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Starting Over In Houston After Hurricane Katrina, And More Tough Choices With Harvey


Finally today, as we continue to think about the people coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we are reminded that tens of thousands of people who fled Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans ended up in Houston. Many of them created new lives, and some of them feared they'd have to do that all over again. Terrence Veal is one of those people. Terrence Veal, his wife and their six children left New Orleans on the eve of Hurricane Katrina's arrival in 2005. They waited out the storm in Atlanta and then settled in Houston. Then, almost 12 years later to the day, Veal and his family found themselves evacuating again as floodwaters overtook their neighborhood. We reached Terrence Veal, who's back at home in northwestern Houston to find out how he's making sense of all this.

TERRENCE VEAL: Things are looking up. It's still chaotic. You know, there's some parts of Houston that are absolutely destroyed. But as far as us, we are OK.

MARTIN: Now, I hate to take you back there, but I'm going to take you back there, back to 2005. Can you just remind us of what it was like in New Orleans at the time? And, you know, how did you decide to leave? I mean, you were told to leave at the time, correct?

VEAL: Yeah. It was definitely a last-minute mandatory evacuation. The big confusion with Hurricane Katrina that a lot of people didn't take into consideration was that we had a big evacuation in 2004 and nothing happened. And, you know, when we talk about evacuating sometimes, we kind of speak about it like it's just going to the store. But there's a lot of people like myself, you know living, paycheck to paycheck. When you evacuate, it's very, very expensive, you know, in between hotels and gas and food. And in 2004, when everyone evacuated and nothing happened, in 2005, a lot of people were just jaded and just had to vent up the arrogance towards Mother Nature, like we can just withstand her, you know. And so I developed that exact arrogance. And, you know, 2005, my life changed, you know, honestly forever. Nothing was ever the same.

MARTIN: What made you all decide to go to Houston after that?

VEAL: Well, Houston was actually the first place where FEMA had, you know, set up infrastructure. And at that time, I was banking with the credit union, you know, which is - at that time only had one branch. And their entire system had shut down, ATM cards and everything. So my entire family was basically living off of one credit card. So when we found out that Houston had infrastructure far as with FEMA, that's what made us go ahead and say, come on, we need to get to Houston.

MARTIN: So what was it like in Houston when you got there?

VEAL: Overall, Houston was just prepared for us. In New Orleans, we have a strong accent. So there were times where if I was just in Walgreens just speaking, I've had people just kind of walk up to me and put $10 or $20 in my hands. You know, Houston was just an amazing, welcoming place from my personal experience.

MARTIN: So what went through your mind when you started hearing that Harvey might be bad?

VEAL: Well, again, you know, ironically, you kind of have that arrogance because I'm living in Houston now. I mean, after all, this was my big brother that rescued me from the bully Katrina. You know, so I'm like, it's no way that anything can happen bad in Houston, you know. So I had that arrogance. But, you know, I was absolutely wrong.

MARTIN: As I recall, you actually stayed home Friday night - right? - which was what they recommended that you do actually. They recommended that you shelter in place.

VEAL: I mean, we still had power. You know, so it was just a regular Friday night. Even Saturday morning, I got up and I got my son's hair cut because, you know, they were starting school on Monday. I mean, it was just, you know, regular just everyday life until, you know, things started to change. And the street that I live on, it never floods. You know, so then the water just kind of started coming in. And that's when, you know, reality started to settle in like, OK, I think I'm going to have to do something.

MARTIN: So what happened? How did you get your family out?

VEAL: Well, from that moment, I mean, the water started filling, filling, filling, filling, filling just throughout the day. And my marker was the mailbox. So the water got up to the mailboxes. And then it came into the driveway. And it came to my doorstep. At that point, I knew I had to get my family out because my wife, Zida (ph), she can't swim. She's terrified of water. You know, I had my two kids here. And I had my son's girlfriend. And so we had to get out, you know. So I walked out into the water.

And just right when I walked out, you know, there was just some random guys doing the rescues in canoes. It was one guy on a kayak. He was just paddling the streets, seeing who needed help. And then behind him, it was just some gentleman with a canoe. And I flagged them down. And they came over and loaded up my family and took us to safety.

I mean, it was - and I asked them, hey, are you guys a organization or whatever? He was like no, you know, I just had a boat, so I came to help. And then I met this guy over here, and we just thought started helping together. It was absolute just community effort, you know, just by strangers just helping each other, you know. It's a real beautiful thing.

MARTIN: Wow. Can I ask you though, Mr. Veal, you have such a beautiful personality. You sound so upbeat though. It's just - but part of me wonders, were you scared haven't gone through that before? I mean, I understand you didn't ride out Katrina in New Orleans. But knowing that your former home was completely destroyed, knowing you couldn't go back to New Orleans if you wanted to, was there a part of you that was scared that you were going have to do that again?

VEAL: Oh, absolutely. I would be disingenuous if I said that, but, you know, when you have a family and they're looking to you, I mean, at that point, you know, like Will Smith said on "After Earth," I mean, danger is real but fear is a choice. You know, so not trying to beat my chest like I'm Tarzan, I was absolutely terrified, but I didn't have time to entertain that fear because I had to do what I had to do for my family.

Now, the fear definitely settled in when I had to come back to the home and I had to walk back. You know, at this point, it's waist-deep water. And it's dark. And the street lights are off. And now I'm feeling like I'm living in a horror movie, like it's somebody that's watching me eating popcorn, saying, hey, don't go down that street, you know. And so that's when the fear definitely set in because I just knew that the Loch Ness monster was going to just grab me by my ankles and drag me under the water. You know, so you're either going to push forward or you're going to sit in the corner and die. I mean, that's really only your options, you know.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, do you have any advice that you can pass on?

VEAL: You know, my grandmother always taught me your attitude will determine your altitude. So in this moment, this is not the time for anger, for frustration. We have to be patient with the circumstances and with one another. As long as we do that, we can figure out everything else.

MARTIN: That was Terrance Veal, survivor of Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Harvey. And that would be a great T-shirt, now that we think of it.