Saturday afternoon and evening would be busy with a flurry of flood warnings and tornado warnings all over our viewing area. The information was coming in fast and furious.
KHOU.COM MANAGING EDITOR MICHELLE HOMER:
“After covering Harvey non-stop for the last few days, the digital team had developed a well-oiled system of getting information to our viewers online, on our app and on our social media pages. But with only two of us on duty late Saturday afternoon, the constant blare of warnings became a little overwhelming. Then Saturday night, all hell broke loose and the skies opened up."
ASSIGNMENT EDITOR CHLOE ALEXANDER:
“I was working at the assignments desk the minute rain took over our beloved city. I remember the scanners going off like never before with officers alerting dispatch of high water locations. And this was just about one hour into the rainfall.”
Photos: KHOU's last night at 1945 Allen Parkway
DIGITAL PRODUCER DOUG DELONY:
"I knew Harvey was different when we started getting flood photos from all over our area. Unlike previous flood events, the flooding wasn’t isolated to just one or two counties that 'got the worst of it.' We all got the worst of it."
PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER SUSAN MCELDOON:
"I called my husband that evening and asked him to come pick me up so I could go home a get a change of clothes and a bite of dinner. We stopped at the neighborhood pizza restaurant to eat and the tornado and flood warnings started going off on everyone’s phone. Just then I got a frantic call from the station telling me to come back right away, the roads and intersections were flooding and I might not make it back if I didn’t come now. We left our dinner on the table and headed right back to the station. I never did get a change of clothing. . When I arrived back the flood waters from Buffalo Bayou were already threatening our front steps. We had installed our flood gates earlier that day and the pumps were already working on over-drive. I told our security guard that if the water got up to the top step he should come and find me. I went inside and went to work."
News Director Sally Ramirez made the call to go on the air at 8:45 p.m. In a matter of minutes, the anchors were on the set and the producer and director were in the booth to begin what would be non-stop coverage.
The reporters and photojournalists in the field were ready to go with live reports from Rockport, Corpus, Galveston and all over the Greater Houston Area.
We had done this many times before. But we quickly realized Harvey was a monster storm, the likes of which Houston had never seen.
"It seemed like another Houston flooding event. But then came frantic calls from residents with horror stories. We were putting people on the air by phone, telling us the water had forced them to the second floor. Some were even forced into the attic. 911 was being inundated with calls.”
ANCHOR MIA GRADNEY:
I distinctly remember a woman telling me she and her children were on the kitchen counters with the water rising in her home. She had been calling 911 for hours to be rescued. She asked me what to do? Should I go outside? Should I go to the attic?’ These are such serious questions. No time for the voice on the other end to hesitate or waiver. I wanted to reassure her and every other Houstonian who was scared that they would be okay, help would come and remain calm.
Behind the scenes, news managers and other employees were also answering calls from terrified viewers.
NEWS DIRECTOR SALLY RAMIREZ:
The desperation in their voice and the panic… they needed our help. And when they couldn’t reach 911… they dialed us. I just felt like we were their only connection to any hope. We gave them hope. And I didn’t want to let anybody down, you know, I really wanted to help these people.
“What if this is it? We’re the only lifeline for them. I remember the sound of their voices and their stories… People in the attic, people on the roof, there was nowhere else for them to go but up.”
Ramirez had Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo’s cell phone number so she reached out to him for help.
“I’d say ‘Stay on the phone with me’ and I literally had him in the other ear and I’d give him the information. and he answered. He answered all the calls. ‘This woman is pregnant and having a a baby and they can’t get to the hospital and he’d say ‘What’s the address?’ and I’d repeat it."
Chief Acevedo would then broadcast the information over the police radio to dispatchers, who would send help.
“And I just kept calling him and he kept answering. But I don’t know if he realized all he did for us that night.”
“Desperate people were also reaching out to us on Twitter and Facebook. There were pregnant women in labor, elderly people who needed medical attention, families with small children – all surrounded by rising water and terrified. No one could get through to 911. I began retweeting their information to Chief Acevedo, Sheriff Ed Gonzales and HFD. Many of the calls for help came from other counties that weren't active on Twitter. But Sheriff Gonzalez, God bless him, would retweet to the agencies in those counties who could help.
Sally came up with the idea to write down their names and contact information on Post-It notes. We put them on a white board with plans to reach out to them as soon as possible to make sure they had been rescued. Until then, all we could do was pray.
“I remember, at one point, thinking that hundreds of people were going to drown in their homes. It was such a helpless feeling."