Philly-area natives ride out Harvey’s aftermath in Houston

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Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week, Andrew Riebel had no idea what to expect.

A Bellmawr native who had just moved to Houston in July for an engineering job, Riebel asked the locals: Just how bad could this be?

They, too, didn’t seem to have a clue.

Some told him to stock up for weeks; others downplayed the storm.

“The lack of an idea of how this was going to be from locals was surprising to me,” Riebel said Monday, his fourth straight day stranded with his fiancee in their third-floor apartment.

Riebel, 29, and Megan Evans, 27, originally of Media, are just two of the more than two million Houston residents whom Texas officials urged to shelter in their homes as the storm continued to pound the region Monday. Over the weekend, Harvey brought high winds and almost 25 inches of rain to the area, with much more rain expected throughout the week. As of Monday afternoon, at least eight people had died and floodwaters, still rising, had reached rooftops of single-story homes.

“It’s pretty bad,” Riebel said. “If we needed to evacuate, we really could not.”

Riebel said he wanted to be clear that the couple’s situation was nothing like some of the horrific scenes being broadcast on national news.  He said he and Evans are in good health and haven’t even lost power, except for a couple minutes at a time.

On Wednesday and Thursday last week, the couple had stocked up, buying a 30-pack of batteries, 20 gallons of water, several flashlights, tons of canned goods, some refrigerated and frozen food, and lots of doughnuts and sweet snacks, he said.

They’d be prepared for another week or two, Riebel said, but they’re hoping it’ll only be a few more days.

“We’re just trying not to go stir-crazy,” he said.

At various times throughout the weekend, their complex, located in the South Belt or Ellington section of the city, took on six inches to a foot of water, he said. But if they walked a few minutes from their building, the water level was several feet high, he said.

When the weather oddly cleared up for a period on Saturday, Riebel said he and Evans went for a walk. Within a few miles of their apartment, they witnessed just bits of the devastation: disabled vehicles on the highways, streets that he said were “an absolute mess with trash,” and dead animals the couple assumed were strays.

Camera icon Andrew Riebel

Andrew Riebel snapped this photo of the intersection of Almeda Genoa Road and Windmill Lakes Boulevard, a two-minute walk from his apartment in Houston. 

They know others in southeast Texas have it much worse, he said.

As a home-health therapist, Evans had already heard some of those horror stories. Riebel said Evans has been particularly worried about a man in his 70s with whom she recently worked. Over the weekend, Evans heard that the man told his wife he was going to move their car, and never returned, Riebel said. The report is unconfirmed.

The complex they live in is mostly young adults, Riebel said, and most are riding out the storm just as they are. About a quarter of the complex’s resident left Friday, he said.

Evans, who had off from work Friday, watched as some packed up their cars in the parking lot. She relayed the message to Riebel that some of their neighbors were leaving, he said, which was frightening to Riebel since many were from the area.

Having grown up in the Philadelphia area, Riebel and Evans have never seen anything like this storm.

Hurricane Sandy was bad, he said, but not like this.

For now, Riebel and Evans are watching the weather from their windows, and venturing outside whenever there is a break in the downpours.

Of the two, Evans is going more stir-crazy, said Riebel, who said he enjoyed having some time to relax, despite the stressful conditions swirling around them outside.

Evans would likely be off from work the rest of the week, Riebel said. Riebel’s company, meanwhile, was playing it by ear.

Does Riebel think there should have been an evacuation for the area?

“At least a voluntary one,” Riebel said. “I don’t think a mandatory should have occurred, because it would’ve been mayhem.”

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