From the Berkshires to Houston, Harvey's effect is felt


"I've never seen so much rain in my life."

That was Melissa Pourpak's assessment of the situation in Houston, where rain from Tropical Storm Harvey continued to pour on Monday. Pourpak, who lives with her family in the city, is a native of Great Barrington.

Harvey made landfall on Friday night between Port Aransas and Port O'Connor as a Category 4 hurricane. It has sat over southeastern Texas for four days. Unprecedented rainfall and high winds have already led to widespread devastation in the region and the storm is expected to linger at least through Wednesday.

The storm's strength came as a surprise to Don Fitzgerald, a retired building inspector for the town of Lenox who now lives in Houston. Fitzgerald moved to Houston with his wife last year after her job with Sabic relocated to the Texas city.

Fitzgerald said he wasn't expecting a storm like Harvey to hit the city — that's why he left town before the storm arrived.

"I got out the day before it hit to visit family in Virginia Beach," Fitzgerald said.

At that point, the storm was a tropical depression and only expected to reach Category 1 strength.

"The next day it exploded into a Cat 4!" said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said his family is safe and dry in their home. Pourpak and her family are also safe, though the road outside of their home has flooded a few times.

"It's just been pouring for days," said Pourpak.

Fitzgerald told The Eagle that the rising waters in Houston might not let up for a while.

"It all depends on how long [the storm] stays," Fitzgerald said.

Even with lulls in the storm, the potential for more catastrophic flooding still looms. City officials were forced to release water held back by dams into the bayous that run through Houston.

But, Fitzgerald said, it's either that or the rest of the downtown — a difficult choice that had to be made.

"They have to release the water," Fitzgerald said, "even though that will make some of the flooding worse."

Secondary issues

Along with the damage from flooding caused by the storm comes other infrastructural problems. Fitzgerald said he fears for people if the heat rises while the electricity is out.

"With people losing power if it's really hot and humid, no AC, I'm worried," said Fitzgerald.

Pourpak, who is a field applications scientist with biotechnology firm Illumina, said her industry is also seeing strain from power outages. It's Pourpak's job to make sure Illumina clients' labs are still running so that samples aren't destroyed.

"I have to make sure that our customers' labs are operational around the city," Pourpak said.

As a science hub, Houston has a number of vulnerable laboratories in the path path of the storm. Some labs are already shut down and will remain so for at least the next few days.

How to help

In the wake of such a devastating disaster, there's an impulse to help. But if there's one message that Texas residents and Massachusetts politicians alike want to get through to the public, it's to be sure you're giving money to the right places.

"People need to be careful with what organizations they donate money to," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. "There are a lot of abuses and theft."

Pignatelli said that Berkshire residents interested in donating to good causes should look at established non-profits like the Red Cross. Fitzgerald agreed.

"I believe that always best way to help is through recognized nonprofits," Fitzgerald said. "You should know who they are — not a pop-up group."

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, told The Eagle in a statement that he would work to secure federal funding for the disaster.

"During times of national crisis, the American people always come together to support those in need," said Neal. "That is why I will support federal funding of emergency response and recovery efforts. And for those in western and central Massachusetts who want to lend their support to the flood victims, I would encourage them to contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS."

Donating to the Red Cross was also the advice that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gave her constituents in a Facebook post.

"When the unthinkable happens, we rely on each other for help, and the victims of Hurricane Harvey — good, hardworking people — need us now," read Warren's social media statement. "For updates, safety information and details on how you can help first responders and recovery efforts, please visit the American Red Cross Texas Gulf Coast Region website."

Jeff Hall, a communications specialist with the Massachusetts American Red Cross, told The Eagle that the organization has 22 people down there already — and more help is on the way.

"We're sending down our two bigger emergency response vehicles," said Hall.

The organization is actively recruiting new volunteers, said Hall. Right now, the focus is on shelter and food. But the cleanup will take a long time.

"We expect to be down there for at least six months," Hall said.

Pourpak suggested that anyone interested in donating to make a difference also check out the Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from New Orleans that formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"After Katrina, they formed a cavalry," said Pourpak.

The volunteer rescue group told CNN on Monday that they were mobilizing to help Houston.

"Our goal is to help people get out if they are trapped in their homes or apartments, get them to safety," said Clyde Cain, the organization's social media representative.

All the help is appreciated. But for now, the city is hunkered down as the people wait for the next round of torrential rain.

"We're just staying put," said Pourpak. "It's all we can do."

Reach staff reporter Eoin Higgins at 413-464-4872 or @EoinHiggins


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