August 30, 2017 11:02 pm

Jackson Proskow on Harvey: how do you make the devastation feel real?

Rescue crews continue to pull people from the floodwaters in Houston. As Jackson Proskow reports, the city's services are being strained, and shelters are running out of room.


The question I’m asked most often is, “How are you holding up?”

I know you see me on TV standing out there in the wind, and the rain, but in reality, your concern is better placed with people who aren’t nearly as lucky as me.

As reporters, we have the luxury of being able to return to our homes after a certain amount of time. For tens of thousands of people impacted by Hurricane Harvey, that’s not the case.

Coverage of Hurricane Harvey on

That’s the tough part of the job that I don’t usually get to report on.

There are daily dilemmas: how do you talk to someone in a shelter, knowing they’ve lost everything, while you have a place to go home to? How do you approach someone for an interview after they’ve just been rescued and are still in shock? How do you properly convey the magnitude of what has happened?

I try my best to navigate these delicate and emotional situations.

I always ask for permission before we start asking an evacuee questions, and we always stay out of the way of people doing rescue work. As a news team, we look for things that explain what’s going on in relatable terms which people at home can understand.

How else do you make something so incomprehensible feel real?

READ MORE: Hurricane Harvey has affected at least $23 billion worth of property

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The people I’ve met have been incredibly gracious, selfless and strong. They often want to talk, because they want people to know what’s really happening to their city. Even if they’ve lost everything, they’re still happy they escaped with their lives.

I met a young mother named Nene at a shelter with her one-month-old son Jamir. She explained that the water was up to her chin when she and her baby boy were finally rescued. She was not distraught or angry, she was just happy to be safe.

I met a woman named Patricia who flagged down a dump truck to rescue her elderly father in a wheelchair. Their house was gone, yet as she arrived at the shelter, she was overcome with happiness.

That incredible resilience is something I’ve witnessed over and over in Houston.

Houston residents in the Lakewood neighborhood return home to begin rebuilding from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey.

Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

If you’re wondering how we’re getting our work done, it’s a tough slog, but nothing compared to what the people who live here have experienced.

My cameraman Brett and I landed in between bands of rain on Saturday, stocked up on supplies as soon as we hit the ground, and headed to a hotel downtown as the torrential rain began to fall.

Over the course of the week, the hotel staff has been incredible. They’ve kept the lights on with a backup generator, they’ve been able to serve meals, and they’ve done it all while being unable to return home themselves.

For us, the difficulty comes with spending 14 hours a day outside in the driving wind and rain.

READ MORE: Houston resident records time-lapse video of floodwaters rising outside his apartment

The camera gives up after a while. We now have moisture permanently stuck inside the lens. Our microphones stopped working, and my iPhone spent the week inside a ziplock baggie so that I could type without it becoming wet.

The toll on the human body is more gradual. It’s a warm rain, but it comes down fast with a howling wind that drives it right through your clothes.

The only way to describe it is like standing fully clothed inside a high-pressure car wash. After hours in those conditions, waterproof clothes are no longer waterproof. Wearing a wet hat on your head makes your body temperature plummet.

Oddly, the natural response to being endlessly wet is to want to take a hot shower, instead of getting dry.

The Arkema Inc. chemical plant is flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Crosby, Texas.

Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP

But imagine what it is like for the people who have spent days in waist-deep water inside their homes.

If you can’t get dry, you can’t get warm.

Once you’re rescued, you’re sent to a shelter where there are no showers, only donated clothes, and if you’re lucky, a blanket. Right now, evacuees in Houston aren’t even guaranteed a cot to sleep on.

READ MORE: Before and after photos show extent of Houston flooding

To the people who have shared those stories with me, I am eternally grateful.

I cannot imagine what you have experienced, nor can I adequately grasp the hardship that is still to come.

By letting the world in on the most difficult moment in their lives, the people of Houston have prompted an astonishing outpouring of support from the community.

If there’s one memory that will linger long after I’ve left Houston, it’s the image of two long lines outside the emergency shelter at the convention centre.

One line was full of evacuees, soggy and in shock, looking for an escape from the rain.

The other was people bringing donations and signing up to volunteer to help the strangers who waited beside them.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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