Maui native working as reporter in Texas gets firsthand look at Harvey
‘It’s really so sad’
“Like it’s out of a movie” — that’s how a former Haiku resident describes the devastation wreaked on Texas by Hurricane Harvey.
Now working as a reporter for the Victoria Advocate in Texas, Marina Starleaf Riker said she’s been visiting small Texas communities and has seen downed trees, homes collapsed onto themselves, rooftops ripped from structures and stray pets wandering around in the wake of Harvey, the Category 4 hurricane that slammed into the Lone Star State on Aug. 25.
Rockport, one of the coastal towns directly in the path of Harvey, “was just destroyed,” Riker said.
The 23-year-old, along with a photographer, went to the town Sunday — two days after Harvey made landfall — and found it pretty much empty other than National Guard personnel on the scene, she said.
“Homes are just collapsed on themselves. It’s just like rubble,” Riker said.
One man she spoke to decided to ride out the hurricane in his boat at the harbor.
But the wind picked up the sailboat and slammed it onto the dock where a post damaged and sank the boat. The man stayed in his car until the storm passed.
“When I saw him on Sunday, he had his shorts and his shirt. He wasn’t even wearing his shoes. He had lost everything,” Riker said.
The 2010 King Kekaulike High School graduate said that being from Hawaii, where hurricane watches and warnings are commonplace, she had never prepared for a storm to hit.
But this time she did.
“After this, I will never not take one of those warnings seriously ever again. Literally, I had enough water for myself for three days. That wasn’t enough,” she said via cellphone Thursday from her undamaged home in Victoria, about 125 miles southwest of Houston.
But a boil-water notice for Riker remained in place. Electricity had gone out during the storm, but her neighborhood had it back fairly quickly. While some Texas communities may be without essential utilities for months, Riker said she was staying in a place where there was food and water.
“I would have run out,” she said.
Riker, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in May 2015, joined the Victoria Advocate in June. She previously worked at The Bend Bulletin in Bend, Ore. She also spent time as a temporary reporter for The Associated Press’ Honolulu bureau and interned at Civil Beat in Honolulu.
Riker said she wanted to work “in a totally different” area and knew south Texas would be unique.
She said she knew the area was prone to hurricanes, but she didn’t expect a storm of Harvey’s magnitude.
Last week, Riker expected to work because Harvey was only a Category 1 storm early on. However, as the hurricane approached as a Category 4, she found herself hunkered down in the county building.
She did most of her work on her cellphone, posting updates about the storm as needed while county public information officers would knock on the door of the closet she was sleeping in.
“It was definitely really loud,” she said of the hurricane as it passed. “You could hear the doors rattling.”
Riker said that she spent a lot of time in the county building, looking out a window and watching a telephone pole wave side to side in the wind.
She also had her eyes on a nearby church roof, which flew off.
Once she was able to go outside to survey damage, she drove around Victoria, and the town looked as if someone had come through and flipped everything over.
It took her around 45 minutes on empty roads to find an open gas station. Downed trees were on roads, and none of the town’s traffic lights were working.
As she talked to storm victims, about six of whom lost their homes, Riker said that she had to keep her emotions in check.
“I do get really emotionally attached to the people I write about,” she said. “So for me, almost every interview when I was talking to someone who lost their home, I was trying not to cry with the person,” she said. “It’s really so sad.”
One of those people was Delia Garza, 56, who lives in Tivoli, Texas, which has a population of less than 500. Garza lost her trailer home in the storm.
Riker wrote a captivating lead in her story published Tuesday.
“It wasn’t until three days after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas that Delia Garza, 56, finally scrubbed off her Social Security number written in pen on her arm,” Riker wrote.
A Texas official upset about people not evacuating warned residents to write their Social Security numbers on themselves in case they perished in the storm and had to be identified by rescue workers.
Riker snapped a photo of Garza in her home. The storm ripped off her roof but left furniture behind. Garza’s refrigerator was spared. Inside, there was still a gallon of milk and other food.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.