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Surviving the storm

Resident and rescuers share their stories from the frontline of Hurricane Harvey

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Courtesy of Matt Malik

A large shipping truck is tipped over on the shore in Fulton, Texas.

With high speed winds blowing through the trees, a sudden downpour of rain pounding on the roof, and the electricity out, Natalie Stark was without her husband and left alone to keep her kids, along with herself, calm during the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on the night of Aug. 25.

“I was there when the storm started, my husband was out of town and my boys Stephen and Mason were with me at home,” Natalie said. “We just all hung out in different parts of the house off and on for a few nights. They would stay up late and I would get a little bit of sleep and then I’d let them sleep and I’d stay awake just to be on the safe side and make sure everything was OK.”

The Starks live in Richmond, southwest of Houston, and were forced to evacuate three days ago because of the flooding from non-stop rain and the overflow from the Brazos River.

“When we had our house built, about three-and-a-half years ago, we had to have it built up a little bit higher than all of the people who first started building there almost 20 years ago,” Natalie said. “So we have been a little bit more lucky than some of the people. Our neighbors houses are not as high up, but they’ve been lucky so far, [the water] has not gotten to any of the houses that are close by.”

Firefighters from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area made their way down Monday night to affected areas to do their part in helping rescue and assist families like the Starks. Firefighters from Lucas traveled to some of the hardest hit areas along the coast in Fulton and Rockport, just northeast of Corpus Christi.

Our neighbors houses are not as high up, but they’ve been lucky so far, [the water] has not gotten to any of the houses that are close by.”

— Richmond resident Natalie Stark

“Lucas Fire is part of a TIFMAS [Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System] program with the state. During any natural disaster we are deployed to areas that need help,” Lucas firefighter Matt Malik said. “We are a part of a strike force team with Plano, Princeton, Greenville, and Prosper Fire where our deployment could be four to seven days and as many as 10 days.”

Lucas firefighters have been sleeping on cots and without water to shower at the Fulton volunteer fire department.

“Currently our assignment is to search through disaster homes for any victims or people that stayed during the storm,” Malik said. “Also to assist the local fire departments and run their calls. They have been working non-stop so we are reliving them so they can go fix their homes.”

Malik said the group is on call 24/7 and has been called out at night to respond to medical emergencies, fires and traffic crashes.

“We wake up and receive an assignment,” Malik said. “Today we are in various neighborhoods clearing homes. When a home is clear we use orange spray paint to mark an ‘X’ signifying it has been checked.”

Harvey, which has varied in strength from a category four hurricane to a tropical depression, attacked the Texas coast with winds as high as 132 miles-per-hour and more than 51 inches of rain. The storm has already caused around $190 billion in damage and has dropped 19 trillion gallons of water on Texas alone. The storm’s death toll has topped 47 casualties but expected to rise slowly as recovery efforts continues.

The Stark home is safe from water damage currently because of the height it was built on, but when the river crests, they are expecting flooding in parts of their house. However that may not be their biggest problem.

I never thought I would see something so horrific in an area.”

— Lucas firefighter Matt Malik

“My husband went back home yesterday and a lot of our neighbors have been staying [at their houses] because people have been going through looting,” Natalie said. “Someone went back behind our house the night before last ready to break in. Our neighbor was there and yelled out at them and had a gun and just shot the gun off to scare them off which did, but my husband, Steven, has seen other looters driving by in their vehicles today. So they’re trying to keep all that away while they can.”

Malik described the scene farther down the coast as “looking like a warzone.”

“I never thought I would see something so horrific in an area,” Malik said. “There are massive trees uprooted and thrown onto homes, multiple RVs are thrown hundreds of feet and flipped upside down, houses are completely demolished.”

The Stark family is currently staying about six minutes away from their current house in their old home which is now owned by Natalie’s mother-in-law.

“[My sons] were supposed to start [school] this past week on the 28th and of course that was canceled,” Natalie said. “Now they’re saying that they are going to start next Tuesday. That’s when they are planning to start most schools up here that are still in good shape. But there have been some schools in Houston and around Houston that have been flooded.”

Even though the Starks were victims of Harvey, the family, like Malik and the firefighters, still wants to assist their neighbors.

“I just worry about so many people who have lost their homes and some people have lost everything they have,” Natalie said. “I’m just wanting to get out and help but I can’t right now because of where we’re out we don’t have many places we can travel to. My mother-in-law and I are planning on trying to get over to one of the high schools in Rosenberg and take some things for those families that have lost most everything they had.”

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Surviving the storm