Hurricane Harvey: The Collective Trauma of Houston

hurricane harvey

I have never experienced a mass trauma like Hurricane Harvey before, but I recognize the symptoms. Everyone experiences trauma in their lives, though usually individually rather than a collective trauma like a natural disaster. A car accident, a sudden death or loss of a loved one, or even just moving across the country to somewhere completely unfamiliar can bring on the symptoms of trauma.

We know instinctively what trauma feels like but a complete definition can help bring some clarity. describes the symptoms of trauma like this:

Emotional & psychological symptoms:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Anxiety and fear.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Feeling disconnected or numb.

When my husband’s brother committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train, these eight Hurricane Harveysymptoms all came knocking on our door in their turn. For several months, all we could do was go to the movies where we could lose ourselves for a precious couple hours.  We would rest and gorge on popcorn, then go back home to the ogre of trauma waiting for us. In fact, it took about a year to feel normal again, though the sound of a train still makes me sad.

So what do you do when a whole region is in shock?  Hurricane Harvey gave Texas a gut punch and judging from the stressed expressions on everyone’s faces, not many have dodged this emotional bullet.  I can tell you a couple things not to do.

  1. Play the blame game.

It is human to look for someone or something to blame. If, as some scientists claim, Hurricane Harvey is a once in a 40,000-year event, then exactly who is at fault? Apparently climate change, Obama, Trump, Joel Osteen, and government officials to name a few. Also Melania Trump’s shoes. What is wrong with this is that anger exacerbates trauma. Creating a media storm for ratings introduces more pain into the cycle.

Blame is proven to re-traumatize sufferers of PTSD.

Let’s not go there right now.

Natural catastrophic events occur. Sometimes humans are to blame, like in the Dust Bowl where over-farming caused terrible dust storms. But human causes are harder to pin point with hurricanes. Human Hurricane Harveyanger and hatred are their own hurricanes. Why not stop playing pin the blame on the nearest person and start helping out?

  1. Rehearse how bad things are.

This is another game we humans like to play. We one up each other like there is no tomorrow. Comparisons and lists of how terrible things are do not help. In fact, they make things worse. The pictures speak for themselves. The videos say it all. Each person in this area has suffered some sort of loss.

Even if they did not lose family or property, the landscape of their home has been violently rearranged.

Hurricane Harvey will affect some for years to come, while others will recover much faster. So instead of rehashing all the events, just listen. What you will hear is how many people are coming to one another’s aid selflessly, heroically, and without hesitation. Those stories will last longer than the moldy drywall. Much longer. And yes. In some ways, Katrina was worse. And in some ways, it wasn’t. Doesn’t really matter much if you have fetid water up to your roof and you can’t find your dog.

Grief and fear lie heavy over this town. We all feel it here. The first day of sunshine, everyone came out of their homes after a week of pelting rain.  Now the neighborhoods are quiet again as people regroup.

And life has to be picked up again and the threads of everyday life rewoven into some semblance of normalcy.

Most people have cleared out many of their belongings and given them to those who lost theirs. There are some benefits to Americans and their tendency to over buy.

But everyone feels the weight of Hurricane-Harvey.

The supplies needed for the evacuees build up, dwindle, and build up again. Diapers are needed, and children’s Tylenol. Schools are still closed. Women go into labor, the nurseries they carefully decorated utterly desecrated. Baby clothes are at a premium. We have turned off our sprinklers and do laundry sparingly, trying to lessen the load on the sewage systems.

Rumors wind their way through the housing developments. One moment the water is polluted; the next, the all clear is given. So much confusion whirls around the internet about insurance policies, trash pickup, and if we will ever see our mail again. People cry easily, mourning the losses. Hardest hit areas are cordoned off by the tired policemen and white traffic gates. But we all see the brown water seeping up the roads just past the flashing lights and uniforms.

Hurricane Harvey



Everyone is grateful for the sight of the National Guard, the Marines, and especially Bubba with his bass boat.



So mourn with Texas. Offer what aid you can. Pray or send good thoughts and blessings. Make sure the people you know are ok. Just please don’t add to the cacophony of negativity. Relegate the controversy to our political parties who deserve it. The helpers are out in full force, and the burden of blame and shame are too heavy to carry right now.


My other narrative on Hurricane Harvey can be found here:

Of Hurricanes, Houston, and Loss: Reflections on a Rough Week

9 Replies to “Hurricane Harvey: The Collective Trauma of Houston”

  1. I can only imagine. Our pastor’s brother is pastor at Chapelwood Church in Houston. We are sending funds there to help. Praying for the area. May God’s light shine through this crisis.

  2. I used to live in Kingwood and I have friends there that have lost everything. I pray for safety, support, and comfort from God!

  3. It’s hard to comprehend the level of destruction, devastation, and pain that area of Houston is going through. We can question why chaos of this magnitude happens but we know God has a way of bringing joy and peace even to the greatest traumas. God bless!

  4. susanhomeschooling says: Reply

    The list of emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma are really interesting and apply to so many circumstances. I think it’s harder for people who endure a living hell when no one knows. At least if someone passes away, people treat you kindly and bring you meals. When others don’t know you are enduring trauma, it’s way worse because you are alone.

  5. Wow, this is such an incredibly heartfelt post, Alice! I can only imagine what going through this form of trauma would be like. Your post is thought provoking and compassion building!!

  6. Our area went through a very difficult flood 6 years ago and it took several years to rebuild and many are still dealing with residual effects. I live in a very small area compared to Houston, however, so all I keep thinking is that it is the same situation times so many more people! Your thoughts are helpful as everyone embarks on the journey toward healing.

  7. Thank you for sharing! I think I’ve been focused on the physical need (making donations, sending items that are needed, etc.) and I didn’t think a whole lot let about the emotional toll this terrible storm must be taking on everyone there in the Houston area. Praying for emotional recovery for everyone affected!

  8. Harvey was so devasting. Your right, the blame game serves no purpose at all but to get people angry about something that no one could control.

    I have family in the path of Irma and am praying that she stays in the ocean and doesn’t hit anyone. Letting God help us through our trauma’s and begging him to help avoid more is sometimes all we can do.

    I’m so sorry about your brother-in-law.

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