'There's nowhere to go': Texan recalls abandoning her home amid deadly floodwaters

Gabby Kaufman
Reporter

“If I start crying, I’m so sorry,” Ashley Yell began.

Yell, a resident of Dickinson, Texas, evacuated her home early Sunday after Tropical Storm Harvey brought massive flooding to Gulf Coast cities. Harvey touched down as a Category 4 storm Friday, and rescue efforts are still underway in Houston and the surrounding area. In an interview, Yell described how her family evacuated their flooded home, relying on strangers driving boats to ferry them to higher and higher ground until they finally made it safely to a friend’s home.

Yell and her husband, Travis, decided to have their 1-year-old daughter Murphy sleep in their bed. When she started stirring, Travis volunteered to change her diaper and get her a new bottle.

“When he stepped down, there was two feet of water off of our bed,” Yell recalled. “So we both got up and there was already water throughout our entire house.”

After that discovery, they wasted no time, quickly packing food and diapers for their daughter.

“We jumped into the car and realized there’s nowhere to go,” Yell said. “All the major roads around us in a circle were all underwater. I had called 911 to ask them if there was any access to just leave and they said no, just stay to higher ground.”

Yell estimated that for two hours, they hunkered down in their car near their home. But when water started to enter the vehicle, they went to a neighbor’s home.

“Their home is just a little bit higher and there was no water inside,” Yell said. “Well, after a few moments, now water was starting to come inside their house, and it was rising very fast, coming in through their windows.”

Someone with a boat took Yell, her husband and their daughter to another neighbor’s house, which was on higher ground and where the water was “just maybe ankle-deep.”

“We stayed there throughout most of the day, until water started rising up to our knees and we realized we needed to get out, it’s rising too high,” Yell said. “So we were contacting family and friends and all of our friends were trying to get to us, but the water was so high in the area.”

The main street is covered by floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey in Dickinson, Texas, Aug. 27, 2017. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Finally, they resolved to walk a mile and a half through chest-deep water to a main road where, hopefully, they would be able to flag down a boat. Yell said her ankles and legs are badly bruised from hitting debris in the water. They were successful, but the driver first had to pick up a woman who had had a C-section two weeks ago and her newborn son.

“They drove us very far, all the way to a Chevron on 517 and 646, on a boat, that’s all on a main road that people drive on,” Yell said. “And it was higher ground. A lot of people were standing underneath this plaza with this gas station, waiting for pickup or what they could do when the water goes down. And that’s where one of our friends met us and he has a really high truck so he drove us every which way to get us to another friend’s house, and that’s where we are right now.”

Both of the family’s vehicles are completely underwater, and in a video online Yell spotted her house in over eight feet of water. She felt that her area’s voluntary evacuation order — instead of a mandatory one — downplayed what eventually became a catastrophe.

“Everybody on our street was in their homes,” she said. “Nobody left.”

While she said she saw first responders in helicopters and boats, many rescuers were area residents “packing in the most they could without the water coming into the boat to try to get people out.”

“I did see on the news that there have already been two deaths in Dickinson,” Yell said. “I really have the feel for that, just from us walking through the water with our daughter. That could have been us.”

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