“The sky fell down.” That’s how Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Chabad Uptown in Houston describes what happened overnight when an intense rainstorm left much of the Houston metropolitan area submerged. Three people are believed to have died, nearly 1,000 cars have been stranded on freeways and in other areas, and people are continuing to leave the city, if they can.
Mass transit, roads, schools and offices in the city have been closed. Volunteers, rescuers and others are using canoes and other types of small boats to reach people stranded in the rising floodwaters.
In less than 12 hours, more than eight inches of rain fell, according to news reports. The situation was exacerbated because of already saturated ground from prior rains, coupled with smaller bodies of water in the Houston area that overflowed. And the temperatures were warm, at about 80 degrees midday.
“People are still trying to get their bearings,” says Lazaroff, co-director of Chabad Uptown with his wife, Chanie. “Many of our community members’ houses are under water—not in our immediate area, but in neighboring Meyerland.”
He noted that a boy in his son’s class “has four feet of water on his first floor, and [the family] waited on the second floor to be rescued.”
The rabbi relayed that information to a local volunteer and community member, who went by canoe to help the family, who was stuck without electricity or food. By late morning, the water from the home was receding, and the family was said to be OK.
Also fine were Joseph Rosenzweig, 30, and his family, though his in-laws’ home, which is near Brays Bayou in Meyerland, had water that came up to the front door. He and his 4-year-old daughter, Yael, took to a small boat to survey the street, which was recently redesigned to angle towards the bayou in case of flooding to protect against this very scenario.
He said the current was “pretty strong, and we had to paddle back fast. As we got close to the homes at the end of the cul-de-sac, closest to the bayou, they were completely flooded. Water had seeped into every house there. In fact, some of the neighbors stayed over my in-laws’ home last night.”
The Rosenzweigs, whose home in a different neighborhood was not affected, often attend programs at the main Chabad center in Houston on Fondren Road.
The Chabad-run Torah Day School of Houston was closed today because teachers and students were simply unable to get there. According to Lazaroff, the roof has a leak, though “the damage is not extensive.”
Also underwater were local supermarkets, including H-E-B and Belden’s grocery, which have extensive kosher-food sections.
Oddly enough, the Chabad House run by the Lazaroffs was just flooded over the Shavuot holiday—not because of rain, but due to a pipe that had burst. That has since been fixed, and the couple now has running water and a dry home, which they’ve opened to those who need shelter.
So far, no one has taken them up on that. But that’s not surprising, says the rabbi, given that “no one can get out of their house; the water is still too high.”
Instead, he’s working the phones and social media to make sure that people in his community and in neighboring Meyerland are getting the assistance they need.
“Thankfully, everybody seems safe, and that’s the most important thing,” says Lazaroff. “Property is good, but it’s much more important that people have their families.”