ABC13 Steven Romo shares emotional Harvey experience

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Thursday, August 31, 2017
Reporter Steven Romo's flood vlog
Reporter Steven Romo's flood vlog

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- I'd never cried on TV before, but as I reported live about a 33-year-old mother of two found dead on a fence after the water receded, I felt the tears well up.

She was washed away Monday. Friends saw her struggle- they ripped her clothes trying to pull her in, but she disappeared. Her cousin noticed her hanging on the fence outside her apartment Wednesday after Greens Bayou's water receded. The medical examiner took hours to get there so her family waited right next to her, begging neighbors not to take pictures.

Saturday night was the first night of flooding. I arrived to work at midnight. My photographer and I headed to Greenspoint- an area notorious for flooding apartment complexes. The street was still visible when we arrived. By the time the HPD Humvee arrived for the evacuation, water was above my waist. After that vehicle filled with people, others started trying to walk toward the overpass where our live truck was parked. Officers were helping people navigate through. We started pulling them up the concrete culvert onto the overpass where a METRO bus was waiting. I dropped my microphone and started pulling people up. An officer told me, "Careful with her. She's pregnant". I couldn't tell because the water was chest high. As I grabbed the woman's arm and pulled her up, I saw she had to be seven or eight months along.

Then came a woman holding something wrapped, roughly the size of a loaf of bread, high over her head. It was her baby, just 6 months old. They all made it into the vehicle.

As the bus left, officers arrived wearing headlamps in a boat making rounds to see if there was anyone left behind. There was. People even more desperate than before. The water rose so quickly.

After the boat collected people, the Humvee returned to pick them up. An officer approached my photographer and I while we were still live. I signed off and asked him if he needed us to move. "No, I need you to get in. I don't think you're going to be able to get out of here." My photographer and I didn't realize on the other side of the overpass at Greens Road, water had risen even higher. Our live truck was high enough we were able to follow the bus out.

Then, as we tried to navigate our way through 610, we quickly found ourselves surrounded by water again.

"Turn around, don't drown." Something we say all the time on air, reminding people not to drive through standing water in the road.

As we faced water in front of us and water started to build behind us, we had no choice.

It felt like we were driving through the ocean. Water was so high I was afraid our truck would stall. The roads around us were littered with stalled cars. I sent a text message to my best friend Adam, who I grew up with.

I told him I was ok at the moment. I didn't want to scare him. I told him that if anything happened to me to please be there for my sister and my nieces and nephews. I told him about my life insurance and some other details. I hated feeling that dramatic, but I wanted to hear him reassure me that he would always look after my family.

I sent my sister a text, trying to be the least scary I could:

"Hi. I'm totally fine. But I'm stuck on the highway. There is water on the roads all around us so we can't exit. I'm ok. Just wanted to let you know. I also got to help some people today! And everything is going to be ok."

Our truck finally made it up onto a dry patch at another overpass. We traveled the wrong way on the highway to get there like many others including an HPD officer trying to make it to work.

All the fear I just had went to the back of my mind as I saw people beneath the overpass struggling to get out of partially submerged vehicles and into police boats. We couldn't reach them. My photographer's camera stopped working because of the water. We went live with our phones showing the desperate situation below, and warning people to stay off the road- it was too late to evacuate.

We were stuck on that overpass for 4 or 5 hours.

Meanwhile, my social media accounts were flooded with messages. Specific addresses, people unable to get through to the clogged 911 system were begging for help. Some people were trapped in attics. Others were climbing to the rooftops. It was incredibly heartbreaking.

We eventually made our way to station. But it was not over. That was day one.

Later, I met a woman, JoDel Pasek, whose son Andrew was electrocuted trying to rescue his sister's pets. In the middle of her grief- just hours after he died- she wanted us to interview her to warn others about the electrical dangers. It's something easily forgotten about; a threat you can't see.

I met so many selfless people. This trial brought out the best in countless Houstonians. But there was plenty of stress and frustration.

In another flooded street in a predominantly white neighborhood, a woman confronted my photographer, who is Black, implying he looked like a "looter". As I approached she said, "Oh, another one."

I asked if we were in her way or if she needed help. She didn't. She wasn't going to evacuate.

Thankfully, the selflessness overshadowed the selfishness at every turn.

In the following days in the suburbs around Katy, we rode on volunteer rescue boats. People came in from all over the country eager to help. Civilians used walkie talk apps to dispatch volunteer rescue crews. It sounded just like a police scanner except as I heard a woman giving out addresses of people in need of saving, a baby cooed nearby.

In Northeast Houston, the water was so high it went over my waders and flooded inside as I tried to make it over to two dogs stuck on a porch that had become an island. I was trying to focus on looking for people, but seeing those dogs made me think of my own and I couldn't leave them. I just wanted to move them to dry land. I never made it over, but told nearby boaters their location.

As we got back to our truck and tried to leave that area, a woman appeared at her door through burglar bars screaming for help. Her husband was paralyzed from a stroke, and she was diabetic. They'd been there for two days waiting. I told her we'd help and we wouldn't leave until they were out. "Thank you, Jesus," she said, still crying. We flagged down a group from the constable's office a couple blocks away in a high-profile truck who helped evacuate the home and carry them to safety.

A few days before the storm, I interviewed a woman named Kristin Massey who spent thousands of dollars to put 18,000 pounds of sandbags around her home. She had two so-called once-in-a-lifetime floods in the past two years and was determined not to have a third. I stopped back by her house on Tuesday. She had 4 1/2 feet of water inside. We interviewed her live. I asked her what she was going to do. As she began to cry, she said she couldn't put her son, who was supposed to start kindergarten this week, through this again. But she didn't know what they would do next.

I've seen some horrible things in the past few days. I've also seen some amazing people risk their lives to help prevent more horrible things.

I am honored and privileged to tell the stories of these people. They are the ones doing the real work in all of this. The police officers, firefighters, emergency personnel- and the hundreds, probably thousands of volunteers- regular people rushing in when every instinct should tell them to run away.

"Everything is going to be ok". That's what I told my sister on Sunday, and it's what I'm still trying to believe.

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