Auburn native Jaime Russell left her Houston apartment Aug. 24 and went to work at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital as Hurricane Harvey was still gaining steam off the Gulf Coast.

She hasn’t been home since. 

After the hurricane made landfall, it stalled over the weekend and has since dumped more than 40 inches of rain in areas surrounding Houston, causing unprecedented flooding. Over the past five days, Russell, a nurse at the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, has been working around the clock with patchwork staffing. 

She said Tuesday that she and other co-workers have logged 18-hour shifts and slept on cots. Many haven’t been able to make it to work because their homes and cars have been flooded. A shift that normally has 55 nurses had about 14.

“It’s a tremendous amount of stress,” she said. “We’re hoping that the worst is over.” 

Russell, 26, lives in an apartment near the Buffalo Bayou, a major waterway passing through Houston. She said she’s been in touch with a neighbor who told her the building is still dry. However, she lives on the first floor, and the nearby reservoir releases make her nervous, she said. 

“I had no familiarity with that, coming from Maine,” she said. “We don’t have natural disasters like this.” 

Russell graduated from Edward Little High School in 2009, and from the University of Maine in 2013. She worked at Eastern Maine Medical Center for a short time before moving to Houston two and a half years ago. Her entire family is still in Maine and she said they’re “worried sick” about her. She’s been keeping in regular contact. 

Even if she wanted to go home to her apartment, she couldn’t. The hospital is requiring staff to remain on the premises for now, but even if she could leave she’d have to figure out which roads are passable by car. Much of the city was underwater, and more flooding was expected as the nearby reservoirs were spilling over. The Army Corps of Engineers was triggering releases of water into the Buffalo Bayou. 

She said no one expected how “quickly and dramatically” the rain would accumulate. 

According to the National Weather Service office in Houston, Saturday and Sunday saw the all-time largest consecutive daily rainfall accumulations, measured at 14.4 inches and 16.08 inches, respectively. 

On Sunday morning, after sleeping for about six hours, Russell said, she was awoken at 4:30 a.m., notified about the extent of the flooding told to “start taking assignments.”

She said her priority has remained the babies in the NICU: Women don’t stop going into labor when there’s a flood, and unfortunately some have complications. Many families have struggled to make it to the hospital, and some Houston hospitals have been flooded. 

Russell said she received a call Monday from a relative of twin infants who are in the NICU. She was calling the hospital to check in while attempting to travel among safe areas of the city.

“I just told her, ‘I’ll take care of your twins; just stay safe,'” Russell said. “It’s a nightmare.” 

On Tuesday, Russell said the rain was still coming but had slowed. “People are coming out of the woodwork” to help, using boats to bring people to the hospital. The National Guard had been landing on the hospital roof, she said. 

At one point, she went out on the parking garage to try to catch a glimpse of the damage. All of the roads to and from the parking garage were flooded and debris was flowing down the roads like a slow-moving river. 

She feels the most for her co-workers and friends who have lost much during the storm but have still worked and taken time to help others. 

“Everyone’s positive and trying to help in any way they can,” she said. “It feels really good to be surrounded by people with such morale. They’ve lost homes, multiple cars, and they still got here as soon as they could.”

She and other co-workers who have been working five days straight are hoping the subsiding rains will allow them to go home soon, maybe by the middle or end of the week. But, while rains had slowed, many reports said water was still rising. 

“It’s a humbling, awful experience,” Russell said. 

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Jaime Russell, an Auburn native living in Houston, Texas, has been working around the clock at a children’s hospital in Houston ever since Hurricane Harvey made landfall late last week. 

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