Digital Museums Document Houston Following Hurricane Harvey

By Ayana Byrd Sep 03, 2019

As Hurricane Dorian devastates parts of the Bahamas, survivors of another deadly storm have created two museums to honor the lives of—and call attention to the structural inequalities experienced by—people who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

The Houston Flood Museum and the Harvey Memories Project are open-access digital archives with a combined 2,300 artifacts that provide a multimedia snapshot of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. There are photographs, oral histories, radio stories, satellite maps, poems and essays written by children. Reports Texas Observer:


In a photo taken shortly after Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston two years ago, a black luxury SUV sits submerged in murky brown floodwaters. In the background, a yellow construction crane hangs over a half-finished building—evidence of the city’s insatiable appetite for growth juxtaposed with the damage exacerbated by that growth. Another photo shows a battered mesquite tree in Woodsboro, 170 miles southwest of Houston, eerily coated in white tufts of cotton blown across its branches by 130-mph winds. A third image is a collage of cell phone screenshots, each showing the home screen obscured by endless emergency alerts. And then there’s a poem written after the storm by a fourth-grader named Jay. “Floods are thieves that made my favorite cow, Cursey, die,” reads the first line.

Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25, 2017, devastating Houston and its surrounding areas. When floodwaters receded, it became clear that the destruction had hit Latinx and Black communities hardest. As Colorlines reported when the storm hit, lower income communities of color in Houston—and the rest of Texas—are typically located in low-lying areas that are vulnerable to flooding. These areas are often built on flood zones and lack sufficient wastewater infrastructure. A year after the storm, The New York Times found that a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx Houstonians were on the brink of homelessness as a result of Harvey.

It was this race-based discrepancy that led Lacy Johnson, a professor of English at Rice University, to partner with the foundation Houston Endowment and launch the Harvey Memories Project. “We will have more storms like Harvey, not less, so it is urgent to think through how our activities contribute to catastrophic flooding and how those are linked to wealth inequality and racial disparity,” she told the Observer in an interview.

The 2019 hurricane season has so far spared Texas. But this week, Hurricane Dorian is on course to impact Florida, the Carolinas and Georgia. Over the weekend, it made landfall as the strongest hurricane possible, a Category 5 with wind gusts of 220 mph, in the Bahamas, killing at least five people and destroying an estimated 13,000 homes. Hurricane season ends on November 30.