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For Chargers with ties to hurricane-ravaged Houston, it’s a stressful time worrying about loved ones

Offensive lineman Russell Okung agreed to a four-year deal with the Chargers worth $50 million this offseason.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The Buffalo Bayou that Russell Okung and his fellow Houstonians know is a place designed for people to enjoy the beauty of their city while taking advantage of the outdoors. A calm, meandering river that flows through the city, it is designed to be a great place to go for a run, walk a dog and be with neighbors.

Beneath the city’s skyline, it makes for a beautiful picture.

But after days of pounding rainfall, the Bayou is the symbol that resonates most strongly with Okung. The tops of the trees that lined its walking path now look like green islands in a murky lake.

“There are people whose houses are completely gone and who have passed away,” said Okung, who was born in Houston. “Relative to them, my family is fine.”

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For Chargers with ties to Houston, which has been pummeled by Hurricane Harvey, it’s a stressful time with thoughts split between their jobs in Los Angeles and their friends and family suffering through a natural disaster.

The stakes, defensive tackle Damion Square said, are incredibly high for people such as his grandparents and brothers who are all in Harvey’s sights. His mother, luckily, left the city for California by coincidence just prior to the storm.

“It’s pretty bad. But everyone is safe,” Square said. “No one is drowning, which is a good thing. A few things are under water for a few of my family members, but those things are replaceable. But at this point, you’re just worried about life. Everyone is living.”

Square and Okung aren’t strangers to floods in their city. They list names such as Allison and Rita and Katrina and remember how those storms impacted their lives — the long power outages or the nine hours spent stuck on one of Houston’s jammed highways trying to find higher, safer ground.

…I couldn’t believe how much water was in the city.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn

An overhead view of the flooding in Houston, from Buffalo Bayou on Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway on Aug. 28.
(Karen Warren / Associated Press)

The familiarity doesn’t make it easier.

“It’s very difficult,” Okung said. “As a football player being up here away from it, obviously it’s hard seeing them go through what they’re going through with the flooding in Houston. But I’m fortunate that my family is all right. If anything, they just have to stay inside with the flooding coming up to the doors.”

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Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who is from the Dallas area, said he was oblivious to the problems in his state, a testament to the insularity of coaches during the preseason. But after turning on his TV Sunday night, he was stunned.

“I had no idea how bad things were in South Texas,” he said. “I’m from Texas. I just want to say to the people back home, ‘My thoughts and prayers go out to you. I know it’s tough right now, but we’ll make it like we always do.’ ...

“I couldn’t believe how much water was in the city.”

Chargers fullback Derek Watt’s brother, J.J., is a star defensive end for the Houston Texans and, in this crisis, a leading fundraiser for relief efforts. He had raised more than $800,000 in just over a day and probably will easily hit his goal of $1 million in donations.

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“It’s pretty special what he’s trying to do,” Derek Watt said. “Obviously, your heart goes out to and you pray for everyone affected by it. It’s just pretty terrifying to see some of the pictures and the videos of how high the water was getting, that people are trapped and feeling helpless. “

Thursday’s game between the Texans and the Cowboys has been moved from Houston to Dallas, the NFL announced Monday. The Texans and the NFL have teamed up for a $2 million donation to the United Way Relief Fund.

Okung, who said he’s supporting family, friends and neighbors by donating to rescue efforts, hoped that the latest adversity facing his hometown would lead to positive changes for future residents.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “But I hope what comes out of this is I think we need to rethink how our cities are being built. …How can we protect against these natural disasters going on? Climate change — how can we prepare for these things? It’s time we really rethink how these cities are built and how we can protect the people living in them.”

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Etc.

Lynn confirmed that all but one starter from the Chargers’ third preseason game, middle linebacker Korey Toomer, would sit out the preseason finale Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers. Lynn said that Toomer and Nick Dzubnar need to get more snaps before a decision can be made as to who will take over for injured Denzel Perryman. … Cardale Jones probably will likely start at quarterback with Kellen Clemens probably getting the night off, Lynn said. … Wide receiver Isaiah Burse, who is competing for a spot on the team as a returner, is in the concussion protocol and will sit out the preseason finale. ...First-round pick Mike Williams is sprinting at full speed and has begun change-of-direction movements, but the team is still being cautious with his lower back injury. … Second-round pick Forrest Lamp underwent successful surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee.

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports


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