By David G. Landmann
Second of four parts on Hurricane Harvey
WE HAD IT all planned out.
A year ago, we sat at the kitchen table in our three-bedroom, two-bath rancher in Waxahachie, and carefully crafted the phases of our move to Huntsville, and the townhome we chose in Elkins Lake.
We were to learn Robert Burns was right about “the best laid plans”, and a storm called Harvey was the teacher.
It was supposed to work like this:
On Sunday, Aug. 27, we would hook our travel trailer to the Suburban. I would drive the SUV and trailer, with my wife, Connie, following in her little Mazda. We would drive down I-45 to Huntsville State Park. We would leave her car and the trailer in a campsite at the park and use that as our headquarters for the move.
We would then return to Waxahachie, and on Monday the Aug. 28, load our belongings in a 26-foot rental truck. Tuesday, we would drive back to the park, where we would spend the night. Then, we would close on our Elkins Lake house the next day…..easy-peasy.
Sunday in Waxahachie, a few miles south of Dallas and about 150 or so miles north of Walker County, dawned bright and sunny. We hooked up the trailer, put fresh coffee in thermoses, and struck out for Huntsville.
We had, of course, seen news coverage of Harvey’s landfall on the Gulf Coast, but were fairly confident that Huntsville was far enough north of Rockport and Port Aransas to escape any really bad after effects of the hurricane.
We stopped briefly in Fairfield. The weather was okay.
We drove past Buffalo. The weather was okay. Just a few clouds gathering.
We drove past Centerville. A little light rain dotted the windshield. The trailer was tracking just fine.
But things changed in a hurry.
The light rain got heavier, and the trailer began, in jerks, to let me know the wind had picked up.
BY THE TIME we approached Madisonville, the rain was blowing in sheets across the interstate, leaving nearly invisible ponds of standing water on the pavement. It was beginning to feel like the trailer was towing me, and it apparently wanted to tow me off the right side of the highway.
We had found Harvey. Harvey had found us.
When we got to the first set of Huntsville exits, we could barely see the road. Connie called to tell me she was virtually driving blind. Headlights and windshield wipers weren’t keeping up with the wind, the darkness and the downpour. I was struggling to keep the SUV and the trailer on the road and straining to see the exit sign – and (finally) the exit itself— to the state park.
We felt a sense of relief as we turned off I-45 onto to the relative protection of tree-lined Park Road 40. It was as if someone had switched the storm from a 10 to a 6 even though it still was raining hard, and some trees had come down on the roadside.
I was greeted by the click and buzz of two-way radios as I ran, rain-soaked, into state park headquarters, where a uniformed clerk verified our campsite reservation. Just as she was about to check us – our trailer and Connie’s car – into a pull-through spot in the Raven Hill campground, her radio came on.
“Got two trees down in Raven Hill,” a voice announced. “Got trees coming down all over the place.”
The clerk looked back at her computer and, somewhat timidly, recommended we find a campsite “on high ground” in the Prairie Branch campground on the west side of the park.
“Got a tree down in the screen shelter area,” a second radio voice announced. “Trees coming down all over the place.”
The clerk reluctantly gave us the go-ahead, accompanied by a warning as we headed out the door to watch out for water over the road. We discovered the warning had teeth.
At least a foot of water ran across Park Road 40 in two places between headquarters and the Prairie Branch turnoff as heavy rain continued to fall. A 40-foot pine had uprooted from the saturated sandy loam and had fallen across the road ahead of us, blocking access to a portion of the campground dedicated to screen shelters.
We made the hard right into the campground and found what looked like a floodproof trailer slot. Below us to the west, Lake Raven had risen out of its banks, and engulfed at least a half dozen lakeside campsites. The flood waters created a river of rapidly moving water just to the north of us cutting off our location from the north end of the campground.
We unhitched the trailer, parked and locked Connie’s car, and escaped the park as the flooded portions of the road continued to deepen.
THE TRIP BACK to Waxahachie was relatively uneventful, but the next day, as we were in the process of loading our moving truck, we got a call from the park.
“We are closing the park until further notice, and you will have to pick up your car and trailer today,” the voice on the phone said.
That, of course, wasn’t possible.
“I’m sorry,” I answered, “but we’ll just have to leave the car and trailer there and cross our fingers.”
Connie’s car and the camper were still there three days later, where we left them, untouched by the storm.
Ultimately, we were able to make our move to Elkins Lake. But, instead of spending a night or two in the trailer, awaiting our closing and the go-ahead to move in, we bedded down in a local motel with hundreds of Harvey refugees, many of whom were much less fortunate than we.
Our closing was delayed. The mortgage inspector was stranded by flood waters. Our trip, our meeting with Harvey, though, is unforgettable.
Part 3 – The city of Huntsville
Part 4 – Elkins Lake
David Landmann is a retired journalist, newspaper editor and owner and former communications specialist for the government, most recently at Fort Hood. Since he and Connie moved into their Elkins Lake house he has gone back to Huntsville State Park many times, as a member of the Friends of Huntsville State Park and as a volunteer on the carpentry crew repairing and replacing boardwalks, bridges and clearing trails.