I don’t even know where to begin. I can already tell that this post is going to be all over the place. I’ve been writing it in my head for a week and a half now.
Man. What a crazy two weeks. The short version is that we’re ok, everyone is safe, the house is a bit beat up, but the important things (the people) are safe.
The long version started two weeks ago: Tuesday, Aug 22nd, we had heard rumblings about a storm in the Gulf, coming up from across the Yucatan Peninsula. It had crossed the Atlantic with little issue and wasn’t really anything anyone was concerned about. It was going to bring some rain, probably to the lower Texas coast, closer to Mexico. No one really thought anything of it. We went grocery shopping like normal, picking up our usual items, and stopped in the water isle, laughing to ourselves that we should pick up an extra case “because of the storm”.
Wednesday, we all went to work like normal, the storm had crossed land into the Gulf and looked like it was going to strengthen a little. Still wasn’t sounding any alarms in any hurricane centers, and was widely considered to be “just a tropical storm”. Those happen all the time, especially this time of year and in the Gulf. We went and got some extra supplies. Even though it was “no big deal”, Texans like to be prepared and lots of people started stocking up.
Thursday the 24th is started sounding a little more serious. At this point Meteorologists are saying the storm has changed course and is headed directly for Corpus Cristi. Weathermen here in Houston are saying we’ll be on the “dirty side” of the storm and to expect a long weekend of rain. We knew it was going to rain, that much was certain, I think the initial forecast was a couple inches, maybe upwards of a foot. When Houston gets that sort of rain a lot of the highways are shut down for the day, we have a little local street flooding, but nothing major. People were starting to pay attention and prepare, but no one was thinking evacuation. Rain is nothing new for Houston, and we know how to handle “normal” rain. Harvey became anything but normal.
Friday, the 25th, everything changes. The high/low pressure systems that were the steering currents completely disappeared. Harvey makes landfall along the southern Texas coast, right around Corpus. It strengthen overnight from a Tropical Storm/Cat 1 to a Category 4 hurricane. I think everyone was pretty surprised by that. The storm track models went from “strait north” to “we have no clue” and several showed the worst case scenario, a storm that was just doing loops over eastern Texas. That’s exactly what happened.
I should clarify again at this point that rain, especially tropic storm rain, is nothing new or unusual for Texas. We get 1-2 a year, it rains for a day and moves on. What Harvey did was completely unprecedented. It did 3 loops, restrengthen in the gulf, hit us a second time, and dumped literally historic amounts of rain. Anyway, Friday night is started raining. It rained, and rained, and rained.
It was raining so hard we couldn’t sleep. We were up all night checking weather reports. Houston stations were broadcasting 24/7 through the event. No one slept. We just watched.
Saturday morning came and we could barely tell. The sky was black, the rain was sheeting in blankets of white. Rain was coming down so hard “buckets” doesn’t begin to describe it. We found out later that we were dead center of the worst of it. Towns to the east and west of us got 25-30 inches. We got 49. 49 inches. Try and wrap your head around that for a minute. The local weatherman said Houston typically gets 50-55″ of rain A YEAR. We got 49″ in a weekend.
Towards Saturday afternoon we were starting to second guess our choice of shelter. Our home had never, since it was built in ’68, ever flooded. During a huge storm in 1979 it was high and dry. During Hurricane Alicia in 1983 the house was fine. During Hurricane Alison in 2001 it was fine. We picked what we thought was the highest, safest house. We had all our storm supplies there, all our water, our flashlights, our snacks. By Saturday night we could see water at the end of the street, and it was rising fast. You’d have to know the topography of our street, but the short version is that we’re on a hill, the road slopes downward, towards the creek, the houses at the end of the street are 15ft +/- lower than ours, and that behind those houses, there’s a 20ft bank down to the creek. The creek is also about 8ft deep during most normal rain storms, and can even dry down to 3-4ft in a dry spell. So, there’s quite a bit of height (we thought) between us and any water.
