News + Features

Surviving the Wrath of Harvey—One Photographer’s Harrowing Tale

August 31, 2017

By Jacqueline Tobin

Courtesy of Taylor Golden White

At the time I started working on this post, Hurricane Harvey was still pounding down its wrath on the city of Houston, and the stories of rescue and survival were coming in at a record clip. I could not stop watching CNN, sick to my stomach and wanting to help in one way or another. And unless it happens to you, I don't think anyone can fully comprehend what the good people of Houston have been through this week.

As I watched the news accounts and video of personal rescues all over the city, I started wracking my brain wondering who I knew in Houston. Any photographers? Any friends or family? Nature photographer Andy Biggs had to abandon his home—the Facebook photos he posted of his house being flooded are just heart-wrenching. Wedding photographer Taylor Golden White lives in Houston with her husband Brian, in their new home that was literally a week from being fully renovated before it flooded—they and their friends (as well as four dogs) had to flee for their lives.

Taylor, who in May was featured with Brian in an Rf Photo of the Day taken by Jerry Ghionis, graciously recounts for us (just a day after it happened) her incredible story of being rescued from her fast-flooding home—and almost dying in the process. 

All photos courtesy of Taylor Golden White

August 29—Water levels were getting higher and higher in our neighborhood [in the community of Kingwood] and in 26 hours, the water had gone from outside our fence to 3 feet inside our home. Our cars were completely submerged and we had to quickly take shelter on the second floor of my new house. We were five adults and four dogs—which included my mother-in-law as well as my wedding clients Brooke and Wiley and their little dog Hector [who, as of this writing, has still not been found]. I am shooting their wedding in Italy next month and we offered them shelter because they lived downtown next to a bayou that always floods and I knew they had no family here.

No rescues were being made at the time—except for helicopter rescues of the sick and elderly. No one else was coming for us. We had no warning from the news; reports had the rain accumulating to maybe 6 more inches. In reality, the water rose 8 feet in 24 hours. My sister Randi swung into action and grabbed my mom's neighbors Larry and Christina (whom we've never met) and without hesitation, they came to save us on Jet Skis with Randi and my brother-in-law Ricky (a Houston Police Officer who spent nine years in the Navy trained for search and rescue).

The back of our house is adjacent to a golf course (shown above), and to get to our house, you have to cross another part of the golf course. Because the fairways here don't have trees, that created raging rapids moving 20 mph, which we didn't know because we couldn't see it. We had packed up the essentials in our backpacks and moved as much furniture upstairs as we could, and then put everything else downstairs on the countertops so it was at least 3 feet off the ground.

When Ricky and Randi and the neighbors arrived, they were panicked and told us we couldn't bring anything—just what we were wearing and the dogs. Brooke climbed on and held onto Ricky while Randi and I climbed into the raft (used for recreational tubing on lakes) that was tied to that Jet Ski, with three dogs. Ricky couldn't drive as fast as he could because the tube almost flipped us with the speed. But once we got to the rapids, we couldn't go fast enough and the current pushed us all sideways, wrapped the raft around a telephone pole and flipped the Jet Ski. Brooke was able to grab onto a tree limb while Ricky held onto the Jet Ski. The current was so strong that they couldn't get back on. The water kept rising, the current kept getting faster and there were no boats in sight. We began praying and praying for someone to come save us. Ricky, with a terrified look, said to us, "I honestly have no idea what we are going to do!"

My sister, who had roaches and giant spiders crawling all over her, told me we would have to let the dogs go. I already knew it. We were very unsure if we were going to make it out alive. I can't even describe the fear. I began unhooking the dogs' leashes so they at least wouldn't get caught on anything and have a chance to swim to safety. My sister and I, on the other hand, clung to a tree branch that was next to the utility pole—for an hour.

Eventually, Larry came back and took us to safety about a mile away (while my husband Brian waited back on the second floor of our house with Wiley to be rescued). I couldn't see much on the ride because of the rain, but what I did see was terrifying—everything was under water. Once we got to safety, we all broke down sobbing at what we just went through. We were freezing, shaking and just broken from the sheer terror of being so close to death.

While Brian and Wiley were waiting to be rescued, Brian heard a noise at the front door —it was our dog Buddy paddling to stay afloat waiting to be let in. Brian and Wiley struggled to get the door open because of the water —it was above their waist—while snakes and spiders and all sorts of things crawled around the walls and door frames. But nothing was going to stop Brian from getting our dog. We had the dog two weeks and he already knew where his home was.

Sadly, there was no sign of my dog Piper or Brooke's dog Hector, and Brooke and I cried in each others arms when we heard the news. Once the boys got to land, they helped more boats launch for rescues and then arrived at my mom's house a few hours later. We were all an emotional mess-crying on and off and just physically drained. That evening the sun came out so Brian and I took Buddy for a walk. He told me we would find Piper no matter what.

As we were returning from our walk, Brooke came out from my mom's house yelling, "They found Piper!! They are bringing her here now!!"  I broke down sobbing on my sister Randi at the news and waited outside for Piper to arrive (above, an image of Piper after being rescued by hero Trevor Pearson).

The next day, we were all very sore, covered in bruises and zombie-like, but we were alive. Many people have already dropped off garbage bags full of clothes and items for us to have. The rallying together of the Houston people and from volunteers coming in from all over the U.S. is awe-inspiring. Today, there were 40 boats lined up waiting to go and save people at our safety spot.

We are pretty certain we lost everything on our first floor—furniture, toiletries, all kitchen items, office equipment and clothes. We had spent the last three months remodeling our dream, forever home and had almost finished; we had one week to go. I lost a 100-year-old baby grand piano, my woody [the station wagon] and some sentimental things, and I had to leave behind all my identification, wedding rings, hard drives, computer, wallet and so much more just to be able to get out of there.

We are so blessed to have such amazing family members, friends, and community that almost died trying to rescue us and are now taking care of us. We are so grateful to be alive and all in one piece. It is an utter miracle that we are here.

This experience has defined life even more for us, because everything can be gone in an instant. The only thing that matters is people. There is no race, religion or sex issues when people are in need—Americans band together when there is trouble. God bless America, and God bless all those brave people risking their lives, and God bless all the sweet people opening their homes and belongings to those in need.

Editor's note: Thank you so much to Taylor for sharing her story. Feel free to reach out and send her your well-wishes or donate items: About an hour ago, she posted the following on her Facebook page: "Hi everyone, the waters have receded to our backyard fence and we were able to get in the house. We have a large team a friends and family and strangers helping us get all our belongings that we can salvage out and into a dry place while also emptying the house of ruined items. We are very fortunate that we only lost furniture kitchen items, toiletries and possibly some clothes. Thank you to everyone who has sent us items—anything that we end up not needing will be donated to families that are in need. We are all well and in good spirits, we just have a lot of work to do ahead of us. Thank you for all of your prayers. We have an amazing community here but also have the entire city and several states outside of Texas chipping in together to help people repair and rebuild. God Bless Texas.” 

Updated September 1: Adorable little Hector (whose owner, Brooke, is having her wedding photographed next month by Taylor, sadly did not make it through the worst of the storm and his body was recovered yesterday, Aug. 31. RIP sweet Hector.