Employees In Flooded Houston Could Find It Difficult To Show Up For Work

Sep 5, 2017
Originally published on September 5, 2017 12:10 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. The long holiday-weekend is over and it is back to work. In Houston, that is easier said than done. Thousands of people remain in area shelters, thousands more in FEMA-paid hotel rooms. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, getting to work may be the least of some people's problems.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Eighteen-year-old Adolfo Angel was all ready to start his new job until Harvey hit Houston. His employer told him to come back today. The only problem is one of the family's cars is still drying out.

Everything works?

ADOLFO ANGEL: Yeah. Everything works.

KAHN: Luckily, he says, the engine is fine.

A. ANGEL: Yeah, we pulled out the back seats. There's nothing in the trunk. I mean - if you touch right there, I mean, you can still feel how wet it is.

KAHN: The water came in over the seats, but Angel says it's still drivable. That's good news since Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, is not known for its public transportation. Cars are the way to get around. The Angel family has four. Lucy, Angel's mom, has a car, but she's not sure about her job.

LUCY ANGEL: Me and my husband were over there, both.

A. ANGEL: And so neither of them are working.

KAHN: She says she doesn't know if she and her husband can get to their job. They work as kitchen help at an upscale eatery in the heavily-flooded western part of the city.

In Memorial Bend, a few residents wearing hip-high waders slosh through the water-filled streets of this affluent neighborhood, trying to get to their flooded homes. The area did pretty well during Harvey's downpour. It wasn't until last Wednesday when officials released water from the fast-filling reservoirs that hundreds of homes flooded, including Jennifer Richman's.

JENNIFER RICHMAN: Yeah, this is trash. I know. Luckily we've read all those books already (laughter).

KAHN: Wearing boots, masks and gloves, Richman and an army of helpers are packing what is dry and throwing out what got wet. Her daughter's feathered rainbow-colored parrot ended up in one of the 30 filled industrial black garbage bags on the front lawn. Her flat-screen TV looks like it's salvageable.

RICHMAN: I have tons of friends that are willing to help me. These are my Girl Scout troop-leaders, and we're just doing the hard work, you know?

KAHN: Most of Richman's friends, though, have full-time jobs.

RICHMAN: Everyone has to go back to work. I mean, of course. I mean, that's why I'm panicking.

KAHN: She doesn't know how she's going to finish cleaning out everything by herself.

RICHMAN: Your help is going to dry up. You're not going to have people to help you anymore. That's like - that's a huge stress.

KAHN: At the massive NRG Center, which is still housing nearly 3,000 displaced residents, many volunteers are having to give up shifts and go back to work. First-grade teacher Ana Cornejo hands out books and colorful fidget spinners to children staying in the shelter.

ANA CORNEJO: Which one - what color you want?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Green.

CORNEJO: You want green? Yes, I have - let me see if I have green spinner. Yes, I do. Yes, it's for you.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Thank you.

KAHN: She's worried that with the start of the workweek, fewer people will be able to lend a helping hand.

CORNEJO: I hope they - they can come in, you know, and help because these people need a lot of help, too.

KAHN: Texas's Congressional delegation is also heading back to work. Republican Senator John Cornyn took a final tour of the massive shelter before leaving for Washington, D.C.

JOHN CORNYN: And the first order of business is to make sure that we do everything we can do to make sure the federal government is providing the support that's needed for Texas and Texans to heal.

KAHN: There are still 1,500 people in downtown Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center, and FEMA has given out vouchers for more than 1,700 hotel rooms. Teacher Ana Cornejo says so many people still need help.

CORNEJO: It's a couple more week that we has to work together as a community and help them.

KAHN: But with much of the city back to work this week, that might be yet one more challenge. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.