I was watching the flood gauge website (yes, that’s a thing) for the Harris County Flood Control District. A few years ago, at most major creeks and bridges, the county installed sensors to monitor the water level. Check this out…
You can see how the water in the creek, before it started raining on Friday, was about 4ft. By Saturday at lunchtime it was 23.5ft. “Flooding” level is 12ft. We were 12 more feet beyond that. What’s ironic/ridiculous/crazy is that I took that screenshot on Monday night WHEN THE SENSOR BROKE. I’ll get to that.
So, Sunday morning we wake up to 24ft of water in the neighborhood. That’s nuts. Just bonkers. No one has ever seen anything like this. The water is lapping at our front door. We freak out.
We spend Sunday morning putting things in the attic, in the tops of closets, any place we can find, because the water is STILL RISING. Harvey is far from done. The storm is in-land now, but spinning back out into the Gulf, sucking up more water and coming back for a second landfall, this time right on top of us.
By Sunday afternoon we were beside ourselves. Water was coming in the back door and the front door, surrounding us. The town sent out an emergency phone message saying “if you can, get to your roof” and informed everyone that the Blackhawk helicopter squadron from Ellington Airbase was running rescue ops and pulling people off roof tops. Not even kidding. The city sent that out.
At this point we decided we needed to go. We’ve got a kiddo, and an elderly grandfather with us, and while riding in a Blackhawk would have been cool, it probably would have killed grandpa.
That’s when the boat stopped by. I need to pause here and cry for a minute, because these guys probably saved our lives. This is literally the best example I could give of people helping people, neighbors helping neighbors. These guys came from Dallas. They drove, overnight, in the rain, to come to Houston and start pulling people out of flood waters. Regular guys, fisherman, people who just have a boat for fun, came to rescue people, and they weren’t the only ones. They had organized with the Cajun Navy, and they came by the hundreds.
I’m sorry, gotta stop, literally crying right now.
It might not look like it, but there’s a 7ft vertical difference between our door and our mailbox. What you’re looking at is at least 6ft of water. It rose from there. I took that photo about an hour before the boat came and got us.
They pulled us out and took us over to a gas station down the road, which was the last dry land for miles. There, we waited, along with hundreds of other people from our neighboorhood, including friends of ours from down the street. Our friends house is “down by the creek”, or, at least is was. There’s not a lot left of it now. They got about 8ft of water in their house, it was lapping at the ceiling in places.
From meeting up at the gas station, we decided we should stick together. They have two little girls the same age as ours and they play super well together so we kind of took them in. So, now the group of us (8 in total) are sitting there, shivers and wet, watching the water continue to rise.
After a couple hours, and numerous reports that the National Guard was coming (side note – they never made it in, the water was too high for their trucks!) we had an offer from a second boat to take us across the flooded creek to a shelter. We took them up on their offer and got ferried to the other side of town. There was, ironically, another gas station as a dry spot on the other side of the town and we were dropped off there.
Sunday night the local police department had dispatched some officers in DUMP TRUCKS to come get some of the people who were stranded. We got a dump truck ride (can cross that off the bucket list) to the shelter at the highschool. The volunteers there were warm and welcoming, we got PB&Js and blankets and the kids played while we tried to figure out our next move.
The shelter was a couple miles from my father-in-laws house, and so during a quick break in the rain we walked (in water mind you) to his house to check on it. In a minor miracle, his house was ok, and actually still had power. We walked back, collected our things (we only made it out with a couple backpacks), and made the trek to his house were we all passed out from exhaustion.
Monday morning we awoke to more rain. Hard, evil rain. Harvey was making it’s second push into land and this time was right on top of Houston. The wind was worse, the rain was harder (if that’s even possible), and I spent hours just staring at the flood gauge website. It had peaked at 23.5ft when we got out, and we had about an inch in the house. Monday’s rain pushed it even higher, probably another 6-8″. This is when the flood gauge broke. At 25ft it washed away and off of the bridge. We’ll never know how high it actually got, but my guess is 30ft. That’s just based on the 6″ in our house and the 24ft when we left.
