Security Studies’ Professor Witnesses Storm’s Devastation Firsthand

Stepping Up

Natalie D. Baker studied people’s reaction to disaster following Hurricane Katrina. In Hurricane Harvey, she lived it..

Natalie Baker, a new assistant professor in the Department of Security Studies, studied people’s reactions to disaster after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. During Hurricane Harvey, she experienced it firsthand.

Following the storm, Baker joined her cousin Chris Fredricks and a friend on kayaks to help rescue residents stranded in their neighborhood near FM 1960 and Kuykendahl Road in Houston. It didn’t matter that she never paddled a kayak before or that she didn’t have any oars. She joined the flotilla of boats, using her hands as paddles to get people out of harm’s way.

“The water in this neighborhood was like 10 feet high, and the sky looked like there could be a tornado,” said Baker. “The street was a river, and the current just took you down the road.”

Baker stopped at an apartment complex, where she saw residents stranded by floodwaters on their second story balconies – including children and seniors with pets – but no one wanted to evacuate. After checking on her cousin’s client in the area, the current got too bad, and the group of kayaks had to be dragged out by a jet ski. When her cousin went back on a second attempt, his kayak flipped and the jet ski got stranded, and they both had to be towed out by a motor boat.

Baker, a single mother, had to return to her daughter, while her cousin continued rescue efforts. From home, she found an innovative way to assist by identifying people that needed evacuation on Facebook and sending her cousin and crews to the addresses.
She learned that research and reality are very different.

“Having done disaster research, I could process it intellectually, but the most heavy part was that people’s lives were going to be affected by this,” said Baker.

Little did she know how much or how close this disaster would affect her family. Her grandmother died in Galveston County during the storm, and they were unable to retrieve her body from the house for over 24 hours due to flooding.

While she was trying to help save flood victims in Houston, another cousin Kyle Fredricks-Haines was marooned in Dickinson, another heavily hit area. After staying overnight with friends, Kyle stepped out of bed into water. He helped evacuate the house to a nearby church, but that too flooded. The church administration made the evacuees leave, so he and others caught a boat to Texas City, trying to make it home to his husband Robert Haines on the west side of Houston.

After frantically calling everyone he could and filling out a missing person’s report, Fredricks-Haines received a call on Friday that his partner of 15 years had died in the flood, his body found by scuba divers. He learned that floodwaters in his home rose seven feet in 20 minutes after the release of water from the Addicks Reservoir. A week later, Robert Haines’ body was still in the house because it was too dangerous to retrieve due to the high water and current. Kyle is haunted by what happened.

“They found my dog, who was up on a counter, and Bob was in there,” said Fredricks-Haines. “My house, my husband, and everything we built over the last 15 years are gone.”

Kyle Fredricks-Haines is currently staying with Baker, who is working with him to navigate the post-disaster process, including the wreckage of his house. In the meantime, a GoFundMe page has been set up for him.

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