It is one week since we evacuated our flooding home due to rising waters brought by Hurricane Harvey. Life has changed forever. For the rest of our lives, our world will be defined by “before flood” and “after flood”. We are starting to build our “after flood” life. But the crisis itself is still not over.
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Our area of west Houston seems to be the hardest hit by flooding. Our neighborhood is right on Buffalo Bayou, but flooding was never a major problem until this storm. The devastating impact is actually coming from dam releases, since we are downstream from some levies and dams. As water built all over the city, officials got concerned about the structural integrity of the dams and decided to release water. The released water came straight into our neighborhood and sustained the major flooding.
A week after the storm, most of the city is getting back to normal. Our house still has about 8 feet of water in it and the projections are that the water level will stay there for the next two weeks. The roads in our area are impassable in many places — especially the bridges that go over the bayous. I live about a half mile from my office — but we are on opposite sides of the bayou. My normal commute is 8 minutes door to door. Due to the closed bridges, I would now have to go halfway downtown and work my way back to the office around closed roads to get to my office. Someone from my area tried it the other day and it took him 2 hours each way to make the normal 8 minute journey. Everything is disrupted.
Today, the city has implemented the first mandatory evacuation of this storm. It is specifically for the section of west Houston that includes our house. Due to dam releases, the water is not expected to recede for 2 weeks. They want people to leave the flooded houses — the water is dirty and full of bacteria. Also, first responders can’t get to the flooded homes in case of fire or new emergency. As reported, we evacuated a week ago and my parents’ home is outside the evacuation zone. But we signed a lease for a townhouse that did not flood. We are trying to get it stocked, so we can move in next week. It does fall in the evacuation zone, so our plans are now delayed.
I get it — I really do. But it is really frustrating to be under evacuation while the rest of the city is getting back to normal. Especially since the water level is due to planned releases at this point.
Water Taxi and a Victory
We did have a major victory Saturday. We successfully accessed our house and verified that the second floor stayed dry! Some amazing volunteers have come to our neighborhood with boats to help out. We were able to drive to a street about four blocks from our house and connect to some of these volunteers. My husband and oldest son put on life vests and backpacks and took a boat ride to the house. The boats needed motors to navigate the current — canoes and kayaks are not safe. Following the path of the streets, the pilots had to carefully avoid hitting submerged vehicles, trash, mailboxes, etc.
Pulling the boat up to the house, my husband and son climbed from the boat to the second floor balcony. They took about 20 minutes to gather some more possessions — insurance papers, our home computer, some clothes, and jewelry. They filled their backpacks and a few contractor-grade garbage bags. Most importantly, we now know that the second floor is dry. We should be able to retrieve many possessions when the water recedes in a few weeks. Some things — like books and clothes and mattresses — probably won’t be salvageable after they sit in the humid house for weeks. We’ll be contending with mold and mildew, even for items that were never submerged. But a lot of our second floor stuff should be fine after a good clean up job.
Right now we are appreciative of small victories and still very grateful to be safe and dry. Many friends have come forward to help us stock our rental townhouse. We’re evaluating what else we need to buy and what we’ll be able to rescue from the house in a few weeks. My family is fortunate that we have the resources and support to get our lives back on track as quickly as possible.
Originally published at medium.com