At this point, there was nothing to do but sit, wait, and cry.
Tuesday was a loss. No one slept, or ate, or said much of anything to each other. The kids played together, which was good, they needed a little distraction. We applied for FEMA numbers and started insurance claims. The house, the cars (which were of course in our driveway), everything. Want to know the kicker?
We don’t have flood insurance.
Yeah. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but this isn’t a flood plain. Well, technically everything is a 500yr flood plain, but it’s not one of those “100 year flood plains” that requires flood insurance. Like I mentioned before, the house had never flooded. I’m guessing they’ll be redrawing the flood maps after this one.
So, all this home damage, all this property damage, it’s not covered. We’re screwed.
We also realize that there are people considerably less fortune than us. Yes, we lost furnature. Yes, we lost “stuff”. Yes, we lost carpet and flooring and drywall, but so what. We didn’t lose any lives. We didn’t lose anything that can’t be replaced. We, our family and our friends, are safe. Now we clean up, and rebuild.
So, that brings up to last Wednesday. We’ve been sitting and waiting and trying to figure out how we can get back to see the house. We can’t, the creeks and streams are still way to high to even try. Although the rain has stopped at this point, we’re still stuck.
Thursday we got out. We had to drive two towns over and zig-zag back on country roads to get around things, but we were able to get to the house. It was heartbreaking.
Water everywhere, anything that was touching the ground was ruined. Amazingly the appliances seemed ok. The washer and dryer looked like they were high enough, and we had to toss the food in the freezer and fridge, but they seemed ok as well. While the bed frames looked wet, the mattresses were spared by the slimmest of margins. Again, small miracles, and again, we fared better than folks who lost everything. So, I’m trying to keep all that in perspective as I’m looking at all this.
There’s wasn’t anything to do but to get to work. So, Thursday, I rolled up my sleeves and started pulling carpet. All day Thursday I worked at it. The friend who was staying with us came to help and together the two of us cleared every piece of carpet from the house.
We cut it into pieces, hauled them out, then moved furniture and cut more. Thursday sucked. Hot, stinky and itchy. Fun fact, wet carpet fibers really do a number on your skin. Rash city.
Thursday night I got a call from my friends from church, Jason and John. They were mobilizing a “crew” as they called it. The church itself was also putting together teams. They said they were coming Friday. Everyone kept asking what I needed, and I didn’t even know.
Friday they came en mass. Thirty guys, including our pastor, descended on the house. They brought crowbars, drywall saws, wrecking bars, fans, bleach, and someone even brought breakfast. The love and support kept pouring out. Towards lunchtime, one of the guys who couldn’t be there ordered a dozen pizzas for everyone. My friend Jack from work even came and was helping cut drywall. I was blown away.
People’s generosity and hard work and love were overwhelming. I broke down a number of times on Friday. I didn’t know what else to do.
By Friday night they had the house gutted down to the studs. All the drywall and insulation is out, 2ft and 4ft in places, throughout the house. The wood paneling in the living room (from 1968 – good riddance!) is gone, the flooring is gone, the carpet is gone. It was miraculous to watch. I don’t even have words for it.
Saturday I was spraying bleach and mold prevention solution but I knew I needed to do something else. I was a complete wreck emotionally and the house needed to dry out before I went any further. I wanted to give back a little, so we went to our friends house (the ones staying with us) and helped them get some things out, and then repeated that on Sunday. They lost so much it’s heartbreaking. I can only imagine that FEMA is going to simply write their house off. It’s a biological hazard at this point. They had put some things in the attic when the water started to rise, but everything in the house itself was lost.
Sunday night my buddy Kirk sent me a text and asked “Did anyone check out the garage, did it get any water?”
I hadn’t even looked. It’s been a week since the rain at this point.
