Rising Waters: Hurricane Harvey and Singing the Wet Cat Blues

Eleven out of eleven cats agree, hurricanes–especially Hurricane Harvey–are not kitty cat weather. 

In case you missed an earlier part, click HERE

 The short drive to my sister’s house was surreal. In the nineteen years we’ve been in the house we’ve driven it hundreds of times, but never like this before. As we drove out, we passed emergency vehicles, more boats on trailers and large trucks. License plates from Louisiana, Arkansas, as far as Tennessee—engines from the Memphis fire department. How many more rescues were yet needed? (I didn’t know at the time, but more than 2000 homes in our area alone were flooded by the time the water stopped rising.)

As we pulled up to sis’s house, we are faced with a whole new logistical problem. The cats–lots and lots of cats. She is a dog rescuer, so she had a dog yard and dog food, all was good there. But with her two cats, we had eleven cats to accommodate. Cat people know you can’t introduce cats like you can dogs, especially under stressful conditions. So there was only one option.

We stack the cats up in their carriers on the porch, out of the rain. Piles and piles of wet, pissed-off cats, loudly informing us of their displeasure, a veritable kitty-choir cacophony as we corral hers into one bedroom, and set up the other two rooms for the other two cat-families.

 Lesson 12: Wet cats and clumping cat litter don’t mix.

The kitty choir’s rendition of the wet cat blues only ceased when we let them out of the carriers in their respective safe spaces and they scurried someplace  dry and hard to reach–like under the furniture. We brought in a litter box figuring it would be essential soon. I hung out for a few minutes to make sure they realized it’s there.

Our big white boy cat heads straight for the box without so much as a by-your-leave. When he saunters out, much relieved, I discover a previously undiscovered truth. Wet cats and clumping cat litter are a dubious combination. The litter has clumped to him. The whole of his back legs are caked in litter (thankfully clean litter.) I should not have laughed I suppose, but watching him try to shake off his crispy coating brought tears to my eyes.

After decaking him, I toweled off his brother. The poor sweet ginger boy kept licking himself and looking at me with accusing eyes that said “I will never be dry again!” Considering how little good the towel did, he might actually have been right.

After one more effort with the towel, I left them to their own devices. It was time to dry out our bags and see if the computers survived.

Lesson 13: Rainbows are optional.

Suffice it  to say every bit of previously dry clothing we had packed was now wet. Between the rain and the hip deep water we slogged through, really, did it  stand a chance? Jeans, socks, underwear, everything in those bags ranged from vaguely damp to sopping. Maybe the cat was right, we’d never be dry again.

Luckily sis had a dryer and we started what would become a five day laundry odyssey.

Finally the moment of truth had arrived. It was time to check the computers. More than merely useful bits of technology, the machines amount to lifelines to our work and for my son’s school endeavors. Not knowing how long we’d be out of the house, they were suddenly critical to managing life when we might have neither home nor vehicles.  Next to getting people and animals out safely, it’s hard to overstate how important the bits of silicon and wire were and how flimsy the trash bags seemed in comparison.

Though flimsy, the trash bags managed to be sufficient to the task; the computers, had stayed dry. Naturally, internet was completely out and cell coverage was spotty at best, so there was nothing we could actually do with the computers, but it was enough to know they were working.

Suddenly there is nothing to do. For the first time in days, there is nothing immediately demanding attention. I suppose it’s good, but I confess I felt lost. Stepping out to check the weather had become such a habit, I was outside before I realized it.

A sunbeam peaked out form between two scraggly clouds. The rain had stopped and there was sun–no rainbow, but there was sun. We had not seen that in nearly a week and had come close to wondering if we’d ever see it again. Sappy and sentimental, I know, but I wept.

Lesson 14: Some phone calls you will never forget

Our neighbor’s family arrived from Dallas to pick her and her portion of the menagerie up. Lots of tears and hugs were exchanged all around.  In retrospect it was a little odd hugging veritable strangers as though they were family, but in the moment it made complete sense. Seeing her safe back with her family rivaled the relief of getting away from the flood waters.

Later that afternoon, sis and I went out looking for groceries. (She had not anticipated three more adults in the house to feed.) We discovered two of the local grocery stores had flooded severely with the water measured in feet not inches. The other two were closed. So we ended up at the local Sonic, just across the street from one of the closed stores, looking for dinner. Ironically, the same things happened after Hurricane Ike. How did Sonic manage to be the only place open after a storm? I’m not much of a fast food eater, but that was an incredible chicken sandwich and fries. And the milkshakes were absolutely essential for mental health. Thus fortified, we hit the air matress and slept for the first time in many nights without the sound of pounding rain. 

