Amy Styer woke up Tuesday morning to see the waters beginning to recede in Houston, even though the rain was still pouring down.
Tropical Storm Harvey hasn’t quite finished beating up Texas yet, and now it’s started in on Louisiana. At least five fatalities have been reported, and some media reported up to eight. Other media quote officials as saying it is impossible to know how many fatalities there really are, given the magnitude of the storm, which spans at least two states so far.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency for Louisiana on Monday after massive rains from the storm hit the state. A similar declaration was made for Texas several days earlier; the move frees up funding for disaster response and helps cut red tape for the states’ Medicaid and Medicare providers. HHS Secretary Tom Price told reporters on Monday the agency was deploying some 550 personnel to affected areas.
In the Jewish community of Houston, where many residents were trapped in their homes by up to four or five feet of water, Styer — a local resident — told JewishPress.com in an exclusive ongoing internet interview that a Jewish Day School has become a shelter, while other Jews are hosting friends and neighbors who have been flooded out. Local yards are hosting wildlife that normally make their homes in the bayou.
The city’s largest synagogue, the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) of Houston, has so far been hardest hit by the storm. Styler told JewishPress.com that UOS was severely flooded, as was Meyerland, the traditionally Jewish neighborhood. Regency Forest, a more mixed neighborhood, was also flooded but the flood level there was being measured in inches, and not feet.
“Chabad is dry so they are having minyans and tehillim groups,” Styer wrote. “OUS is flooded, so no minyan.”
The situation was growing more desperate, however, by Monday afternoon.
“We are eating what kosher food we have. The kosher stores are all under water so people are worried about the chagim,” Styler wrote. “The larger modern Orthodox school, Beren Academy, is turning into a shelter.
“The Jewish Community Center (JCC) is turning into a command center. Jewish Family Services is flooded. They’re helping people by phone.”
The flooding is bringing out more than rescue personnel, Styer added. “One person reported spotting a gator. I saw a coral snake swimming in my yard,” she wrote.
A question about what people are doing for kaddish prayers for the dead, funerals and cemeteries prompted Styler to talk about the basic priorities that Texans are struggling with. “I don’t know about cemeteries right now; we’re focused on the living,” she wrote. “Braeswood (a main street) is devastated and people are being evacuated. Some people are displaced and the community is really helping, rescuing, giving a place to stay and food.”
By late Monday night, Styer added: “It’s getting worse. I didn’t take my phone out because I was afraid it would get ruined in the rain.
“The photos you see are from Regency Forest, where I’m staying with my elderly parents in NW Houston. We’re now stuck here. Streets coming in to this area are flooded. We’re okay, but we can’t go anywhere or get anything.”
Eight fatalities have been confirmed as a result of Tropical Storm Harvey thus far.
In Houston, well over 5,500 people have already arrived at the city’s convention center
FEMA administrator Brock Long told media that up to 30,000 people were likely to seek shelter as the rain and flooding continues in the city.
“About 50 Texas counties and parts of Louisiana will face serious repercussions from the “landmark event,” he said.