Hurricane Harvey Evacuee Gladys Renee Cotton Grabbed What She Could

October 3, 2017

The wrath of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, has affected many. It hit the Lone Star State on August 25 with winds reaching 130 miles per hour. According to the National Weather Service, the Houston area received more than 50 inches of water, translating the rainfall into an unprecedented flood. More than 24.5 trillion gallons of rain fell in the region.

Many streets in neighborhoods and on Houston Interstates looked like rivers. Boats and helicopters were essential in rescuing trapped citizens. As the murky water receded, people went back to their homes and communities to clean up and salvage, if anything, what they could. The catastrophic flooding destroyed homes, displaced families, and many people lost their lives. As of September 6, the Associated Press reported that Hurricane Harvey’s death toll was at least 70. Hurricane Harvey also created an ocean of health and environmental issues. Mental disparity and the needs of rebuilding will take years reported World Vision.

Dealing with displacement, mental stress, loss of material possessions, and the anguish of rebuilding, one Houston resident nonetheless remains safe. Evacuee Gladys Renee Cotton adhered to warnings from public officials. “I grabbed what I could before I left,” she said. Ms. Cotton had a change of clothes, flip flops, tennis shoes, and a pair of shoes she loved. Chuckling, the mother of one grown son said, “They are the ‘baddest‘ dress shoes.”

Tropical Storm Allison flooded her home in 2001 with about three feet of water, Cotton shared. She lives in the North Shore area of Harris County and watched continuously the television broadcasts about Hurricane Harvey’s path. She recalled the robust force of the water and how it knocked down her chest-type freezer in her garage.

Extension programs such as those at Prairie View A&M University help Texans better their lives. Mr. Jimmy Henry, Program Leader for the Cooperative Extension Program’s (CEP) Community & Economic Development (CED) unit said his area provides information to evacuees about assistance to help displaced individuals and families apply for housing assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Henry said they are working with Red Cross, FEMA and other disaster related agencies. Student employees also help with campus Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Ms. Cotton got out before any water accumulated in her home. “I put my pretty living room chairs (a recent purchase) on top of my dining room table and left.”  “There was nothing I could do,” the retired U.S. Postal worker said. She retreated to her son Christopher and his wife Taneshia Cotton’s home. Her son is a Program Specialist in CEP’s CED area and works with Henry.

As for others in her situation, her future is uncertain at this time. The insurance company requires proof of everything. Standing for more than four feet for days, the water damaged Cottons’ home, furnishings and clothing.

Experts have urged people to throw away items wet by the flood waters. “Anything you were rescued in, you pretty much should throw away,” said Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry, a toxicologist who discussed this on a local television program. Mold strains remain even after repeated wash cycles.

Ms. Cotton made the report to her insurance company, noting that more than 48 claims had preceded hers at the time. “It’s going to be an ordeal. I don’t have any control,” she said in a calm voice. However, “I have a place to stay, so I’m thankful for that…I have good and bad feelings,” the grandmother said. “Everyone wants to be in their own place. It’s going to be a long process.”

She discussed the ordeal of organizing, sorting through and collecting information for her insurance company. “I got headaches; I can’t think. I lose things, and can’t find things.” Ms. Cotton reported that she is constantly back tracking to remember what she did. “You have to sit down, take a break and let it go.”

Retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2010, she served as clerk, then a carrier, which culminated in a 33-year career. She worked as a carrier in The Woodlands her last two and half years. The Houstonian said, “People need to understand that working on a house and rebuilding lives is a process.” The retiree went on to say, “If people ever get in a flood, the process is the process.”

Describing the mental strain and sometimes feeling overwhelmed she said, “There is hardship in documenting everything—showing pictures, explaining what you had, talking with insurance representatives, and finding personal belongings to keep yourself together is tough.” Not wanting others to feel her pain, she said, “It’s something that they never would want to go through.”

“It’s intense,” she said. “You have to be prepared, make yourself ready. I have to stay with it. I have to be still.” The Houstonian also noticed that good things have happened. “People are a bit more courteous,” she observes.

Program Leaders of the Cooperative Extension Program (CEP), are working with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, their staff, disaster relief agencies, and the community in providing services, assistance, fact sheets and resources to aid with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Program leaders in 4-H and Youth Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Community & Economic Development, and Family and Consumer Sciences can be contacted at this link: http://www.pvamu.edu/cahs/cooperative-extension-program-cep/

AgriLife Extension has created the Rebuild Texas Update website. Follow this link to get updates: https://texashelp.tamu.edu/welcome-to-the-rebuild-texas-updates/ and this link to obtain disaster information: https://texashelp.tamu.edu/browse/

Even though the rain has stopped, the Rebuild Texas process is in its infancy. A number of services are critical in helping people recover and rebuild their lives. Services may include FEMA grants, housing, medical, counseling, behavioral and mental health, insect repellent, long-term care, jobs, and the list goes on. The “Community and Economic Development Unit also are available,” Henry said, “to help families with mortgage assistance programs.” Follow this link for this support: https://issuu.com/pvamucahs/docs/publication_-_cotton-mortgage_assis

The human spirit can be refreshed by observing the compassion of numerous agencies that provide quick procedures, assistance and guidelines to help Rebuild Texas. Texas Health and Human Services are offering services for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Click on this link for services: https://hhs.texas.gov/about-hhs/communications-events/news-releases/2017/09/texas-offers-services-victims-hurricane-harvey

Ms. Cotton said, “Everything will be alright.” Reflecting, she went on to say, “It will take some time.”

Joice A. Jeffries, Ph.D.
Joice A. Jeffries, Ph.D.
Program Specialist, 4-H & Youth Development
(936) 261-5102
jojeffries@pvamu.edu