Harvey evacuation. Sally Geiss

Day of Terror Relived: Sally Geis’ Harvey Evacuation Story

In August 2017, Sally Geis and her husband JG watched as Harvey’s floodwaters crept over the San Jacinto West Fork river bank. They thought they would be safe. But soon rising water turned to raging water. As they moved upstairs, they took a hatchet. JG said it was to kill snakes that got in the house. But Sally wondered if it was to chop a hole in their roof in case they needed an escape hatch.

I’ve known Sally and JG for almost three years. They first contacted me in regard to development practices in floodplains and floodways. But it wasn’t until today, that Sally sent me pictures from Harvey showing her harrowing escape. Rick Alspaugh’s comment about PTSD in yesterday’s post caused her to review her pictures from Harvey and share them. Like Rick, she has a hard time overcoming the memories of what for some neighbors turned into a fatal experience.

Photographing the River’s Rise During Four Days

Sally’s rediscovered cache of photos creates a valuable addition to our understanding of how Harvey’s floodwaters rose and spread in the Kingwood area.

Before Waters Rose
West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge over West Fork San Jacinto before the flood. August 25th, 2017, 11:09 a.m.
Waters Begin to Rise
August 27th, 2017 at 7:17 a.m. Note how much closer the level of the water is to the bridge and how part of the boat dock is under water.
River Fully Out of its Banks
August 28, 2017 at 10:44 p.m. Boat dock is completely under water. Street signs visible in earlier photos are almost completely submerged.

Serious Trouble

August 29, 2017 at 8:35 a.m. Street signs are under water but top parts of light poles are still visible. Note bridge on far right. Water almost touches bridge in center. But at far end on Atascocita side, the road bed is tangent with the river. All surface features in foreground are submerged.

River Rescue

Soon a boat was the only way out…a boat which snatched them from the second story of their home.

Said Sally, “The current was very fierce — he really knew what he was doing!! We could touch the tree tops and the street name signs overhead!”

Geis rescue during Harvey. Two men from Paris, TX drove 6 hours with their boat to help. Sally said they had to rev their engine up to full speed to fight the cross current. Notice the churning waves among the trees in the background as they make their way north on West Lake Houston Parkway to the drop off point. August 29, 2017 at 6:55 P.M.

The picture above was taken north of Kingwood Drive almost two miles from the main channel of the West Fork. Yet look at that turbulence in the water. Normally, a point this far from a river would be designated as “floodplain storage.” Normally, that would mean placid waters, the opposite of what you see.

Eventually, the rescue boat dropped Sally and JG off at Wendy’s on West Lake Houston Parkway at Rustic Woods, several blocks north of where the photo above was taken. From there to the water’s edge on the south side of the West Fork is approximately 2 miles…wider than the widest part of Lake Houston itself – just upstream from the spillway – during normal times.

Eventually the river became wider than Lake Houston normally is.

From Wendy’s, a car ferried Sally and JG to a volunteer’s home where they slept the next night.

Day After Explorations

The following day, they explored the area on foot, still in shock, surveying all the damage. Water remained high in many places. Rescue operations continued.

At Woodland Hills and Tangle Lake, rescue efforts continued. August 30, 11:26 AM.
Shady Run at Kingwood Drive. Water normally flows from left to right here. But note how the trees appear to have been pushed from right to left. August 30, 2017 at noon.
At the same intersection, water reached halfway up street signs. August 30, 2017, 12:07 PM

Revisiting the Escape Route Days Later

“We went OVER this bridge in the boat!!” said Sally Geis.

West Lake Houston Bridge over Bens Branch after water receded. Photo taken 9/1/2017. Geis says her rescue boat went OVER, NOT UNDER THESE BRIDGES.

According to Geis, on the way out, rescue-boat propellers kept striking submerged cars, nearly capsizing boats on more than one occasion.

Photo taken 9/1/2017 after water receded. Car destroyed by propeller of rescue boat was totally submerged when struck. Side window was likely blown out by water pressure.

“A lot of boats were hitting submerged signs, cars, heavy things — they had no idea what was underwater. One boat hit a car, began to sink and nearly capsized. Thankfully it didn’t. A lady onboard could not swim. The water was over our heads and the current was scary and swift, plus contaminated. I heard there were 500 rescue boats in all — including the Cajun Navy, helicopters, jet skis,” said Geis.

After Shocks

Sally and JG lost their vehicles in the flood. And like so many others, they lost all the belongings on the lower floor of their home. Here is a short video of a scene they filmed on a walkabout after Harvey’s floodwater’s receded.

Video of Harvey Debris in Kingwood, TX by Sally Geis. Shot September 3, 2017, at 5:29 PM.

Sally’s brother later picked the couple up when the water receded and took them to a friend’s home. The friend was on vacation, so they got to rest up for five days before facing the destruction.

Says Sally, “Those images of every street lined with trash – of complete households hauled to the curb – for months on end added to the depression and PTSD.”

Geis and her husband spent the next two years restoring their home.

After fighting developers who wanted to build in the floodway of the West Fork, they finally sold their home earlier this year. They now live in a high rise downtown.

Sally says, “People who have never been through an experience like this have no idea how real the PTSD can be. It can take over your life.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 16, 2021, based on the photos and memories of Sally Geis

1479 Days since Hurricane Harvey