The Sun Came Out in Houston. Here’s What Residents Saw.

HOUSTON — The water has receded in some parts of the city, leaving cakes of mud, branches and garbage baking in the heat wherever the current dropped them. Abandoned cars, too, appear every so often, left where they were in the moment the storm overtook them.

The downtown streets are dry now, but the gleaming office towers are mostly empty and the wide sidewalks oddly quiet. Some streetlights flash red. Along neighborhood streets, long strips of businesses sit shuttered, darkened and with stools atop tables and handwritten signs promising to reopen soon.

On one dry block, a jogger ran by in the steamy Houston heat, as neighbors collected debris that had grown tangled in their lawns. Not far away, barricades marked off a street where darkened houses and cars suddenly vanished into a murky brown soup that showed no sign of retreat. In the silence, a shredded tree bobbed in the water near the tops of submerged cars.

Such were the scenes of Houston on Wednesday, as the sun appeared at last — the first sign of blue sky in nearly a week — and as some in the city began to come out of their homes to see what was left. The images were a study in contrast in this vast city: of neighborhoods moving on and of others doing anything but that.

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Zoe Paddon-Jones, 6, romped at a playground in Houston on Wednesday as people tried to return to some semblance of routine. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

“It’s a re-emerging city,” said Kim Wisner, 60, who walked two dogs through downtown, where a growing number of delivery trucks and utility workers were making their way through vacant streets. “You can see for the first time today, people getting back to their lives, everything starting up again. But it’s a reminder that not everyone gets to move on.”

Outside downtown hotels where some residents had gone after fleeing their homes, people carrying plastic bags — of clothing, stuffed animals and electronic devices — waited for cabs to take them home. A bicyclist rode along in full training gear. People walked dogs.

Around the city, some shops reopened with small crews — with whatever employees could get to work. People searched for gas stations that were reopening, some carrying plastic containers to take gas back to cars that had run out in distant spots. In one neighborhood, a giant stream of cars encircled a Chick-fil-A that had enough workers and food to open the drive-through. Children, many of them kept inside since Thursday, climbed over mud puddles to return to Donovan Park, a playground that was packed by midday.

Sylvester Turner, the mayor, said he was pressing for Houston to return to normal as quickly as possible. Trash is piling up; it has not been picked up since the storm. And business has also come to a standstill. City Hall and an annex were closed on Wednesday, but for a crowd of utility workers trying to repair submerged electrical circuitry and pump out water.

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Houstonians took advantage of a clear afternoon at Memorial Park on Wednesday. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

“The sooner we get back into our routine, the better,” Mr. Turner said. “As soon as possible, let’s get going.”

For moments, along highways in Houston, it can seem as though the storm never happened. Cars are zipping along, no water anywhere. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a pool of brown water will fill an exit ramp or a road below, flashing lights ushering drivers away. Along some neighborhood streets, cars will follow one another in a long line — only to reach another blocked street and flooded subdivision that forces the whole line of cars to turn around and keep searching for a way through.

“That’s the strangest part of it,” said Anna Rodriguez, 47, who was assisting her pizza company, MOD, in reopening a store in the Sawyer Heights neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon as people waited outside for lunch. “You can barely have had water in the driveway, and you almost can’t remember that there was a storm, and then across the street you’ve got people losing their homes.”

Along some stretches of the city, stores remain closed. Parking lots are submerged. Power is out. Wooden planks are still perched along the fronts of tall glass windows. Mud and branches are plastered to the sides of buildings.

“If you’re near a reservoir, and the water is still going up, getting back to normal is impossible to even think about,” said Melody Crain, 41. “I don’t know how long it’s going to be. Maybe months.”

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Source: New York Times

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