LINCOLN, Neb. — As he watched furniture float, No. 4’s heart sank.
“Seeing that for the first time, it was like, ‘Whoa, this is different,’” former Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. told Land of 10 Monday as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to pound southeastern Texas, more than 48 hours after it made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. “It’s something you can’t explain to an 11- or 12-year-old kid, [that] ‘This is bad.’ It rains all the time in the South.
“But you understand when you see trees and things like that down. That gets a little difficult to handle. All of a sudden, 3-4 inches of rain turns into 3-4 feet of rain.”
Before he became the Cornhuskers’ all-time leading passer, Armstrong was a 12-year-old fleeing Gulfport, Miss., chased to his father’s home in Texas by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Which made the images splashed across television and social media the last few days all the more painful. And familiar:
— AccuWeather (@breakingweather) August 28, 2017
— Stephen Paulsen (@stephentpaulsen) August 28, 2017
Houston TV station forced to evacuate as Harvey waters flood the newsroom https://t.co/HMCrOt1WVs
— @i__Global (@i__Global) August 28, 2017
“It’s scary, I guess, looking at other families going through that,” said the former Huskers signal-caller-turned-NFL-hopeful-safety, who’s been working out in Lincoln this summer since being waived by the Minnesota Vikings in mid-June.
“I’ve been through it once in my life … I know how that is, to lose a lot of your life’s works. It sucks, seeing it in TV. It’s something that you really can’t think of, unless you’ve experienced it, just how devastating it is.”
A dozen summers ago, Katrina severely damaged the home of Armstrong’s mother, Nadine, so the young Armstrong moved to the Lone Star State to live with his father. The former Nebraska quarterback moved back to Mississippi for two years after the cleanup but returned to his father’s home in order to play prep football in Cibolo, Texas. During his final two seasons at Steele High School, Armstrong accounted for 72 touchdowns and was rated by 247Sports as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2012.
“I was the only [sibling] in school,” Armstrong recalled. “I didn’t want to put too much stress on my mom. She had to build from the ground up, and get the house repaired and get new furniture and pay for all this stuff.”
In 2005, one of Nadine’s brothers lost everything in the storm. This time around, Armstrong’s family — he’s got a brother in Dallas — hasn’t been affected, but friends, and relatives of friends, have.
‘All your belongings — they’re not worried about that right now. They’re just trying to get to safety.’
— Former Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong, Jr., whose family was impacted by Hurricane Katrina, on the storms in Houston
Former teammates David Santos, Givens Price and Josh Kalu, the last of whom is slated to start at safety for the Big Red in its season opener Saturday against Arkansas State, hail from greater Houston.
“It’s a sensitive topic with these guys — they’ve got family down there,” Armstrong said. “But I think that they’ve got their heads up and their families are doing well. It’s tough having guys that live here that grew up there and were [raised] there, so they have more family members there.”
Katrina reportedly caused an estimated $108 billion in damage. Harvey could wind up costing between $30 billion and $100 billion. And leave more 12-year-olds with scars from the power of Mother Nature’s devastation.
“[I’d tell those kids to] Listen to your parents. Stay calm,” Armstrong said. “It’s the only thing you can do in that situation, is just try to get to safety. You can’t really prepare for something like that. You can be having a wonderful day and all of a sudden, they tell you to seek shelter and you’ve only got three or four days to prepare for that.
“It was more about your safety than what you own. All your belongings — they’re not worried about that right now. They’re just trying to get to safety. The main thing that they’re looking [to do is] get everybody out. It sucks, but I understand exactly what those families are going through.”