Houston a family affair for Farina
The Council President Communications section of the City Council agenda is usually reserved for Michael Farina to make comments on legislation that has passed through or anything else pertinent to Cranston.
On Aug. 28, his mind was elsewhere.
Farina asked for prayers for Houston as Hurricane Harvey lingered above the city, where his brother Robert and sister Melissa both live.
Melissa did not get flooded despite having some water in her garage, but Robert, who lives in Sugar Land, wasn’t as lucky. He was forced to evacuate to his sister’s home just hours before the Council meeting as the water got up to the family Jeep’s doors.
They were given the signal for mandatory evacuation, and they immediately grabbed their bags and left.
“The most important, key takeaway would be, evacuate when they tell you to evacuate,” Robert Thompson said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning. “Even if nothing happens, you’re in a safer spot. Listening to the evacuation, we were able to get out in time. We’re back in our house now and we were talking with some people in the area and they said, ‘We heard the evacuation order and weren’t sure what to do.’”
“Pretty clear to me,” Thompson added, with a laugh.
It was a group effort getting to Melissa’s home, which is about 30 minutes away. With all of the road closures and rising floods, Cranston native Thompson compared the trek to Routes 95, 37 and 295 all being blocked off by water. He said friends from the neighborhood had to turn around halfway into a nearly 200-mile trip to San Antonio because their route was blocked off.
Luckily, a system called TranStar, which is a series of cameras showing the traffic patterns and physical condition of certain roads, provided some assistance. His wife, Laura, did the navigating by seeing what paths were clear.
They made it to Melissa’s in no time flat.
“The hand of God was on us,” Thompson said. “That Tuesday morning the people behind us got rescued by a boat. We got out just in time.”
Thompson said relief was the first feeling he had when getting to his sister’s. He has lived in Texas for 20 years, seeing Hurricane Rita and Tropical Storm Allison pass over, but nothing like Harvey.
Between keeping the kids occupied and checking on them, and laying awake at night praying for the rain to cease, it had been a difficult several days for the Thompson family.
“There were nights pacing the halls, watching the Weather Channel, seeing what was happening on the news,” Thompson said. “You just see total devastation all day long. Big difference when you see it on the news, but when you’re in it and seeing friends, people you care about and love going through a horrible situation, you can’t articulate that. You don’t get it until you actually live through it.”
It was harrowing for family, too, as Farina expressed at the Council meeting. He said Monday that, while it was stressful, social media was a “godsend” to help stay updated on what was happening.
“Being from here, he can’t talk to everybody, [so] he used social media to let everybody know that he’s okay, and how to raise money,” Farina said.
Thompson and his family, which includes children Max and Chloe, and dogs Brady and Bella, finally were able to return home in recent days to find little damage to their home.
The minor impact they felt from the flooding made them one of the more fortunate cases in their subdivision alone.
“In our subdivision, we had about 700 houses that had some level of water in them,” Thompson said, describing what he has seen as a “war zone.” “That’s just in our area. There are places all over Houston that are still underwater and flooding because of controlled releases.”
Now, Thompson is working on getting his community together to help the relief effort. He’s not the only Cranston native doing so, either.
The Cranston Fire Department has already sent two officers down to Houston, Scott Robinson and Brendan Colman, and three more are headed down this Sunday: Captain Jim Warren, retired Deputy Chief Mike Procopio and Chaplain Scott Brown, who is also retired.
Cranston rallying for Houston was a source of pride for both Thompson and Farina.
“It was absolutely awesome,” Thompson said about hearing the CFD was sending reinforcements. “I have friends of mine down here that know I’m from Cranston because of my funny accent. There’s a lot of people from the Northeast down in Texas, we were really proud that people in Cranston are helping us get through the recovery. The help is welcome.”
“It just shows that we’re doing a lot of things right in Cranston,” Farina said. “We do a lot of things right, we have a great group of people that work for the city.”