Emily Adair
The La Grande Observer

When Houston native Kelly Ducote first heard of then-tropical storm Harvey, she made jokes to her family in Texas about getting ready for the storm.

“Houstonians are very used to tropical depressions and tropical storms,” the La Grande resident said. “There are precautions you always take, but most of the time it’s nothing (to actively worry about).”

One precaution, for instance, is to clean the bathtubs and fill them with drinking water.

Ducote, who works at the Union County Circuit Court and was formerly the assistant editor for The Observer, said she and her family began taking Harvey more seriously as the storm grew.

Her father and stepmother live in Kingwood, toward the northeast portion of the Houston metropolitan area. Her mother and stepfather live in Simonton, near the Brazos River west of Houston. Her grandparents and siblings all still live in the Houston area.

Fortunately, Ducote’s family was mostly untouched by the disaster. She said her mother and stepfather evacuated their completely dry home to avoid being trapped by the surrounding floodwater. Ducote’s father and stepmother’s home is also dry and has provided a refuge for other family members evacuating their homes.

Ducote’s sister had to be rescued by a boat and taken to a shelter, but her dad was able to pick her up and take her to his home.

Her stepmother’s parents were the most affected. They evacuated early, but their home was a total loss.

“They found fish and snakes in the pool, there’s water on the second floor, the fridge came out of its alcove and landed on top of the island, and the island completely collapsed,” Ducote said. “You don’t think about the power water has until something like this happens.”

She doesn’t know yet if her grandparents will be able to rebuild or will
want to.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” Ducote said. “I have a lot of memories there.”

Ducote said some flooding is normal for Texas.

“When I was growing up, I’d see kids playing in the flooded streets on the news,” she said. “It looked like fun.”

Her parents were stern in making sure she didn’t play in floodwater.

“It’s dangerous, because you never know how the current might change,” she said. “Also, you don’t know what’s in it. There could be animals, snakes or diseases.”

But Harvey’s floods are far from normal.

“What was most jarring was how widespread it is,” Ducote said. “It’s on both sides (of Houston) and
everywhere in between and beyond.”

In addition to the sheer amount of rainfall, Ducote said tornadoes were a major problem.

“I never expected to see as many tornado warnings as there were that first weekend,” she said. “Friends were reporting 22 warnings in one night.”

That caused additional stress for Houston residents who would typically get into their bathtubs to wait out tornadoes but had already filled their tubs with drinking water.

Ducote said the past two weeks have been surreal.

“I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t looking at the images,” she said.

Perhaps what made the news hit home the hardest was Ducote’s husband’s reaction. Nicholas Ducote lived in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes in United States history.

“To hear someone who went through that say, ‘Wow, this is up there,’ made this real for me,” she said. “We were both having flashbacks.”

Now, Ducote said she is starting to feel like she can breathe easy again.

“My family is very fortunate, (and) the people I know are not dealing with major loss,” she said. “But so many people are.”

Ducote said she has been checking in on her family and offering moral support.

“I did consider flying out to try to help, but I don’t know what I would do for them that isn’t already being done,” she said.

Fortunately, the community has stepped up to help one another.

“My dad said he’s been overwhelmed by the good and the warmth he’s seen,” Ducote said. “Two Latter-day Saints church groups worked basically all day for two days to help clean up. Boy Scouts offered to help. People are offering food and laundry. Everything you can think of, people are offering.”

Ducote said she imagines her family in Texas are exhausted, and understandably so.

“This is such a huge burden,” she said. “And it’s not just Texas.”

She said she’s also kept her eyes on the major flooding in South Asia, which has affected millions of people across India, Nepal and Bangladesh, killing more than 1,200.

“I can’t help but be thankful for the infrastructure we have in this country,” Ducote said. “But then here we’re dealing with all these fires. It’s wild. I wish we could somehow get all that water up this way.”

Now, Ducote’s concern turns toward Jacksonville, Florida, where her sister-in-law’s large family has ridden out Irma, now a tropical storm.

Once a Category 5 hurricane, Irma was nearing the Georgia border this morning.

Hurricane Jose, downgraded to a Category 3 this morning, is not far behind Irma. Jose traveled through the Caribbean this morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.