U.S. city mayors, who tend to have strikingly similar policy priorities regardless of geography, have been banding together all year on issues like climate change, immigration and Trump-era fund slashing. This week, they’re uniting their voices to help a city desperately in need.
As of Tuesday morning, some parts of Houston had received upward of 40 inches of rain in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, making it the biggest rainstorm in the history of the continental U.S. At least 22 people have died, and the National Weather Service warned Wednesday that “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding will continue in and around Houston eastward into southwest Louisiana for the rest of the week,” MSN reports.
In response, mayors across the country have been raising funds, hosting drives and even, in the case of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, coordinating an effort to lend first responders.
In a news conference Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner thanked Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. WBUR reports that the Boston-led “Help for Houston” drive has been asking for diapers, nonperishable food, clothing, blankets and toiletries.
“He’s providing clothes and other things that are needed for people in our shelters,” Turner said, according to WBUR. “Thank him for that as well as some additional assistance, and that’s coming from many of the mayors as well.”
Brian Arrigo, mayor of the small city of Revere, Massachusetts, suggested that local residents donate to a relief fund set up by Turner, the station reports. Revere is also collecting items like blankets and diapers.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Landrieu told Newsweek on Monday that New Orleans remembers how Houston helped the city during Katrina, and wants to return the favor. Thousands of displaced residents fled to the Texas city after the 2005 hurricane, and it’s estimated that about 40,000 of them ended up staying and becoming permanent residents. Landrieu is raising money for Texas and South Louisiana.
An ex-mayor of Houston, Bill White, walked through waist-high waters to speak with the Dallas Morning News. His house was reportedly under a foot of water, and he waded to a neighbor’s house for a working phone.
White declined to second-guess Turner’s decision not to evacuate the city, which has been criticized by some. He did, however, speak about the difficulty of sitting in the mayor’s seat during a catastrophe like Harvey, balancing the need to evacuate more flood-prone areas, while trying not to alarm the entire city and cause panic, which would lead to clogged roads and, potentially, more people trapped in their cars.
The newspaper asked White outright: “Is it possible that cities are becoming too large to evacuate?”
“It would be very difficult to evacuate something like the entire metropolitan area of Houston,” he said. “It’s a combination of the weather modeling and the need to allow those people in the storm surge areas immediately along the coast to get out and not have freeways blocked.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.