Voices of Harvey: ‘It’s Waterworld Out Here’

HoustonKatie Walthall Mehnert, founder and CEO of Pink Petro, is still waiting to go home.

She has yet to begin the smelly process of mucking out her home or ripping out sheetrock. The heartbreaking chore of evaluating which waterlogged personal item is not so soggy that it can’t be kept is still a week or so away.

While Harvey dumped a few feet of water into her home, the Mehnerts were able to stay on the second story. But a controlled release of nearby reservoirs washed through neighborhoods like hers in west Houston, submerging many homes above the first story. She and her daughter, Ally, were rescued by volunteers Aug. 29.

Mark Mehnert carries the family dog, Maddie, as he evacuates their home. (Photo courtesy: Katie Walthall Mehnert.)

Mehnert was driving near her neighborhood Monday afternoon when we spoke. She shares her story with me for this latest installment of “Harvey Voices.” For more coverage of how the Tropical Storm has affected Houston and the city’s innovation community please click here.

“We can’t get to the house without a powerboat. You have to have a strong motor because of the current. Our office borders [British Petroleum], which sustained water. It’s ‘Waterworld’ out here, man.

“I actually thought about tweeting, Where the hell is Kevin Costner?

“I’ve been talking to people about this from a business perspective. We’re innovators. We rise and we got grit and all that. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to build bigger and better. But when you think about the practicality of it all: capital, cash flow, that check that was coming to your house. … We’re planning to work from home. We just figured it was going to be a rain event so I brought business stuff to my house.

“Just thinking practically, we’ve got to take care of our people, make sure people are back to work. We want to get back to work. It’s hard. This will definitely be something that’ll be a story for the grandkids. I know Ally will remember it. We took her out of town so Mark and I can get focused on building a sense of normalcy.

“The companies that I can see out there are doing amazing things for their employees. GE’s been great to Mark. [Pink Petro] is going to reopen on Wednesday. We’re going to be working remote at this point. We’re looking at some office options; but we can’t get our things. We’re surrounded by water. They are allowing us into the neighborhood; we do have access by boat. But it’s touch and go. There are electrical currents and other dangers in the water.

“There is a woman outside doing her lawn. Part of the neighborhood is still in Stone Age waiting for help. The other is moving on. It’s a little surreal. Everyone around us is tearing down, but there’s still several feet of water in our house. It’s disgusting there. It stinks.

“A part of this I can control. You know what? A lot of our work can be done remote, so we do that work. We will make it work. I’ve seen entrepreneurs coming together say, How can I help? Part of that process is figuring out what you need—but we don’t know what’s damaged. I don’t know what I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m only focusing on the decisions right now in front of me. Me guessing when the bayou’s going to come down is just like me picking the right price for oil; it’s anyone’s guess at this point.”

At 3 am Tuesday, Mehnert posted the following on her Facebook page:

“Hit a new low yesterday.

Found out we lost neighbors due to drowning.

This absolutely could have been avoided.

I remember when Ally and I were rescued last Monday morning [Aug. 29] in a boat having to leave Mark and [dog] Maddie behind. For two days she didn’t speak to me and for most of it was convinced I left them behind to drown and die.

This absolutely could have been avoided.

I now realize: We were ill prepared. We didn’t know we could and should leave for higher ground. We have lived high for years and were led to believe we would be fine. We didn’t know the dams would need to be forced flooded into our homes IN THE DARK.

Our community didn’t need to go through this. We were subjected to it due to POOR planning of our local officials and I want answers.

This absolutely could have been avoided.”

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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