“Did yours flood too?”, he said with red-rimmed eyes and shoulders drooping either from depression or exhaustion – both of which are common lately in our community.
“No,” I replied and breezed past him, lost in my own mind as I glanced around the convenience store, which looked more like a ghost town than its usual busy hub of the town. Every shelf was empty. All you could see were wire racks, occasionally dotted by one lone granola bar or a pack of gum.
I never even asked him if his house flooded but I’ve wondered many times if he was one of the lucky ones, the ones now left to deal with the guilt that their house didn’t flood, or perhaps he lost everything like so many in our hometown did thanks to Harvey.
Over the years I’ve kept what part of Houston I live in a secret to protect my kids. All my social media profiles and About Me page says I live in Houston, which I do. But 6 years ago we fell in love with a little community within the far north city limits of Houston known as Kingwood. It’s a place that feels like a tiny tree-lined town, a secret within the 4th largest city in America.
Since we moved here 6 years ago the San Jacinto River, that runs along the southern edge of Kingwood, has flooded a few times. Because of this, the people’s homes along the river are built up on stilts and occasionally someone might have to rebuild some boat docks. It’s just a part of life here. Everyone knows where the water will stop when it floods and we never think about the alternative because it going beyond that point seemed impossible.
Last week the impossible became the possible nightmare.
Harvey came to the gulf coast of Texas. We bought a ton of dry goods, made ice for days and filled every container with water. The city leaders told us not to evacuate. The Governor of Texas said to evacuate but the Mayor of Houston and County Judge said he didn’t know what he was talking about and that no one should leave because we could handle it – they were wrong.
We hunkered down in our houses and easily rode out the first punch from the storm miles away from us in Rockport, TX. It seemed to be over and some news stations were saying the storm would head toward Mexico and that Houston dodged a bullet. We emerged from our houses unscathed and prepared to go on with life.
But then the storm turned back toward Houston, continuously dumping huge amounts of water as it moved closer to us at a snail’s pace. The weather alerts starting blowing up my phone. I counted 52 weather alerts on my phone in one hour.
As we watched the flooding in south Houston on our TV, in our house with power and running water – we thought we were blessed to miss it all. Yes, we were wet and occasionally under tornado warnings but we weren’t flooding.
Then overnight things changed in Kingwood.
The river was a little flooded at a day where we received a year’s worth of rain – in one day – however, it still wasn’t past that line that we thought it would never go past.
But there’s a city to the north of us, which most people in Kingwood say with a grumble because anytime their lake gets a little full, they open their dam, causing Kingwood to flood. On top of the year’s worth of rain in a single day, that city had opened their dam gates to let out historic amounts of water.
Overnight Kingwood didn’t just flood – Kingwood was swallowed by an angry rushing river. That river cut off all ways in and out of Kingwood. We were now on an island with no way to escape.
Tuesday morning laying in bed, we heard the boats coming to rescue people. When we didn’t hear the constant sound of boats it was because a Coast Guard helicopter was flying overhead, plucking people from their roofs. And it was still raining.
The flood waters were close to us. We were dry but the waters were close. If it wasn’t for one large hill, we would have been on one of those boats, getting plucked from the murky brown water.
The depression for us that morning was hard. On top of it all, the 4 days of nonstop hard rain, the sounds of people losing their homes, the constant calls from family begging us to evacuate, and the rumors that the city was turning off the water – we lost power.
Sitting in the dark when you’re in a depressing situation isn’t a good idea, and we had reached our limit, so we got in the car to drive the one mile to our church. There’s only one intersection between our house and our church – but we sat at that intersection, with rain pouring down upon our van, and watched a line of 20 trucks pulling boats pull up to prepare to unload the boats. To one side of the street, there were people walking with trash bags containing everything they had salvaged before the boat picked them up to bring them to dry land.
It was hard to see.
Our church wound up becoming a staging area where they would bring evacuees until they could call family to pick them up or until an overnight shelter was found for them. Throughout the day we helped people of all ages, as they walked into the church cold and wet and in a lot of shock. We went home late that night thankful for our home and what we did have – even in the absence of power.
But because we still had a home – I thought I was OK.
It turns out that mentally I wasn’t OK. I’m still not OK.
Kingwood lost half of its homes and businesses. Half. This is my community that I love and it’s destroyed.
I don’t know what day or time it is – it’s all running together. I heard today that it’s a week since Harvey hit. It feels like yesterday.
Friday we drove to Dallas to pick up our newest exchange student because her flight into Houston was continuously canceled during Harvey. I thought the change would uplift us but it was harder. In Dallas, everyone was happily living their lives while back in Kingwood, our friends were spending hours ripping everything out of their homes and leaving it all on the curb to be picked up.
It wasn’t until dinner with my husband at a restaurant that night that I finally broke down and told him I felt guilty for being there. I thought he might tell me to look on the bright side or give me some other piece of sage advice but instead, he just agreed with me.
That night I thought I heard hard rain and my heartbeat raced just a little bit.
Driving back into Houston, with our lovely new exchange student safely in the van, my shoulders began to tense and every trailer that I passed loaded with supplies made me tear up.
My house didn’t flood, I am blessed. But my head is still traumatized. Truthfully my heart really breaks right now for those whom’s homes did flood because they’re on autopilot – just trying to get the drywall and carpet out to prevent mold – but one day soon they’re going to reach the point where I am now. One day soon their emotions are going to switch back on and they’re going to realize how traumatic an event they lived through. Then they will have to deal with the loss of their home and their head doing crazy things.
Will I be OK? Yes! I am slowly, with the great support of my family and husband, working through these feelings. Writing them out for you to read will also be a form of medicine.
Kingwood will rebuild. It will be different for a few months. One of the high schools here is so destroyed that they’re having to bus the kids to another location, 40 minutes away. Half of our restaurants and fast food locations are gone, so maybe we’ll just eat at home more. The stores are flooded but they’re working on opening back up.
The people of Kingwood are coming together so strong that the trashmen can’t get to the debris to remove it from people’s front yard because there are too many volunteer vehicles blocking the streets.
There’s a lot of love here for one another and that. is. powerful.
How can you help?
- Reach out to anyone you know in the affected areas and simply let them know you’re thinking of them. The world moving on while we hold still is hard.
- Donate to a local rebuilding fund. The national charities are amazing but to get the money directly into the hands of people that really need it, think smaller local charities. Our church has a fund to help people in our area who were affected and every cent will go to the people that need it. If you want to donate to our church fund (baptist), please email me for the information – Bobbie@ClumsyCrafter.com.
- Talk about it with people who lived through it. Talking helps. It gets people to finally say things such as, “I feel guilty” which then helps them be able to start processing that. Don’t try to give advice – just open a conversation and then listen.
We will rebuild and while we’re doing that, we will support those who need it. My kids may never forget this. I will never forget it – but we will heal from it and be stronger for it.