Former Houston mayor on Harvey: "Worse than the worst case"

Former Houston mayor on Harvey

People in Houston are looking to another leader, former Mayor Bill White, for what he learned from the three major hurricanes that impacted Houston while he was in office, from 2004 to 2010. He welcomed Hurricane Katrina evacuees and made critical decisions on how to handle Hurricanes Rita and Ike. This week, he became one of Harvey's victims.

Hurricane Katrina was brutal for the way it devastated mostly low-income communities. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the destruction is widespread, impacting neighborhoods across the economic spectrum. Although his house was flooded and needs major repairs, White says he's blessed to have so much help, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas. 

"Well this was a little worse than the worst case," White said.

He built his house 18 years ago along the Buffalo Bayou and took extra precautions knowing a major hurricane could flood his backyard, but he never imagined it would flood his home.

"We put it on stilts, so if we had a one in 500 year flood, it would go underneath and not into the house," White said.

It not only came up to the deck, but inside the first floor.

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"You heard gurgling noises and rumbling noises underneath the flood board. And then, I looked down and saw spouts of water coming up from every electrical circuit, every small crack," White recounted.  

Neighbors snapped a photo of White when he finally decided to leave his home, wading through waist-deep water. Now, he has contractors ripping up walls and trying to remove insulation before mold sets in.

Twelve years ago, it was White helping others rebuild their lives. He invited Katrina victims to relocate from New Orleans to Houston.

"You know, the policy of the city, which I announced on the first day, was pretty simple. First, do unto others as you would have them do onto us," White said. "We're best when we help each other out as members of the same team."

When Hurricane Rita headed for Texas just weeks after Katrina hit, Mayor White set an evacuation plan in motion. People panicked and fled en masse, causing gridlock. More than 100 people died on the road from accidents and heat stroke.

The current Houston mayor has pointed to that incident as one of the reasons he didn't evacuate for Harvey.

"It is so big, that it makes evacuation decisions difficult," White said. "I hope we learn. I mean, that fact of the matter is, we tend to learn and then tend to forget. We do know this: Each of us is not in control. And then what we are in control of is how we respond to adversity. Our resilience, our attitude. The example we set for others," White said.

White said so much of what was destroyed can be rebuilt, and he expects in a year from now, we'll see a resilient community that has snapped back and growing.