Opinion: Hurricane Harvey Was and Still Is a Catastrophe

"Look into the eyes of the children who were sitting on their rooftops waiting to be saved from the raging floodwaters and tell them that this was Houston's finest hour."

By Melissa Law September 8, 2017

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Cleanup begins in the flooded Houston suburb of Riverstone near Sugar Land.

Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle ran an opinion piece written by Leo Linbeck III, executive chairman of construction firm the Linbeck Group and vice chairman of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

In the piece, Linbeck argued that Hurricane Harvey was not a catastrophe. "It was Houston's finest hour," wrote Linbeck, "evidence that our distinctive approach to self-governance works, even under the stress of a major storm."

Meyerland resident and mother of three Melissa Law, who remains surrounded by catastrophic destruction, took umbrage with Linbeck's piece. She allowed us to run her rebuttal below, originally published on Facebook:

Mr. Linbeck,

Imagine the following scenario:

A major metropolitan area with millions of people is hit with a terrorist attack of unprecedented proportions. Everyone thinks it is a catastrophe of biblical proportions.

After the disaster passes, you learn the following:

99.9 percent of people are able to return to their homes.

99.9 percent of buildings suffered no damage.

0.03 percent of the population dies from the disaster, but there is no change in the annual death rate from either the previous year or following year.

At any given point, more than 99 percent of the city has electric power, and 99 percent of the population never loses power.

New Yorkers don't have to imagine this scenario—they lived it.

But 9/11 was not a catastrophe. It was New York's finest hour, evidence that their distinctive approach to self-governance works, even under the stress of a major terrorist attack.

If the previous argument sounds ridiculous to you, it's because it should. It's the same logic you used to argue that Hurricane Harvey wasn't a catastrophe. But both 9/11 and Hurricane Harvey were catastrophes. Lives will be forever changed because of Hurricane Harvey, one of the costliest and most devastating storms on record. My best friend and her children who lost their home and everything inside of it will recall their lives in the same way many survivors of 9/11 recall theirs: pre-catastrophe and post-catastrophe.

For you to minimize their loss and the loss of so many others is arrogant and ignorant.

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Spring residents paddle down a flooded street near Champions Forest.

I invite you to leave your nearly 10,000 square foot mansion nestled on your private 3+ acre estate and drive down the streets of Meyerland and Bellaire. Go to Kingwood, west Houston, northeast Houston, Alief, Katy, Richmond and elsewhere where people's entire lives are sitting in a pile of rubble by the curb.

Tell my parents that $6,000- $12,000 is chump change while you count the ways in which you will gain millions of dollars from this storm.

Tell my neighbors whose homes have never flooded in the 50 years before 2015 that more concrete and development upstream is a good thing for everyone.

Look into the eyes of the children who were sitting on their rooftops waiting to be saved from the raging floodwaters and tell them that this was Houston's finest hour.

Tell the many elderly couples who were saved by my husband and other heroes that they should trust land developers such as yourself with their lives. That self-governance by people who stand to make a profit by putting others in harm's way "works." Works for whom? You must have meant it only works for people like you.

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A sign is nearly submerged by flood waters in Spring.

Image: Shutterstock

Your lack of understanding and empathy is appalling. I'm happy that your home didn't flood and that you only had a couple of friends who flooded. Your friends were able to box up their possessions and find a nice rental home from your network. However, outside the millionaire network, there are people who don't have flood insurance, who don't have friends with vacant rental property, who have nothing, who don't get personal time off to deal with their loss, who work MONTHS to make $6,000, who are suffering.

Your editorial is a slap in the face to these people. It IS and CONTINUES TO BE a catastrophe. Even if your biggest Harvey horror story is having to use a chainsaw to clear the road in front of your property and eating a frozen Costco meal. People died. Homes were lost. Lives are destroyed.

We will never agree on the meaning of "self-governance." We will never agree on whether for-profit companies and industries should be able to make public policy unilaterally without regulation. But we both should agree that Hurricane Harvey was and is a catastrophe.

Going back to business as usual without taking a hard look at what has happened in certain parts of town over the last few years is not only negligent, but also reprehensible, immoral, and unforgivable.

The invitation stands for you to walk down my neighborhood streets, speak with my friends and neighbors, and get a new perspective on the catastrophe known as Hurricane Harvey.

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