By Devon DiComo
DEVON 1: It was Friday, August 25th, 2017.
ARCHIVAL 1: Hurricane Harvey becoming a category 1 hurricane just this afternoon, 85 mph winds already.
DEVON 2: Fawazz Akhtar and his parents were at their home in Canyon Gate, Texas, a suburban neighborhood right outside of Houston. They were planning to ride out the storm here until it had passed.
ARCHIVAL 2: Families stocking up for what could be nearly three feet of rain.
FAWAZZ 1: My friend was over. And we were just, you know, playing like PS4. It’s just gonna be some flooding and you miss school on Monday and you miss school today, but other than that, it won’t be life altering or whatever.
DEVON 3: Fawazz was 15 years old and in his junior year of high school. His older sister, Zubia, was in college in Austin. They knew something about storms. Just a few years before, Hurricane Ike had hit Texas. There had been minor flooding in some neighborhood streets, but nothing too frightening.
ZUBIA 1: It started by like, these things don’t affect us, like, Ike had happened and my house was fine.
FAWAZZ 2: At the worst, we’ll just stay upstairs. You know, we’ll just live upstairs. It shouldn’t be too bad.
DEVON 4: But at 10:00 p.m. that Friday night, Fawazz got a call from a kid in his neighborhood, telling him that he and his family should pack up their things and leave. Harvey had been upgraded to a Category 4 storm. Fawazz went to his parents immediately.
FAWAZZ 3: My parents, right, they were, like, very, stubborn-ish. And so they were like, no, we don’t think anything’s gonna happen. Stop, you know, acting crazy.
DEVON 5: So they stayed. There was heavy rain and wind, but nothing terribly unfamiliar to the family. But the next morning, they woke up to an unexpected scene. The water was now inching up onto the driveway.
FAWAZZ 4: And so, just, like, overnight, nobody thought, like, it could just pick up that quickly.
DEVON 6: And that’s the thing – most homeowners had no idea that their homes were built on a reservoir that was prone to flooding during severe storms. In order to protect Houston, the government made the choice to release water through the floodgate. Neighborhoods like Canyon Gate would bear the brunt of the flooding instead.
In Austin, Zubia was gradually hearing more about what was going on at home.
ZUBIA 2: When I heard that it was getting bad. It was like a shock.
DEVON 7: She rotated between sitting in her room and out on her patio- anywhere she could be by herself to call her family and hear what was going on from their perspective.
ZUBIA 3: There was just a time that I just like, could not get a hold of them.
I don’t remember how many times I called, like so, so, so many times. My head was just spinning, like I was like what? Why are they not answering? What could be happening? What are they doing? Because I had no idea of any of that.
DEVON 8: Cell phone service was out for the entire area. Fawazz was pleading with his parents to evacuate as soon as possible. Outside the window, cars were now underwater.
FAWAZZ 5: I’m over here, like, trying to convince my parents, we got to go, you know. It was frustrating, you know, like, I was just 15 years old and I didn’t even understand what was going on really.
ZUBIA 4: I was watching the news the whole day so I remember that was like keeping me somewhat up to date because whenever I couldn’t get a hold of them that’s what I was checking. There weren’t any crazy specific details.
ARCHIVAL 3: Hurricane Harvey barreling into the Texas coastline. More than 150,000 people of this hour plunged into darkness. (fade out) We are already hearing reports of significant damage of collapsed buildings, of people perhaps trapped under the rubble. Thousands flee the path of destruction. The president declaring a federal disaster for the state.
ZUBIA 5: I think I saw one part where they showed our area because they were showing that they had to mark every house with red to make sure every house in my neighborhood was evacuated.
DEVON 9: The water had now reached the front door of Fawazz and his family’s house. If they were going to evacuate, they needed to do it now.
But, there was another problem here: Fawazz’s parents didn’t know how to swim.
FAWAZZ 6: I’m telling them, if we don’t, you know, leave now, then you guys could drown, right? It sounds like such a morbid thing, but you can’t sugarcoat that, right?
DEVON 10: Before leaving their house, Fawazz and his parents tried to pack up some of their belongings, and move some valuables upstairs to avoid water damage. But they were running out of time. So they locked their door and left their house to get out of Canyon Gate. When they stepped outside and into the flooded streets, the water was up to their chests.
FAWAZZ 7: So we start just trekking like, towards the front of the neighborhood, right? My mom is like, so freaked out. She’s just like, latched on to me, right.
ZUBIA 6: I couldn’t do anything that day, like, I didn’t go anywhere. I just stayed home and, like, cleaned and people were reaching out and asking “is your family okay, are you okay?” So I remember that would stress me out more.
DEVON 11: Fawazz and his parents saw neighbors outside trying to escape too. There was a couple with toddlers. An old woman. One of his neighbors was helping another who was paralyzed. He started giving them advice on what to do.
FAWAZZ 8: The other day you see your neighbors you’re just saying hi to them or whatever, like, you know, how’s your day going? But now you’re over here discussing how to fend for your life, how to evacuate, how to properly, like, get to the front of the neighborhood.
DEVON 12: What should have been a 10-minute walk turned into an hour-long trudge through the freezing water.
FAWAZZ 9: It was just endless, just water, branches, random stuff floating. Everyone’s just in a state of shock and just trying to get out.
ZUBIA 7: The day it was happening people, like my roommates, were going out and I was just feeling very alone.
DEVON 13: Finally, Fawazz and his parents reached the edge of Canyon Gate. It was getting dark out and the water was becoming murkier now. They were brought to the local junior high school where all of the other evacuated people were sheltering — the lone safe haven for the residents of Canyon Gate.
ZUBIA 8: It was just a pretty emotional time because I felt this guilt of not being there.
DEVON 14: It wasn’t until the next day that they were able to get in contact with Zubia.
ZUBIA 9: The three of them were going through it alone. Especially my little brother, like he has two other siblings that are older than him and they weren’t there. It was sad to see that he was affected by it and not us.
FAWAZZ 10: I was just telling my sister, I was like, you know, when I heard junior year’s the toughest year I didn’t expect I didn’t know like, a hurricane was like a part of it right, you know, trying to joke a little bit about it. But, you know, it was a lot.
DEVON 15:The first time Fawazz, Zubia, and their parents all saw each other in person again wasn’t until Thanksgiving of that year. Fawazz and his parents stayed with relatives for a while until they could move back into their house. They experienced a lot of water damage, especially on the first floor and lost valuables such as furniture, wedding dresses, and photos.
But even after the reunion, it’s not as if the storm hasn’t had its lasting effects.
FAWAZZ 11: Every time it starts to rain or there’s like a flash flood warning, we’re like oh my god, you’re just praying you’re like asking God please like no not this again. You know every time we’re in hurricane season, you just live with that thought, where it’s like, I just hope nothing like that happens again.
DEVON 16: I’m Devon DiComo and this is Telling True Stories in Sound.