, as the Trinhs face the long process of getting back to normal.

XS
SM
MD
LG