Houston Chinese cope with flood on WeChat

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | | Updated: 2017-08-29 06:15

"Water has climbed to the stairs leading to the second floor. Our cars are in water and can't be started anymore. Dear friends, sorry I can't fulfill the appointments for the next few days, but I will do my best!"

That was a post at 5:52 am on Sunday by Zilin, a well-known makeup artist in Houston's Chinese community, who goes by her first name.

Zilin's apartment is located near Interstate 610 and Highway 90 in the southern section of the city. Her place is among thousands of houses and apartments affected by Hurricane Harvey, later Tropical Storm Harvey, which caused a 500-year flood in Houston and surrounding areas in southeast Texas.

At 8:12 am, Zilin posted photos of a sofa floating in her living room. "Water has reached to my chest. We can only be rescued by boat now."

Can anyone save her and her family, including two young children, by boat? she pleaded.

Helpful messages poured in as her message was passed around in various WeChat groups. Many reposted her message under their own status to help.

At 2:09 pm, Zilin posted an update that the city and Chinese Consulate General in Houston were aware of her situation.

Water had reached her neck; all they could do was wait.

"There are more than 70,000 people waiting for rescue," was one comment under the post.

At 6:58 pm, she posted that self-mobilized helpers couldn't get to her place despite numerous tries. Her complex is behind an iron fence with a small gate, which prohibited boats from entering to get to her door.

Too many others in the city waiting for rescue from the government were ahead of Zilin and her family, so they spent the night on their second floor.

On Monday morning at 5:58 am, Zilin updated that the flood had retreated enough to allow a truck to get through. At 8:02 am, she posted a picture from inside a truck, saying that her family was on the way to a friend's house downtown for shelter.

After a hot meal at her friend's place, Zilin expressed her gratitude. Some friends lined up to buy food for her family, and many people had expressed concern, including Houston officials and the consulate. Many also had made numerous attempts before her family was eventually rescued.

Zilin is one of the many Chinese living in Houston seeking help through WeChat. Similar messages were passed around the social media website since the storm began pounding Houston with relentless rain.

Many messages were similar to Zilin's – seeking help to get out of their flooded houses. Some updated their statuses after being rescued, and some didn't.

One message sought help for three family members stranded atop their vehicle.

Another was seeking information on a 14-year-old girl, who was stuck at a friend's house where power was out and her phone went dead.

On Sunday evening, news came that for the first time in its history, Houston decided to release water from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs on Monday morning to avoid a dam break and overflow.

The Brazos River reached a historical high, triggering mandatory evacuations for the nearby area, where a sizable number of Chinese reside.

Sunday night, pipa virtuoso Wu Changlu posted on WeChat that her house, although dry, was within the mandatory evacuation zone. Lacking a second floor, she sought help to store her musical instruments somewhere.

Wu later posted that she was able to store most of the instruments at a friend's place. However, she had to leave two pianos behind.

While WeChat has been a helpful platform, it is also a personal mission for Ke Yan, owner of Merry Houston, an online Chinese media platform, to call out sensational statements or erroneous information looking to draw internet traffic.

"No, there is no news that water will be cut off. No, Sugar Land was not lost to the flood," she posted in correcting rumors in a WeChat group.

Ke also regularly updated information on roads, shelters, rescue numbers, weather, government-issued orders and announcements, and pleas for help, paying close attention to the information's accuracy.

"There is a difference between real journalism and those who care more about clicks," she said.

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