My life has been crazy since Hurricane Harvey. Harvey changed everything. I know there are many Hurricane Harvey articles out there, but this is my story.
I live in a sub-division with approximately 500 houses. Some houses have flooded in past heavy rain events, but it is usually the same houses. My house was built in 1960 and had never flooded. Harvey hit on Saturday, August 26th, 2017. On Sunday, a few houses in my neighborhood took on water. Of course, everyone knows the rain just kept falling and falling. By Monday, the 28th, quite a few more houses were underwater. There’s only one way out of my sub-division and the end of my road was flooding, put passable. We had lost electricity Sunday night and we were able to leave Monday afternoon and stock up on gas. We bought 34 gallons of gas for the generator, ready to ride it out until the power came back on.
In hindsight, we should have evacuated, but we did not think our house would flood. We had already received a lot of rain and we were still ok. I’ve seen other Hurricane Harvey articles where other people said the same thing. The generator kept a window unit on, the refrigerator, freezer, etc. The rain had let up a little. We were going to be ok. We all know about the stall and how the rain just kept pounding Southeast Texas. Even as Harvey moved to our east, all the heavy rain was on the west side. No matter where Harvey was, Southeast Texas was on the “dirty side” it seemed. It would not let up.
I was up all night Monday night, watching the radar, reading updates, etc. There are some houses on my street that had flooded in the past and I knew which way the water came up. We live along Pine Island Bayou, which has had some notorious floods. I kept shining the flashlight in the backyard and could see water standing where I didn’t think it should be. I started to get nervous. The rain let up briefly. After it let up, I noticed the ditches continue to swell and the front yard was starting to flood. I still continued to concentrate on the backyard because if we were going to flood, I thought it would come from the back. I still didn’t really think we’d flood, but I was nervous. It kept raining and raining and raining.
I dozed off for a little while in the wee morning hours. I woke up before dawn, opened the front door and water was up to the door. I went to the back door and it was the same. Within minutes, it started coming in. I checked other rooms and it started seeping in from everywhere. It was still raining. Then it started rising quickly. I was in disbelief. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Instead of trying to save stuff, I waded through the water outside, taking pictures and videos. I do not know why I didn’t think to get pictures and precious memories and put them up high, but I didn’t.
Within a few hours, the water was knee-deep. We all packed a bag. There were rescues going on and you could hear boats going by. About noon on Tuesday, the kids were rescued by air boat and taken to a school about 10 miles away that had become a shelter. They were picked up by friends from there and taken safely to their house. My husband and I stayed behind, thinking we could ride it out. I have a garage apartment, so we took some food, water, and supplies up there and planned to ride it out, thinking surely it would stop soon and start to recede. Boy were we wrong! The rain didn’t stop. The water kept rising.
We have a community group page on Facebook and everyone was sharing information, trying to figure out who was still there and who had evacuated, arranging rescues, etc. I posted updates and provided pictures for everyone and sadly, had to let people know that yes, their house had flooded. It kept raining and the water kept rising. About midnight Tuesday night, my husband went downstairs to add gas to the generator. He had originally put it on an end table on the patio, then raised it to a counter depth table. About midnight, it was taking on water. Suddenly, a shuffleboard comes floating up, which gave us another 2 inches or so. The water was waist deep, it was pitch dark and very scary. No clue what all was in that water.
The stairs to the garage apartment needed work before Harvey and with them just marinating in that flood water, they made me nervous. I wanted to leave, but I hadn’t heard any boats in a while. I still had cell service and continued to update family and friends and post on our community page. I knew people were trying to get us help. All night, the rain just kept falling and the water kept rising. I feared it would reach the garage apartment and/or the stairs would collapse. Eventually, I passed out from exhaustion.
We had been working on the garage apartment and a lot of the floor was ripped up. We only had the small front room to take cover in. I napped in a chair. While wind definitely wasn’t the main issue, there was some and it was scary in that little apartment. When I woke up, it was dead silent. No sound of the generator. I looked outside and it was devastating. The water had risen tremendously overnight and the generator was underwater. Nothing but water and the tops of houses as far as I could see. Garbage cans, debris, cars, floating.
At the time, I had a brand new Chevy Malibu. When the water first started entering the house Tuesday morning, we moved our vehicles to a neighbor’s house across the street, down a few houses because the end of their driveway wasn’t flooded at the time. We had hoped we were saving the cars by moving them to higher ground. It turned out to be futile.
As I looked around, I had no idea how many people were still here. I wanted to leave. I was scared. I grabbed my phone to call for help and I had no service. So while I had been scared this whole time, at least I could get updates. I just prayed.
Finally, sometime Wednesday afternoon, I heard a boat approaching. It was coming in my backyard and the men hollered out if anyone was here. I hollered back, “Yes! Please save us,” and they came up to the garage apartment and picked us up.
