Some 40,000 people are now in shelters across Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Photographer William Widmer traveled to the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, chronicling some of those stories for National Geographic.
The Category 4 storm hit Houston and the surrounding region August 25, bringing intense flooding. It dropped a historic amount of rainfall—more than 50 inches—partly because it remained stationary, pulling in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. At least 60 deaths have been linked to the storm. (See also: Pictures Reveal Hurricane Harvey's Catastrophic Destruction)
Beyond the thousands currently in shelters, many more will need help rebuilding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says more than 500,000 people have registered for disaster assistance, including for repairs and property losses.
By the time Widmer arrived late last week, the waters had receded from downtown Houston. Most of the ten thousand people who had sought refuge at the convention center at the peak of the disaster had since moved on. “Anyone who had resources to stay somewhere else did,” he says. ”The shelter is not where anyone wants to be.” Those who remained had been through varying levels of trauma. Some were grappling with having narrowly escaped with their lives; others who had been living on the street before Harvey struck expressed empathy for those experiencing homelessness for the first time.
Widmer’s portraits are testament to the shared human experience of grief, loss, and survival.