Bun B on Hurricane Harvey: “Right Now We Need to Save Lives”
A heartfelt interview with the Texas legend about what to do to help Houston
On Friday night, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas. The Category 5 storm (the most severe categorization for hurricanes) was called a once in a generation event, bringing 130 miles per hour winds and over 40 inches of rain. Almost immediately, it became clear that Harvey was going to be even worse than predicted, and the devastating reports and striking images coming out of Houston, America’s fourth largest city, have captivated the nation and united our frayed country in rescue efforts, outreach and prayer. This morning, MASS APPEAL spoke with Bun B, a longtime Houston resident and legendary MC, about the tragic situation unfolding in the city he loves and calls home.
Are you at all surprised by how many people stayed in Houston and didn’t heed the warnings from news and weather networks?
Well, as far as warning people. I don’t think—we can argue this back and forth, and we we will argue this when all of this is over—people keep talking about the warning. The warning that most people are seeing in the country, those evacuations are for most of those low-lying counties that are closer to the water. So, the Rockports, the Corpus Christis, those are cities that sit directly on the water. The eye of the storm actually passed through Rockport. That’s where you see the tornado destruction. Houston was not given that kind of warning. They didn’t really start prepping shelters for mass amounts of people until after Saturday. Opening up the George R. Brown Convention Center didn’t happen until Sunday. I think maybe if they had opened up places for shelters… If you’re not going to give a mandatory evacuation order then make it very clear to people what’s going to happen, because it’s worse than everyone thought it was, and I don’t think everybody had enough information to make choices. If more people had known what I think more people in the know were aware of, given the opportunity, I think more people would’ve left the city of Houston. Not millions of people. But I do think that many people would’ve made the decision to leave the city of Houston if they could.
Now, a lot of the people we’re seeing getting rescued—a lot of the poor people in Houston, the elderly—these are simply people who had no options. Particularly with the elderly people in Houston. They can’t climb in an attic. They can’t climb on a roof. They’re left to their own defenses, and they have none, that’s why they’re in nursing homes. It’s a situation where the people we tend to forget about in society are the primary victims when these types of natural disasters happen. No one’s asking where the homeless people went.
Do you think there was, in any way, a deliberate effort in Washington to downplay the magnitude of this storm to absolve the White House from having to make concerted precautionary efforts?
No. Look, do we have all the department heads that we need? No. But are organizations like FEMA prepared for something like this? Yeah. No one knew this would be this bad. This is going to surpass the projections that people had. It was a one-in-100-years type of storm, now we’re looking at a one-in-800 or a one-in-900-years type of storm. The probability of knowing and being able to predict the severity of this—not just in the lower lying places, but in the major metropolitan city of over six million people like Houston—it’s really hard to say if anyone or anything could’ve prepared this city for something like this. And again, it’s still raining. We’re not talking about this in the past. We’re talking about this still in the present and future tense, because it’s still raining.
And there’s rain projected to fall well into this week, so we’re talking about non-stop, mid-storm rescue missions.
It’s a 24-hour thing now. Right now we can’t… We need boats, right? We need shallow water boats that can get into these communities and get people out. There are hundreds of families right now as we’re talking, stuck in the attics of their homes and on the roofs of their houses and on the top floors of their buildings right now. They’re stuck right now. Phones are dead. Finally the sun is up, so they can get on the roof and get out somewhere and start waving to make people aware. But it’s all about if somebody’s got a boat in your neighborhood. All the money in the world can’t help these people. We need boats. It’s insane what’s happening. This is the fourth-largest city in America, you know? And I’m not saying that it’s the government’s fault or anybody’s fault. This is mother nature. And like I said, maybe there are things that people could’ve done different, maybe it’s human error, we’ll be able to argue that later. Right now we need boats, and we need prayer.
You mentioned money not being one of the primary resources that the region needs right now. What are your thoughts on Kevin Hart’s pledge?
I’m not saying that we don’t need money. It’s going to take a lot of money to rebuild the city of Houston. I’m putting together things right now to organize ways to raise money on a massive scale, not on a smaller scale, on as large a scale as we can possibly do. And money is going to be needed, but I’m saying right now, people stuck in an attic, they don’t need money right now. They need someone with a boat to come save their lives. I’m talking right now, real time, what people need.
Our biggest problem is that Houston is going to be rebuilding this city, rebuilding these highways and these roads that are caving in due to the water. We have sinkholes popping up all over the city. We’re going to have highway damage with this. Not to mention all the homes for people. We’re going to have to figure out how to house tens of thousands of people now that had homes yesterday. It’s going to take massive amounts of money to fix the situation, but today, right now at 11:02 a.m. CST, we need shallow water boats and kayaks and anything that floats, to go and get people out of their homes. We need huge dump trucks, we need to get people out of those neighborhoods into shelters. Get people safe. Because we still have three more days, at least, to hunker down. At least three or four more days.
And you’re in Dallas right now?
Yeah, my power went out Friday night. I made a conscious decision to get out. We got out onto the highway with torrential rain for four hours. A lot of the smaller cities on the outside of Houston, the highways were already starting to gather water. It tells me that if I didn’t make the decision when I did and tried to do it a few hours later, I wasn’t going to be able to do it. And the next day wherever you were, that’s where you are.
What emotional impact does this have on you personally, living in Houston and feeling helpless as you see this unfold?
Every other time that our city’s been in a point of distress, I’ve been able to do something, like actual feet on the ground, hands in action. I’ve been able to do something. But I don’t own a boat. You know what I’m saying? I have people calling me from all over the country, all over the world, wanting to send things. First, it can’t get to us right now. Unless you have a boat, anything that you want to send, I can’t even realistically get to people. So I’m just having people pool resources in their collective areas and wait until the water goes down, so we can have these locations that we can bring these things to. If they have a vehicle that they think can get into the city, then I’m telling people to get what they can and bring it to George R. Brown [Convention Center]. But we’re telling people that it makes no sense to put anything on a plane—nothing’s flying here. Gather what you can, pool what you can. Figure out how you’re going to ship it—look at that, military planes right now taking off—and await further instruction.
We’re going to have to get [to] different places. My church on the Southwest side of Houston is what I’m going to be using as a collection and distribution point, but there are probably 40 different shelters I’ve seen in Houston and surrounding areas. These are high schools and churches. They can’t keep these people there forever. We’ve got to figure out where and how to find tens of thousands of people somewhere to live. That takes years. That’s when we’ll have to see our government step up.
But right now we need to save lives. We can’t get caught up in who’s to blame or any of that. We’ll have plenty of time to do that when this is over. But right now, we need to save lives. That’s the goal, that’s the game plan right there. Let’s save as many lives as we can. Let’s get people to safety because it’s still raining. When it stops raining and the sun comes back out, then we have those issues to talk about. What do we do with all these displaced people? How long does it take people to rebuild their homes? Those are the long-term questions that [Trump] will have to answer, and that’s when we’re going to need our government to step up.