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Houston-to-Las Vegas transplant worries for flood-ravaged kin

After Hurricane Harvey made landfall Friday night, Sherri Johnson couldn’t sleep. She stayed up all night, shaking.

She had left Houston for Las Vegas in June, but most of her family was still there, reeling from the wrath of the storm.

She called her cousin, Michael Swain.

“How was it?” she asked.

“You don’t want to know,” he said.

“How is your house?”

“I lost everything.”

Johnson’s son, Aaron Willis, spent more than 14 hours stranded in a parking garage, without food or a restroom. Her younger sister, Tabatha Cruise, is stuck on her apartment building’s second floor. Water crept to the bottom two steps outside her unit. Her car and her husband’s car have disappeared under the rushing flood.

Her friend’s refrigerator, her mattress, her bed — they were all floating. Johnson, 57, didn’t sleep for two days. She wondered about her family still living in Houston. She has yet to reach them all.

“They say it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re living,” she said. “You can’t replace your life.”

The natural disaster brought flashbacks of Hurricane Rita in 2005, when the ceiling came crashing down on Johnson’s father as he sat in his wheelchair. He was lucky; not a piece of sheet rock hit him.

In the aftermath, the family struggled. They had to find a new place to live and also struggled to find basics, like food and water.

“I made it my business to make sure we were prepared next time,” she said. “Nobody was prepared for this.”

In 2005, it took three weeks to get the family back on its feet. Through all the hurricanes she experienced while living in Houston, Johnson said, she had to start over three times.

“This one, though, it takes the cake,” she said. “It goes on and on. And the nightmare and the flooding and the casualties. It’s emotional.”

Her son, who was eventually taken in a rescue boat to shelter, is staying at Houston’s Crowne Plaza Hotel with his wife. Some of her family, cousins who came to Las Vegas to watch the fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor, have been stuck and unable to get a return flight to Houston.

Johnson is disabled and unable to work, so she said she’ll give what she can, perhaps food, water, beds and other necessities.

She tells her family in Houston: “‘Have courage, thank God you’re still alive.’”

And about her city, a place she will always call home, she says: “Houston is really coming together.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

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