As Hurricane Harvey misery sweeps Houston, Indian community in Texas stay strong, resilient

Residents use boats to evacuate flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

NEW YORK – There’s a sense of dire foreboding, dread, as one checks updates on the havoc, misery caused by Hurricane Harvey – coming close to biblical proportions as predictions pour in of more heavy rainfall in the days ahead. There’s fear of dams collapsing, reservoirs running amok, inundating remaining areas of the metropolitan areas of Houston, Texas, swathed in water.

The word ‘inches’ have a new evil connotation after Hurricane Harvey, especially for those areas in the US incapable of handling even an inch or two of flash floods. It’s now 50 inches that Houston, the fourth largest city in the US, has been rained upon, with God knows, how many more inches pouring down from the skies in the days ahead, with no mercy, no respite for those who thought the worst was over.

The only salvation is that confirmed deaths till now have been kept to a low number of 10, although that’s of no comfort to those who have lost a loved one. Compare that number, however, to Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, which saw more than 1,800 people dead. However, Hurricane Harvey is far from done; fatalities are bound to go up, as rescue and search efforts continue.

If one could take succor in statistics, then for the record, flash flooding kill more than 140 people per year, according to the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. They also cause about $6 billion in damages per year in the US and $3 trillion worldwide, according to National Geographic.

The South Asian community in the Houston metropolitan area, which according to some estimates is around 200,000 strong, has stayed strong, resilient in the face of the crisis. Temples and community organizations have acted quickly, spread word for relief; community has reacted fast and efficiently to call for help from those stranded amidst rising waters.

There have been reports of two Indian students at Texas A&M University in critical condition at a local hospital after they were rescued from swirling waters, trying to wade their way through.

Some 250 other Indian students at the University of Houston, who were marooned in an apartment complex, are now safe, with prompt action by the Consulate General of India in Houston Dr. Anupam Ray, local organizations, and community leaders like Renu Khator.

Residents wade through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Texas, U.S., on August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Houston area activist and local businessman Vijay Pallod told News India Times in a phone interview that at least 50,000 people of Indian-origin have been impacted and displaced by Hurricane Harvey, in in the Greater Houston area.

“The Indian community has done a good job of helping each other,” said Pallod.

SEWA International Houston Chapter’s President Gitesh Desai has been directing the relief efforts despite the fact that his own house has been flooded and he had to wade through five feet of water to move into a hotel. This did hot, deter him, or others, from “doing our service,” as he put it.

Preeti Kankikarla, a young professional, and her 65-year-old mother, were those helped by Sewa volunteers. She described her ordeal as the “toughest times of our life.”

Local radio jockey Sunil Thakkar used his radio station to provide directions about where people can go for help until his own house was flooded. Achalesh Amar, an active member of the community, described Houston as a “ghost town.” He said Indian volunteers are working till 3 a.m. daily monitoring requests, assessing the situation and coordinating assistance.

The Hare Krishna Temple and Govinda’s Restaurant reached out to area residents to offer anyone who needs food to come to their restaurant for take-out lunches, for free.

Govinda’s manager & ISKCON Temple President, Syamasundar Dasa said, “ISKCON has a long history of service in disaster relief efforts globally so even though we are not fully prepared, still we feel urgently compelled to start now, even though the temple lost electricity this afternoon. We have gas stoves and we requested people to bring their own containers for a fresh hot meal. We will expand our services as the need arises.”

Major Indian organizations such as Hindus of Greater Houston, India House, India Culture Center, the Indo American Charity Foundation, Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston and the Indo American Political Action Committee have also pitched in to help.

Volunteers of BAPS Charities have prepared warm meals working with local state officials in Houston, Sugar Land, Missouri City and League City. On August 28th, volunteers served hot meals to120 students at the University of Houston and delivered meals to local community members.

Help is also coming in from other states across the US for Texas, as Louisiana is now bracing for their turn of disaster as Harvey turns its eye towards that beleaguered state.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered members of the state Air National Guard to Texas and Louisiana, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has sent 120 emergency workers to Texas.

A father, who wished not to be named, carries his daughter through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Texas, U.S., on August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

It remains to be seen if Harvey will go down in the annals of history as the most notorious hurricane in the US, but for the record, there have several till now that have caused extensive damage to property and taken many lives.

Bustle cited a few of the top ones: the Mississippi River Flood of 1993 – caused $15 billion in damage, and 50 people died; Thompson Canyon Flood of 1976 – the Colorado flash flood only lasted one day, left 144 dead, and cost $35.5 million in damages; Rapid City Flood of 1972 – South Dakota saw 238 dead and cost $165 million; Hurricane Camille Flooding of 1969; killed about 256 people; damages amounted to $1.421 billion; Mississippi River Flood of 1927 – considered the most destructive flood of American history. It killed 500 people and left 600,000 homeless, and it stretched across 15 million acres of land, spanning to Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana; Hurricane Katrina Flooding of 2005 – Cost $81 billion, the most ever in the US and killed more than 1,800 people, impacted 15 million; Johnstown Flood of 1889 – the South Fork Dam failed in Pennsylvania, and killed more than 2,200; Galveston Flood of 1900 – 8,000 people died.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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