The next morning hubs and son were twitchy and at loose ends with nothing to do. By 10AM they confirmed that the waters were receding and were off to the check on the house. I pretended to keep myself busy, but accomplished nothing but aimless wandering until the phone rang. Hubby’s ringtone. My heart stopped and I could barely breath, my hands shaking almost too hard to answer the phone. Do I even want to know what they’ve found?

He tells me anyway.

It had taken a little doing, but they were able to walk to the house on ‘dry’ ground. (Dry meaning not underwater, not dry in the normal human sense of the word.) The water had stopped rising as we left. The house had stayed dry.

It takes me a while to process all the words. It shouldn’t be so difficult to wrap my head around those few, simple sentences, but it was. Once I finally digested what he’d said, I broke down and had a good solid cry. What else was there to do.?

Returning home was the beginning of another odyssey, beginning with trying to return the house to normal and help our neighbors muck out their homes. We did three days of nonstop laundry for our neighbor–sheets, towels, work clothes, even an heirloom quilt we managed to salvage. 

Though it’s been more than three months, half the houses on our street are still empty save for the construction gnomes who regularly appear to rebuild. March seems to be the most common estimate for people to be able to return home. Dozens of businesses are still closed; we have to think hard every time we go out trying to remember if our destination still exists.

I’d like to end this saga with a series of pictures of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in our immediate neighborhood.


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Find other parts here:

 Rising Waters, part 1

Risings Waters Part 2

Rising Waters Part 3

Rising Waters Part 4

Rising Waters Part 5



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    • J. W. Garrett on January 9, 2018 at 7:50 am
    • Reply

    OMG! I have followed this ‘rising waters’ saga from the first post and you have brought the reality of the wrath of nature to my computer. My heart went out to you and your family as you managed to survive and yet, still help those around you. I applaud you and your family. Blessings to you and yours. I know so many are still cleaning up and that you wonder if your life will ever be the same. The cat story was the comedic relief that you needed to release some of the distress. I’m glad you had a moment to laugh. That was so needed. Thank you for sharing this story and pictures with us.

    1. Thanks, JW. I had a lot of qualms about writing those posts. I was hard to imagine anyone would really be interested in reading them. But a writing buddy of mine really encouraged me to do it and I’m glad I did. Getting to laugh at bits of what happened was cathartic.

    • Glynis on January 9, 2018 at 9:47 am
    • Reply

    Goodness Maria. I can’t believe what you went through and yet you still kept your sense of humour. I know it is essential in today’s world but yours must have been severely stretched. I hope your cats have forgiven you for the indignity they suffered?😣.
    I can understand your reaction when your husband rang to say your home was ok. I’ve never lived through anything like that but remember how I felt once years ago when my daughter was late home from a night out and she finally managed to ring to tell me where she was and that she was ok. Phew the relief!
    Those photos really show the devastation your neighbours have suffered. How heartbroken they must be, losing all that stuff and having to wait for the houses to dry out and have the electrics etc checked. I’m just so glad that you were spared that nightmare and fingers crossed that you are never threatened that way again. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Thankfully, the cats have seemed to have forgiven us. What’s more, they aren’t totally freaking out when it rains, which is really good. I totally understand about not hearing from a child until late–very similar feeling of relief for sure! Thanks!

    • Ann on January 9, 2018 at 10:30 am
    • Reply

    Oh golly Maria Grace – thank goodness you are safe – what a horrific experience – all that wet, flood, tears and wet cat, wet dog, wet clothes and wet shoes.
    Thank you for sharing tears, flood and all

    1. Thanks so much Ann.

  1. Wow. Those photos are just heart-breaking!! So glad that your family and critters and home are all safe. I remember feeling similarly after the Cedar Fire here in San Diego in 2003. The fire sat behind our wee town (pop 1500) for two days, a line of firefighters defending the town from the Bible camp at the north edge of the valley. The whole county (4 million people) waited to see if our town would survive. And when the winds picked up badly, we knew the fire was likely to sweep through the town. But the winds shifted, taking the fire northeast, further up the mountain but away from our town. And there was much rejoicing in our town although we were still mourning with those who mourned the loss of nearly 3000 homes that week. Although the fire started in late October, the last of the fire was not extinguished until early December. Here’s a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedar_Fire_(2003)

    1. As horrible as the flooding was, I just can’t even conceive what wild fires must be like! Thanks for sharing, Susanne!

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