My little sub-division, which is off of Hwy 105, between Beaumont and Sour Lake, consists of houses, a little store, a park, a golf course, a volunteer fire department, and a tiny church. We were taken to the church where I saw there were indeed, others being rescued. Everyone was taken to the church, where they had air boats coming and going to get everyone out of the community. We were there a few hours, waiting for our turn on a boat. The church was built high, but it started taking on water as we were all there.
An air boat eventually took us to a little blue building on Hwy 105, where there were other people. It was a very small stretch not underwater (yet). From there, a big truck took us about 1/2 mile or so where a little aluminum boat took us the rest of the way to Sour Lake. Then a school bus took us to a church in Sour Lake that was just opening up as a shelter. The community center already had people, but it was full, so they were just bringing in supplies as we arrived.
We were soaking wet, nasty, tired, hungry, thirsty, miserable, but glad to be alive and finally out of the water. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It was so surreal. I had the clothes on my back and a small duffle bag. That’s all I owned now. The house was completely underwater, the cars were flooded, everything was gone. I didn’t know what was going to happen next or where I would go. We had no vehicles, no way to go anywhere.
Within the next few days, I walked to the public library and registered with FEMA. Sour Lake, or a part of it, which is a tiny town to begin with, had become a little island. Every direction out (Hwy 105 and Hwy 326) were flooded and impassable. We were in the shelter for 5 days and then FEMA gave us lodging. We couldn’t find anything available.
Finally, we found a hole in the wall motel in Woodville with an opening. It was about an hour north of Sour Lake. We had no way to get there. Ironic enough, a friend that I used to work with was house sitting for a friend in Sour Lake when Harvey hit and she was trapped in a shelter in Sour Lake as the house she was staying in flooded. She was nice enough to let us borrow her car to go reserve the room. We had filed claims on our vehicles and we could get a rental, but nobody had any. Finally, I found a rental car in Houston, and again, she let us borrow her car to go get the rental. We had wheels!
While in the shelter, so many blessings occurred. First of all, the volunteers cooked for us daily, people in the surrounding area donated clothes, shoes, supplies, food, water, etc. Remember we had lost power Sunday night. I hadn’t showered since then. I took a baby wipe bath Wednesday night in the shelter. I felt so nasty. Thursday night, we were taken to a volunteer’s house for a real shower. That was the best shower I’ve ever had!
The blessings kept coming. Someone I went to school with, who now lives in the Dallas area, contacted me and said they were collecting donations and asked where I was because she wanted to help her former friends and classmates. She rented a big truck and her and several others, brought an enormous amount of clothes, shoes, food, water, Gatorade, toiletries, etc. Students of hers had made care packages for other kids. I swear, I could go on and on for hours about the many blessings we received from friends, family, the community and even strangers.
So all in all, we had about 60 inches of rain over several days, which is unprecedented. There are 4 sub-divisions in about a 4-5 mile stretch along Hwy 105 (Northwest Forest, Bevil Oaks, Pinewood, and Countrywood). Every single house flooded and far beyond in both directions. Hwy 105 was flooded from our area all the way to Sour Lake, and the houses and businesses along the way. Hwy 105 was also flooded from our area all the way to Beaumont. It is simply unbelievable how large of an area was flooded, and flooded bad.
Our community was underwater for well over a week. You couldn’t get to it. It was 11 days before we were allowed in to see the damage. It looked like a war zone. During the time we couldn’t get in, reports came out that the water in our sub-division had been tested for high amounts of e-coli. They said to throw everything out. And of course the water sat there so long, everything was molded. It was an unbelievable, traumatic sight.
Over the coming weeks, we gutted out the house and everything we owned was by the ditch and piled up in the yard. We lost everything, but we were alive and I know that’s the most important thing. While it’s just “stuff,” losing pictures, kids drawings, family heirlooms, etc. is the hardest part. They can’t be replaced and I blame myself for going into shock and not saving that stuff. Like I said earlier, I could go on for hours.
My house is still down to concrete and studs. It’s going to be awhile before we’re back in the house. After the motel in Woodville, we were in an apartment in Beaumont for about 3 months and we’ve been living in a FEMA trailer in our driveway since January 2018. We had 2 groups show up to help us gut the house, one group from Louisiana and another from Oklahoma, who we are so very grateful for.
Although we are still devastated from everything, we do feel blessed by the outpouring of love and kindness by strangers. Every time it rains, or I’m watching the tropics as I still do, my stomach turns. I’ve been through hurricanes, tropical storms, etc., but Harvey brought a new respect for the weather to me. I know I will never trust predictions again. The weather is going to do what it wants to do and nobody knows for sure what that is. An enormous amount of rain was predicted for Harvey, but widespread 50-60″ in my area was not. I’ll leave you with a simple phrase that has taken off in Southeast Texas… Harvey sucks!