Hurricane Harvey: The Human Impact

Counselor shares a sampling of the thousands of personal stories of promo professionals affected by Harvey.

Rescued From the Flood
On a dry, sun-splashed September morning, the Brays Bayou lulled along through its concrete channel in the Meyerland section of southwest Houston. The placid pace and shallow water belied the raging river the waterway had morphed into during Harvey. For sure, Sharon Williams knows well the sinister side of the bayou, which rose so rapidly and so immensely amid the storm that she, her mother and her cat and two dogs needed to be rescued by boat to escape the life-threatening flood.

>>Don't miss: To Hurricane Hell & Back

Williams, national sales manager at Houston-based Hirsch Gift (asi/61005), was living in a home on S. Braeswood Boulevard, just across the street from the bayou, when Harvey roared in from the Gulf of Mexico. She remembers the day being sunny and beautiful before the rain – a regular weekend day in which she and her mother settled down to watch a Houston Texans pre-season game. “It’s not uncommon to get heavy rain in Houston,” says Williams. “We decided we were going to see how things would go with the storm and leave if we needed to.”

Just before kickoff, Williams poked her head outside to check on things. It was raining heavily, but the bayou was within its banks. When she went to check again during the third quarter, Williams discovered a world transformed by water. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, what happened?’ The water was in the street and halfway up my driveway. We had waited too long to get out.”

Williams called 9-1-1, but first responders were so inundated with emergencies that she couldn’t get through. Thinking on her feet, Williams rang her sister – a police officer – to see if she could help. Williams’ sister connected her with a Houston Police Department officer who said responders would do their best to rescue them.

So began what was easily one of the longest nights of Williams’ life.

Photos: Damage from Hurricane Harvey

Conditions were perilous for emergency personnel, who were making rescues throughout fast-flooding neighborhoods. Given the rescue calls and confusing conditions in Meyerland, a heavily developed area built mostly in a 100-year floodplain on former rice fields, the would-be rescuers couldn’t immediately reach Williams and her mom, whose health is fragile. The pair spent the harrowing dark hours in the single-level home as water poured in, rising to a couple feet by the next day. To keep her cat Maggie and dogs Sandy and Molly safe, Williams stacked pillows on chairs and put the pets on them. Over the course of hours, she stayed in contact with rescuers, who by 4 a.m. told her they could have someone to her by the next morning. But still the waters continued to rise, reaching chest-high levels outside.

“That much water – it’s scary to say the least,” says Williams, who at one point was set to push vehicles in the driveway closer to the home to create a platform from which she could get her mother to the roof.

Fortunately, it never came to that. Members of the Houston Police Department Dive Team navigated the labyrinth of flooded streets in a boat and reached Williams and her mother – a rescue Williams facilitated by standing outside on the top of her car and waving an orange bag so the rescuers could see the precise location. From there, the dive team took Williams, her mother and the pets, along with other Houstonians, to a home that had miraculously not flooded – an island amid a newly formed sea. The residents fed and watered Williams’ pets – something that moved her.

“The human kindness of it in that situation – it just touched you,” says Williams. Shortly after, a high-water rescue vehicle transported Williams and others to a grocery store parking lot that was on higher ground. Several hundred people were there, escaping the rising water. “This had started the night before and it wasn’t until about 4 p.m., on higher ground, that we finally started to feel a little safe,” Williams says.

Unfortunately, the ordeal didn’t end with the rescue. Williams’ home – a rental – was badly damaged, its destroyed contents piled in a heap at the curb when Counselor visited. Williams did not plan to move back in. Adding salt to the wound, her renter’s insurance doesn’t cover rising water, meaning she had to apply for government assistance, a process that was ongoing at press time. Williams admits there were times that she broke down.

“There was a day I was sitting in the house, looking at everything that was ruined, and I had a moment of despair,” she says. But the moment passed – thanks in large part to the generosity and compassion of people in the Houston community and promotional products industry. “One day, 17 volunteers from a church showed up and asked, ‘What can we do to help?’” says Williams. “They started pulling insulation, cutting sheetrock. They worked nine hours that day, helping us get everything settled. They kept saying, ‘Thank you for letting us help you.’ I was so blessed. It was overwhelming.”

Additionally, industry colleagues who wished to remain anonymous started a GoFundMe page for Williams in the wake of the tragedy. Williams was also able to move to temporary longer-term accommodations at a great price as she searched for a new permanent home. While no one would blame Williams for taking time off, she willingly got back to work only about a week after the storm cleared, flying to California for appointments. “It’s really helpful to get back to the routine,” says Williams. “You want to return to a sense of normalcy.”

“Just Keep Moving Forward”
Promo pros at Sierra Pacific Apparel felt the full wrath of Harvey’s fury.

Several executives experienced flooding at their homes. One rep had to evacuate his home, near reservoirs, because of flooding. He fled to a cousin’s home, but the waters rose there, too. The rep ended up trapped in the house with 10 people including an infant for nine days. “The house never flooded, but they were unable to leave due to water in the streets,” says Phillip Ambros, Sierra’s creative director. “As you can imagine, it’s been an emotional time.”

But somehow, Brigitt Isenhour was managing to take it all in stride.

A VP at Scope Imports, Sierra’s parent company, Isenhour’s condominium in Meyerland flooded for the third time during Harvey. Isenhour rode out the storm safely at a neighbor’s place, but returned home to contend with extensive water damage. Even so, she was grateful that the home would be habitable after restoration work – that she and her beloved cat had made it through the storm unscathed. And, in a show of perseverance that defined the team at Sierra, which was fully operational not long after the storm, Isenhour was back at work, plugging ahead just days after Harvey moved on. “Things happen and you can’t control it,” says Isenhour. “The only thing to do is to just keep moving forward.”

A Fresh New Start
Karen Sharp, the Proforma Impact Promotions president, sat on a chair amid the flood remnants and destroyed personal belongings that populated her former dining room. But rather than complain about the hard hand Harvey had dealt her with its flooding, she was busy discussing why she felt blessed – why she continued to “choose joy.”

For one thing, Sharp already had a bid in on a new house. For another, she was nearing the end of successful breast cancer treatment, an exhausting process through which she still managed to spur business, which was also beginning to churn with post-Harvey opportunities. Further, her daughter and granddaughter survived Harvey and were in good condition after being temporarily trapped in their apartment by floodwaters.

If all that weren’t enough, Sharp said the storm re-revealed to her the inherent goodness in so many people. As the flood tide advanced, neighbors helped her dig a small ditch, allowing some water to run away from her home. Similarly, a good friend offered to get her as the waters closed in. It took the woman two hours to go a few miles to reach Sharp, but reach her she did. They escaped to higher ground. Then there were the good Samaritans who, post-Harvey, brought by cleaning supplies – two ladies and two little girls who couldn’t have been happier to help.

For sure, Sharp and others in greater Houston and beyond have a ways to go. In her neighborhood alone, piles of sheetrock, furniture, carpets and other household items hillocked the sidewalks and lawns of flood-ravaged homes in September. But even so, work crews and residents were doing what could be done – picking up the pieces and trying to move on. Indeed, a few children were outside playing tag. Things were looking up for Sharp, too. Later in the day, she texted with good news about her bid for a new home. “I got the house!!!!” the text read. “Fresh new start!!!”

And though she didn’t say it this time, her words – “choose joy” – echoed behind the text and, maybe, through all of southeast Texas.

Email:; Twitter: @ChrisR_ASI