It was worse than I thought. I think the garage must be geographically lower than the house, because it had a solid 8-10″ in it. Everything in the garage that was on the floor was ruined. It had sat in water for a week. There was more lost in the garage than the entire house combined. Sadly, the garage was where we were keeping just about everything as we had worked on the house over the years. Boxes and boxes of stuff, books, papers, things from college, older furniture, all trashed. Then the mold started to creep in.
If you get to it right away, and get carpet and drywall out, you can prevent mold. If you don’t, this happens…
So, Monday, a day that should have been a holiday for rest, became a demolition nightmare. Respirators were mandatory on this one. Again, our friends came to our rescue. Kirk organized another group and my brother came down as well. We emptied the garage (which was embarrassingly packed to the gills) and tore out all the sheetrock as well. Then we jumped on the mold problem and got some spray and remediation working on it as well. It’s still drying out even today.
With the house drying, and the garage drying, the past two days I’ve turned my attention to “stuff” and trying to save things. Anything that’s plastic and non-porous could possibly be saved if cleaned properly. I set up a three-stage cleaning station with some plastic bins in the backyard. First a tub of bleach water (10:1 ratio) with some of the good “outdoor” germicide bleach, then a soapy water rinse bucket with antibacterial soap, then a clean rinse bucket. After washing and scrubbing we set things out to dry on makeshift tables (sawhorses and plywood) in the backyard and let it all bake under the Texas sun.
So, that’s where we are now.
We’re pick up the pieces, dusting ourselves off, and are going to try and put this mess back together again. We lost a lot, I’m not going to lie, but it’s just stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Stuff is nice, but at the end of the day, it’s just not what’s important.
We’re safe. We’re ok, and we’ll get through this.
We’ve really been shown exactly what’s important. Friends, community, neighbors. People are what’s important. We’ve always known that, and helped others whenever we can, but to have the love returned in such force is breathtaking.
I’m blown away and deeply humbled by our friends. Everyone I know personally has reached out, and even some of you awesome folks who normally just stop by to read about baseball cards. You’re all awesome. Seriously, I mean that. If you said a prayer, wished and hoped for our safety, or reached out directly and offered shelter or supplies, I can’t thank you enough. People in the community have been ridiculously generous with their time, money and effort. We were supported by our church and our friends, but I saw other churches, police and fire departments, high-school sports teams and just random citizens banding together to help one another. Our neighbors house was cleaned out by the HS football team and the coaching staff, just because it was the right thing to do.
I’ve lost the words to express how proud I am of Texas, the communities here, and the people. There was no race, religion or political views last week. They were gone. It was people helping people. It still is today. A lot of people are hurting and will be for a long time. I obviously couldn’t see what they were showing on the national news, but if there’s nothing else anyone gleans from this disaster, it should be that when the worst happens, everyone comes together. I think that’s true of a lot of places, but I know first hand it’s especially true here.
I was brought to tears by my friends this weekend when they tried to hand us money. “No, that’s ok” I said, “we’ll be ok”. I would never burden anyone else with problems like this. “No, you’re going to take this, because we love you and we want to help”, they said. The outpouring of love is almost too much to take.
My parents are taking up donations at their church in New England, people are contacting me directly and saying “where can we send things”, random people I’ve never met gave me Chick-Fil-A gift cards yesterday because they were walking up and down the block and just wanted to help.
I just don’t know how to process this. I know it’s pride telling me that it’ll be ok, that I don’t need help, but the reality is much darker than my optimism, or the jokes I make about it to feel better. I don’t know what we’ll need in the coming days. I don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t know what kind of a financial impact this is going to have and for how long.
I feel lost, defeated, stressed out and I don’t know how to just “fix it” for my family. I don’t know what I’ve lost, we’ve hardly started taking stock, and I’m not sure how to handle things. So, that’s where I’m at. I’m metaphorically treading water. At least I’m not actually treading water. I don’t think I could take any more rain right now…