Garrett Smith

The George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston sheltered more than 10,000 victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Canyon High graduate experiences ‘small town’ spirit in post-Harvey Houston

He walks into the convention center to an overwhelming array of images. A young woman sits and weeps with her baby in her arms. Doctors frantically treat as many victims as possible. A homeless man sits in the corner with a pained look in his eyes. Cots are stretched across the floor and people lay wounded and exhausted upon them while others hastily attempt to reunite their families. Garrett Smith is surrounded by chaos in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The convention center looked like something you would see in a disaster movie.

— Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith and his wife experienced Hurricane Harvey while living in Houston. Smith, an 2006 Canyon High graduate, is the coordinator for commuter student involvement at Houston Baptist University.

“At work they kept saying the hurricane is going to hit tomorrow and then changing their minds at the last minute,” Smith said. “It went on like that for about four days, so when it really was about to happen no one took it seriously. They canceled orientation for freshmen, and that’s when I realized it was about to happen.”

Following the arrival of the storm, Smith was away from his wife Hannah, an RN who was on disaster duty for six days without leaving Texas Women’s Hospital.

Garrett Smith and friends volunteer to set up cots at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“My wife works at a hospital right next to one of the bayous that floods easily, so she ran across the street to stay in a hotel near her work,” Smith said. “That ended up being the right call because it did flood, and she wouldn’t have been able to get to work had she not done that.”

Smith experienced the force of the hurricane for himself in an attempt to bring supplies to his wife, who had driven his truck to work as her car was in the repair shop. After the first night, the hospital housed the nursing staff in spare rooms.

“I needed to bring some things to my wife, and the first time I set out to do that, I only had my bicycle,” Smith said. “Halfway to her, the water picked up and I had to carry my bike through knee deep waters. Two miles into the three-mile trip, the water got waist high, and I had to turn around. The next day I ended up using an inflatable raft to get to her, and I put all the things I needed to get to her in a cooler. Once I got to her, I was able to get my truck, so I could get home.”

Smith said he was shocked to see the disarray in the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter when he volunteered in the aftermath of the disaster.

The third largest city in the country is like a small town right now.

— Garrett Smith

“It wasn’t until I went to the convention center that the magnitude of the situation really hit me,” Smith said. “The convention center looked like something you would see in a disaster movie. Seeing something like that in person really hit me. The entire place was full of cots, and there was maybe one shower available for 10,000 people. The sight and smell of that many people together was insane. People were sick everywhere, and doctors were trying to help where they could.”

Smith said the Coast Guard was active in rescuing victims.

“One morning I was walking out of the donation bay and a Coast Guard helicopter flew right above my head to drop people off on the roof,” Smith said. “Helicopters were flying right above our apartment day and night. It was surreal.”

Smith said the most shocking aspect of the hurricane was the destruction of Gulf Coast towns, some of which he saw first hand as he traveled to perform in a benefit concert.

“I played a benefit concert in Corpus Christi, and a lot of the Gulf towns over there were hit hard,” Smith said. “The towns I visited over there were nearly wiped out. Buildings were collapsed, and the people were in anguish. These towns won’t get much coverage from the mainstream media, which is a shame, because they are truly hurting.”

Smith said he was proud to be a citizen of Houston in the aftermath of this disaster.

“The third largest city in the country is like a small town right now,” Smith said. “The attitude is very much everyone looking out for everyone. I haven’t seen Houston like this before. I wish there was more national coverage of peoples’ backgrounds, races and lives coming together in this difficult time. We have done several donation drives and there is a lot of money being raised by people like J.J. Watt. Everyone is doing their part, and we will get through this together.”

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