DISPLACED AGAIN. Viet Dao walks through debris in the foyer
of his home in Spring, Texas. As Hurricane Harvey’s flood water
rose quickly above cabinets, counters, and toward the ceiling,
he scrambled to figure out how he would save his young children,
wife, and in-laws if the water would not stop. (AP Photo/David
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #18 (September 18,
2017), pages 8 & 9.
No strangers to displacement, Vietnamese
recover from Harvey
By Janie Har and Gregory Bull
The Associated Press
HOUSTON — As Hurricane Harvey’s floodwater rose quickly above
cabinets, counters, and toward the ceiling, Viet Dao scrambled
to figure out how he would save his young children, wife, and
in-laws if the water wouldn’t stop. What if he couldn’t rescue
"It hits you right there: We have nowhere to escape," Dao,
48, said by phone. "If it was just me, it’s OK, I can survive.
But I just don’t know how can I help my children and family get
out. It’s really frustrating."
Decades ago, it was Dao’s parents who were trying to get him
out of harm’s way by sending him away from Vietnam on a crowded
fishing boat when he was 18 years old so he could make a better
life for himself in America. The two situations are
incomparable, but Dao says he now better understands the
desperation of wanting to protect family.
Some of the more than 110,000 Vietnamese in the Houston area
are among the tens of thousands of people whose homes were
damaged or destroyed by Harvey. They share a common heritage in
the United States that stems from leaving a homeland and
Houston, an official resettlement site for refugees after the
Vietnam War, is home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese
Americans outside of California. The population includes recent
newcomers whose limited English is dotted with "ma’am," and
those who came decades ago after a city then called Saigon fell
to the North Vietnamese in 1975.
Like the rest of the region, they have been shovelling debris
from ruined homes, mopping up wet floors, and pitching in
however they can to help with recovery efforts from the
devastating storm that killed more than 70 people after landing
on the Gulf Coast of Texas on August 25 as a Category 4
The Lien Hoa Buddhist temple in Houston bustled with dozens
of upbeat adults and teenagers who unloaded crates of bottled
water and filled a table with plastic supply bags to send to
needy families. The teens cracked jokes. The elders finished
lunch. Everyone worked.
People came by to pick up donated cleaning supplies and to
seek help from English-speaking volunteers, said manager Lang
Bui. Chau Ho, for example, was helping 48-year-old Lisa Nguyen
file for unemployment after her nail shop in the town of Refugio
flooded and lost electricity.
"She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what she’ll do," said Ho,
35, of Houston.
A popular local chain of restaurants, Kim Son, reopened its
downtown location after minor damage, offering free buffet meals
to first responders. It delivered egg rolls, crab puffs, and
broccoli chicken to hundreds of evacuees and police off-site.
The restaurant, which serves Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine,
was founded by a couple who landed in Houston with seven
children in 1980. Among them was Tina La, now 43, who says she
is proud to give back to the city that took in her family.
"I’ve been here all my life and if it weren’t for any of
these people we wouldn’t be where we are," she said.
Experts say the numbers of Vietnamese ramped up in the
Houston area after early refugees gained U.S. citizenship and
sponsored family members to live in America. They opened
restaurants and other businesses catering to the community. By
2000, they numbered about 60,000 in the area.
Today, growing numbers of South Asians and Chinese are moving
to Houston for jobs in mathematics and science, but Vietnamese
remains the third most-spoken language in Texas, said state
demographer Lloyd Potter. It is a far distant third after
English and Spanish.
Jannette Diep is executive director of Houston’s chapter of
Boat People SOS, an organization founded in the 1980s to rescue
refugees escaping Vietnam. A refugee herself, she fled the
country by boat when she was six years old, with her parents and
two baby brothers.
Diep has been keeping track of Vietnamese-American fishermen
outside Houston and helping elderly and non-English speaking
victims fill out forms for aid in the aftermath of Harvey. She
says it took years for families along the coast to rebuild after
2008’s Hurricane Ike wiped out shrimping and fishing boats along
the Gulf Coast.
"There is this history of having to leave your home from
disaster, from place to place," she said.
She was still in spotty communication with about 200
Vietnamese-American families in nearby Port Arthur, an area 90
miles east of Houston hit hard by flash floods. She said
families in nearby Anahuac did not sustain much damage to homes,
but lost netting and fishing traps to water.
Dao, the homeowner in the Houston suburb of Spring, said his
family owned a jewelry store in Saigon before 1975. He fled his
country in a fishing boat with more than a dozen others, ending
up in a refugee camp in Thailand, where he stayed for nearly a
year. From there, he eventually moved to Wisconsin, then San
Diego, before settling in Houston.
He married his childhood friend’s sister, Christine Truong,
with whom he has two children, a six-year-old boy and
12-year-old girl. He opened a deli and they bought their dream
The family survived Harvey, camping out upstairs with a mini
refrigerator for several nights. But the house that Truong calls
the best she’s ever lived in is soggy and soiled. Like many
people, they do not have flood insurance.
Dao dreaded bringing the children home, but said they had no
"We break down from time to time, of course, but we try not
to let them see it," he said, "because if we give up, how are we
going to rebuild what we have?"
Har reported from San Francisco. AP data journalist Angeliki
Kastanis contributed to this report.