Photos and story:
Editor: Despird Zhang
Published the 21st of December 2020
This is the amazing story from Sarah Shen during the period around Hurricane Harvey on August 27th, 2017 in Houston, Texas.
Once again, we are hit by another unprecedented disaster, and when the disaster strikes, we are desperate and helpless, aren’t we? But not hopeless.
I would like to invite you to join me on an exclusive photography journey witnessing the real-life experience of my friend Sarah Shen, three years ago.
Through her incredible story and photographs it makes people deeply believe that there is always love, hope and positive expectations no matter how harsh life is.
Aug 23, 24, 25, 2017, Outside of home:
Before Hurricane Harvey, the people of Houston had been preparing for the hurricane season every year. Except for the mom buying water and long-term food, refuelling, cleaning and tidying up, and storing water enough for at least one week as well as the very probable power outages after the hurricane, the lives of the kids are considered quite normal so far.
Morning, Aug 26, Game room on the second floor:
With nonstop rain ongoing, we are stuck at home and could not go out. Until then I did not know that the hurricane could bring 50 inches of rain to Houston in three days, which is way more than the regular amount of annual rainfall.
Evening, Aug 26, Food storage room on the first floor:
The tornado warnings continue throughout the day, and there have been intermittent reports about houses being destroyed in the immediate vicinity. My daughter convinces me that it is the safest thing to read the iPad inside the food storage room on the first floor, surrounded by piles of water and food.
Aug 27, the living room on the first floor:
The water level keeps rising, so I must quickly clean up the house, move food, water and household appliances to the second floor, and elevate the furniture with anything that works like a padding. However, there are still plenty of items that can't be moved. Maybe, the water is not going to enter the house, is it? Nothing we could do except pray for the best outcome.
Aug 27, Game room on the second floor:
The rain continues to pour, and the water level continues to rise. Now floods everywhere. Based on my calculation that when the water level is about to reach the top of the roadside fire hydrant, then it will breach the threshold for the flood to enter the house.
Rain, rain, go away!
Aug 27, Study room:
The flood is almost reaching a life-threatening threshold. Before we must shut down the power of the house, my son wishes to play another piece on the piano. I am afraid it will take a very long time before he is able to do that again, and we are not even sure if the piano will survive the flood.
Early Morning, Aug 28, The street across from home:
I barely slept across the previous night. I could see the lights dotted in the water through the rain-soaked window on the second floor. I don't know how many families were having the same sleepless night just like we did. In the morning, the water has not entered the house yet, but the entire district has been classified as a mandatory evacuation zone, and military helicopters have begun to participate in rescue missions.
Afternoon, Aug 28:
The streets of my suburb are literally rivers. While some volunteers and soldiers are driving trucks to higher locations hoping that people who might be wading can evacuate themselves, others are walking in waist-deep water dragging rubber dinghies to rescue people from house to house.
Maybe every person in the mass evacuation still has a picture like this on the phone. When the people who finally waded through the flood and climbed onto a boat or a truck, they breathed a sigh of relief that their family is finally saved, looking back at the home in the water with a strong sense of nostalgia.
I don't know what will be waiting for us when we come back here again.
This photo is credited to an unknown neighbour
Late Afternoon, Aug 28, Kitchen and dining room of my friend’s:
After a long journey, under the help of friends and strangers, I finally arrived to one of my closest friend's house. After taking a hot bath, we indulged in fresh clothes and happy time with friends and pets.
Aug 31, Temporary shelter in Cinco Ranch High School:
Because only a few things were brought with us when we evacuated, I take the kids to get some necessities. In addition to water and clothes, my daughter has found a kitten blanket and some books and toys with a great joy as if it were Christmas.
Sept 1, Corridor:
Finally, as the flood subsided, we return our homes then embark on another daunting task - demolishing walls. Luckily, we have two volunteers helping us. After a long chore with our heads down we are all exhausted.
In the end, the house looks like hell.
Sept 9, Kitchen with the walls removed:
As the clean-up job is close to its end, the house has turned into exposed wooden stakes which however is a paradise for children to play hide-and-seek.
8am, Sept 11, the entrance of RAE Elementary School:
First school day after the hurricane, my daughter wants me to walk her to the entrance and kiss her in the palms again so that she can have a look at them whenever she misses mommy.
It’s an autumnal morning when the sunshine sprinkles on the grass dew, and she says there appear crystals all over the ground.
Afternoon, Sept 11, Seven Lakes High School Orchestra Hall:
My son has resumed his music classes and cherishes every musical moment with his little sister more than ever.
Evening, Sept 11, on the way from the flooded home to the rental house:
After the flood, there is still water everywhere on the road, and there are traffic jams everywhere in Houston. While the car is constantly still, I could use the leisure to photograph those birds returning home, like myself.
Now I could spend daytime continuing unfinished housework while the kids are in different schools. I hope they will see a better home every time they come back.
Sometimes, the kids could use a break after school by reading books or watching TV. At other times, they help mom with the cleaning job.
Afternoon, Sept 14, the street:
Every afternoon, the school bus runs through the debris for children’s current or alternative homes.
My daughter always gives me a big hug after getting off the bus
Walking through the trash mountains, what she sees is fun and novelty, but for me they are mixed feelings that cannot be described by a right word.
Sept 15, Menkou Street:
The garbage contaminated by the flood has finally been collected.
Sometimes, when I am working downstairs, my daughter is playing upstairs, and when I find her, she usually falls asleep already. She is tired too, I know.
Anyhow, she could sit at the door awaiting her brother to come home, again.
After all, tomorrow is another day.
There will be another golden sunset.