Portraits of Resilience and Hope After Harvey

Our photographer talked to Texas residents who are still seeking shelter after Hurricane Harvey.

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.

Michael Past “No one was prepared for this. Even the people who are supposed to be prepared were caught off guard. I’ve been saluting the army and National Guard since I’ve seen them — they saved my family’s lives. I’m just thankful for my life. The rest of the stuff can be replaced."
Allen Abshire (center) and his family “We’ve lost everything, but I’ve raised my kids to be strong.”
Devona Robinson (far left) and her family “My advice? If they say get out, get out. Material things are replaceable but your life is not. I almost learned that the hard way this time.”
Dawn Carter “I am almost blessed to have gone through this, just to see this kind of love, this kind of community. Don’t lose faith in yourself or others because that’s when it gets bleak. Despite the circumstances, we all have a safe place to stay right now.”
Stephine Lopez (second from right) and her family “The water kept rising and rising, and we had the children, so we tried to evacuate to higher ground…I’ll never forget the visual of my husband walking through the dark water with the children, thinking we weren’t going to make it."
Yawer Alnaqeeb with his children Ranya and Ali “I feel bad because I lost my property, my car, and other things. But at the same time, I am happy because I live in a community with nice people around me. They’re caring, and rush to help people during this hard time. I’m grateful, really.”
Gabrielle “Gabby” Lee and her cat, Aurora “There were jet skis in the water going by, and helicopters over us, people were taking their own personal boats and coming out to rescue anyone who had been affected. I’ve been trying to be strong, because in a time like this, you’re allowed to cry but to be strong is best. I just know that things will get better, and after this big, bad storm, something good is going come out of it.”
LaTonya Wells and her two sons “It was scary [for me], but it was really scary for my boys. It was scary thinking about where everything is going, everything you’re losing, how you’ve gotta start over. I’m just glad to be alive, but also wondering how I’m going to start back over. Where do you begin?”
Mike Henschel “I still feel displaced, even though I’m homeless and I live on the street. It’s like a fog almost. Things just don’t seem normal. I can feel everybody’s tension — they’re worried."