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Houston native Zina Garrison describes emotion over Harvey's devastation

NEW YORK -- Zina Garrison had just enough clothes to get by and her beloved Peekapoo pup, Sochi, in her arms as she decided to leave her Houston home with Hurricane Harvey approaching last Thursday.

Not knowing if she'd see her home in the same condition again, the former tennis star told herself to run back into her house.

"I'm trying not to cry thinking about it," an emotional Garrison told ESPN on Wednesday during a phone interview. "For some reason, [something] told me to grab my medals, my [1988 Olympic women's doubles] gold medal [and 1988 bronze singles medal]. I grabbed them and thought about things that I could like stuff I had on my computer. And Maya Angelou and John Biggers did a book and I knew that both were dead and I would never be able to get them back. Something told me to go back and get them."

Garrison -- who became the first African-American woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson when she made the Wimbledon final in 1990 -- has not been able to return to her Riverstone, Texas house because of the historic flooding in Houston. Garrison, 53, is currently safe as she stays with her sister, Judy, in a Houston suburb. But she says she saw her subdivision under water on television.

She has spent the last four days frantically trying to get one of her nephews a much-needed dialysis treatment while trying to see if another nephew, who is a first responder, is safe, while also checking on the 200-plus kids who attend her Zina Garrison Academy. She only has been able to reach a handful of her academy students as so many Houston residents are without power and displaced from their homes.

"Emotionally it is very draining and very tough," Garrison said, pausing and her voice choking numerous times during the interview. "For one thing, you are sitting there and you are watching and worried about people and where they are and you are worried about people coming out. One thing I have always loved about the city of Houston is that we are the city that cares. You see people helping. It doesn't matter what race, what economical base, people just started helping people.

"Emotionally, it makes you so ... I have a nervous stomach. I have been throwing up. My nerves are on edge. On the other end of it, I have a nephew that has to get dialysis. The last four days have just been trying to get him dialysis and it has been absolutely crazy. Today, I ended up at George R. Brown [convention center] at 6:30 in the morning trying to get dialysis. He ended up in a hospital and then a shelter and then taken to Waco."

A sheriff's official north of Houston says two men died this week in separate drownings, bringing the number of confirmed Harvey-related deaths to 20.

Garrison says her sister started to take her nephew, Terrence Kelly, to the hospital for dialysis only to be stranded in deep water. Kelly finally got a dialysis treatment on Wednesday.

"They got stuck in water," Garrison said of her sister's first attempt to take Kelly to receive dialysis. "A person told them if they went a little bit farther they would have been in a lake. They had to be rescued. They get to the hospital, they have no one there to do dialysis. They ship him somewhere else. They take my nephew and four other patients to somewhere in Houston and my sister is in Palestine [Texas], and she won't get back for two or three days."

Venus Williams has reached out to Garrison, vowing to help in any way.

"Venus has already texted me and wants to do something more," Garrison said. "When Hurricane Katrina hit, [Williams] came down to my hometown and went to the Astrodome and talked to patients and elderly people. I told Venus, can you imagine, it is worse than that now [in Houston].

"It is like no other. It is worse than what you guys see on TV for sure. I just really thank our Mayor and police department and fire department and all of our first responders. I have a nephew who is a first responder. And we are worried about him. And it is just ... whew."

Garrison isn't the only person from the tennis world impacted by the storm. Tecnifibre, a tennis company known for its multi-filament strings and sponsors players like Donald Young, has a distribution center in Houston.

"Fortunately for us, no one was really in harm's way," said Dave Dorsey, Tecnifibre's U.S. national sales manager. "Nobody was trapped at the warehouse. We are very elated that people got out of there when the flooding started." The company hopes to resume shipping products again either late this week or early next week.

Garrison, a two-time singles semifinalist at the US Open in 1988 and 1989, tried putting all of her precious tennis trophies and memories as high as she could on shelves in her home before leaving.

But she knows much of her family is safe. She has her "Peekapoo diva" Sochi by her side and her gold and bronze Olympic medals. Garrison wants to visit some shelters in Houston and conduct tennis clinics for children, if for nothing else, to distract them for a few hours from this historic disaster.

"It is going to take us a while to come out of this one but I know this is a great city and great state and we will somehow come out of this," Garrison said. "I am worried about my kids in ZGA ... I was just here texting one of the government officials and asking her if I can come down and do some little tennis things for the kids because they still want to have fun and they don't know what is going on. Hopefully they will let me go into some of the shelters and just let kids be kids because this is devastating. If we are feeling like this just imagine how they are feeling.

"Please tell people that they have no idea how bad it is [here] and please help in any way that they can in their charities and keep praying for us," Garrison continued. "Venus' exact words were she already gave some money and she said there's more to come. I said, thank you. We need it."