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1 family has survived 5 generations of Houston storms: Mine

By Associated Press
Published: 08:29 EST, 5 November 2017 | Updated: 08:34 EST, 5 November 2017



By Associated Press

Published: 08:29 EST, 5 November 2017 | Updated: 08:34 EST, 5 November 2017

HOUSTON (AP) – I returned to the city of my birth a few weeks ago, to a place that had drowned after a monster storm brought more than a year's worth of rain and sent its bayous and reservoirs overflowing. Hurricane Harvey had long left Houston, but its legacy lived on – in the ashy floors of Aunt Christine's home and the mold of Cousin Esther's house and the buckets that still sat scattered across the living room at Mom and Dad's to catch leaks.

I drove through neighborhoods with mountains of wrecked furniture and ripped-out walls tossed on front lawns. Boxes brimmed with soiled books and soggy clothes, Christmas decorations gone to ruin and soused childhood Power Rangers toys.

For five generations, my family has survived the worst of Mother Nature in a city that's seen more than its share of bad storms. But when the waters recede, despite the devastation left behind, they've always picked up and found a way to start again – because this has been home for 100 years and no hurricane or flood will drive them out.

My mother, Amelia Contreras, is 64 now, but she still remembers what her aunt used to tell her about the many storms that have pounded Houston throughout history. They are God's way of saying, "People need to get together. They need to be loving to each other," and to remind us that, "In one minute He can take it all away."

Storms like Harvey brought us to Houston in the first place.

In 1900, a massive hurricane killed more than 6,000 people on nearby Galveston Island. Months later, my 16-year-old great-grandfather, Florencio Contreras, arrived from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to Houston after planners concluded the city was a more viable deep-water port option. New jobs were plentiful, and so he settled here.

But Florencio could only live in black or Mexican immigrant neighborhoods close to Buffalo Bayou; the laws of segregation dictated it. On the banks of that swampy bayou sat his blacksmith shop where he made tools and horseshoes before treading home. The rains came often, and nearby streets flooded routinely, but Florencio knew he'd have to make peace with the storms if he wanted to stay and succeed.

He stayed even after Buffalo Bayou took one of his sons, Joe, who was just 13 when he jumped in after a storm, slammed his head on something and drowned. He stayed after the great flood of 1935, which annihilated many of the homes in the neighborhood but not his.

My late uncle Ernest Eguia, my grandmother's brother, remembered being trapped for days in the 1935 flood. "Furniture, clothes and items were fished out of the bayou by people," he'd later write in an 11-page memoir he gave me. Eguia wouldn't see such desperation until his World War II U.S. Army battalion liberated the Nordhausen Concentration Camp in Germany, he'd say.

As the family grew, we'd have no choice but to move into houses damaged by that flood. Roland Contreras, Florencio's grandson and my cousin, remembers friends coming over and asking why his house leaned to one side. "It was real embarrassing."

Hurricane Carla struck in 1961, blowing out windows and turning over cars in family driveways. My mother and her family prepared by storing water in trash bags and cooking for 12. When the flood came, their home sat safely on stilts. Yet the waters held them hostage for days.

By the time I came into this world in 1974, Houston had grown into a major metropolitan city. Buffalo Bayou didn't hold the same wrath. We drove over the bayou on a bridge in the comfort of a Chevy Maverick. During thunderstorms, when the water from the bayou rose, my mom assured me we'd have time to run from it.

Our house in the suburbs stood next to another waterway: Greens Bayou. As the deadly Hurricane Alicia approached in 1983 when I was 9, we opted to hunker down in the home of my "Lita," my grandmother on Mom's side, in the house on stilts downtown. It had survived floods since 1935 and undoubtedly would keep us safe. The winds came as I was tucked into bed. I could hear tree branches lashing the roof and windows. Through the shades, I saw the sparks from electrical wires waving in the tempest as the lights went out.

When the winds stopped, we returned to our house, undamaged save for a fence in need of repair.

Years later, when I was a graduate creative writing student at Columbia University, my parents came to visit me in New York in the summer of 2001. During a nighttime stroll in Times Square, we looked up at the giant TV screen and were shocked to see a shot of my parents' neighborhood – under water thanks to Tropical Storm Allison. My mom remembers thinking, "We might not have a home when we get back," but as she so often does, she put her faith in God, told herself "there's a reason this is happening," and they returned to find their home had once again escaped damage.

This time, my relatives were not so lucky.

When Harvey came, my aunt, Christine Contreras Kahan, and my Uncle Andy watched the scenes of destruction from the safety of their west Houston home. Then they got word: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would release water from an overfilled reservoir and their home would be flooded out. Aunt Christine raced to save the family photos and important documents. Then she went to her porch, opened a bottle of wine and just waited. Uncle Andy cleaned their pool. "What else was I going to do?" he said.

They stayed until volunteers in boats escorted them to dry land.

My cousin, Esther Gonzales, a single mom, lives near that same reservoir with her 11-year-old son, Stephen. She woke to find 3 feet of water in her home. The pair and their dog, Da Vinci, walked three miles in the flood to safety.

Two months later, their houses still are undergoing repairs, like so many of the homes on the Gulf Coast of Texas. My parents' home across the street from my old high school suffered only minor damage, though neighbors still wait for available contractors to fix waterlogged walls.

Given all the storms in all these years, I had to ask my mom one simple question: Why? Why stay and endure more and keep rebuilding and starting anew?

Her answer was just as simple. "Houston is our home," she said. "You don't run every time there's a problem. We deal with it, and you keep going."


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP's race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at

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Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative



In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.

The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.

But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.

So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?

‘Just paperwork’

Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.

Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.

The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.

Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.

Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.

Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.

Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.

It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.

“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”

But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.

Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.

But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.

It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.

Critics push for investigation

Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.

But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.

And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.

Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.

Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.

“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.

“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”

The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.

Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.

And she says the same transparency is needed here.

The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them

The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.

“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.

“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”

PM defends governor-general

Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.

“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”

Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.

“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.

“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”

A role fit for purpose?

Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.

She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.

“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”

Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.

“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.

“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”

But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.

“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”


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Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania



A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.

Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.

The other driver involved was not hurt.

Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.

The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.

“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.

“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”

Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.

Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.

Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.

Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.

In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.

Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.

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Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos



Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.

Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.

While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.

“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.

A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.

Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.

“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.

He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.

“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”

The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.

“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.

Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.

On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.

Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.

But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.

Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.

“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”

The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.

The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.

“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.


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