So this series of posts has been a long time coming. I’m going to try not to make it too long, but, I’m a talker. At least since I’m typing you don’t have to watch me constantly gesticulate with my arms. I’ve got a lot to say. This will mostly be about the hoops we had to jump through to rebuild our lives – but also tell the story of how we went from ‘oh look it’s raining’ to ‘I’ll step into the boat then you hand me the dog.’
As many of you know, our entire neighborhood was flooded (intentionally by the Army Corps of Engineers) during Hurricane Harvey. All told, the water line inside the living room when we were finally able to get back to the house two weeks later, was 41 inches. That’s nearly 4 feet of water on the ground floor. Since we weren’t expecting the flood, we hadn’t moved anything to the 2nd floor of the house, so, we lost everything. From every piece of furniture, to every book on the shelves, to every major appliance and piece of cookware in the kitchen, to the car sitting in the garage. It was all destroyed.
Where do you even start?
To make matters worse, the house sat in water while the ACoE emptied Barker Reservoir for two weeks. Two weeks of stagnant, flood, sewer water. Then, even after the water level was low enough to have emptied the house, it still wasn’t low enough for us to reach the house. Wading through the water was not recommended for health reasons and the police weren’t allowing it anyway. Drywall is like a paper towel – dip it in water and capillary action will take care of the rest. Our walls were wet and mold-ridden almost the whole way up to the ceiling – that’s 8-9 foot ceilings by the way.
Oh yes, let’s talk about the mold.
Two weeks of stagnant water, & moisture filling the house with no circulation. Mold was on almost anything open to the air, or touching the water that would allow it to grow. You do the math. Yes remediation was possible, and we did, but, holy crap. And now every house in the neighborhood was have that stigma of a “moldy, flooded house.” It’s something that will always need to be disclosed when a house goes on the market. We’ll have to show proof we properly remediated and took every precaution to prevent the mold from coming back. The integrity of the house will now always be in question. Sure we scrubbed every. single. stud. By hand. With a wire brush. (All credit to my wife who did most of this). Then painted every. single. stud – with mold killing and prevention primer (Zinsser). While many floods occur quickly, with water flowing in a few inches or a few feet, then receding the next day – this was obviously a different situation. We couldn’t take the first few feet of lower drywall out and call it a day. It all had to go. It was the only way to get rid of the mold, and the compromised drywall. So before we could even think about rebuilding, we had to rip away everything we’d worked for in the last 2.5 years. Strip it bare and throw it on the front lawn in a disgusting pile of destroyed memories.
The Day Of… (Monday 28 August 2017)
It had been raining since Friday evening and the streets in the neighborhood were flooding and emptying cyclically as the bands of rain rotated over. Even during the day on Sunday I was riding my bike around the neighborhood between rain bands and checking things out after the water had receded. Our neighborhood drains into the Bayou that runs behind it (and is the outflow for the reservoir), and once the rain gave it a rest, it was able to pull the water out and things were basically back to normal.
Sunday evening around 5pm it started raining again. It didn’t stop until after 11pm.
Earlier in the evening the Army Corps of Engineers released the info that both reservoirs were nearing their critical tipping point and the gates needed to be opened. The first reservoir gates would open at 2am, and the second reservoir later that afternoon. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the first opened around 11:30pm that night, and the 2nd shortly thereafter. This never gave the bayou a chance to lower, or the water in the neighborhood to drain. When I awoke around 7am Monday morning, the water level hadn’t gone down like we’d expected. By 9am it was at the front door and still rising.
Over the course of the morning from our windows on the 2nd floor we’d watched many in the neighborhood hop on boats and leave. Some floated out on inflatable air mattresses, others waded. We wanted to remain as long as possible – especially since we had three animals relying on us for safety. Around noon, after watching so many leave, and our neighbors across the street throw in the towel and get picked up, I said to my wife ‘I think we need to go.’ So, we grabbed our backpacks, filled them with a few pairs of underwear, a shirt and shorts, a pair of sneakers, our IDs, iPads, cat litter, cat food, and dog food. Basically only enough for 1 or 2 days. We put the cats in their tiny travel kennels, and the harness on Chainsaw. We flagged down a boat.
It was about 1:30pm now, and water was already filling the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. When the boat pulled up to the house, it was floating at our front door. For a bit of perspective- our house is up on a small berm, and this meant the water at street level was already about 4 feet. I stepped into the boat first. My wife handed me the cats in their kennels one at a time. I set them on the floor of the boat. It was still raining and they were less than excited about this. Then she handed me the dog, and I held onto him in my lap. Then she climbed into the boat, closed the front door, locked it, and we pushed off. We stopped next-door to pick up our older neighbor who had also retreated to her upstairs. We promised her if we decided to go, she was coming with us. The ride to the front of the neighborhood took about 8 minutes. Let me tell you how surreal it was to be boating through the streets, looking at the submerged cars and houses as we trolled toward the only dry land on the main road at the entrance to the neighborhood. Once there, we got out and the boat left to retrieve someone else. Thankfully, we had a place to go. We spent a few hours at a friend’s house on the other side of the street that wasn’t flooding. Eventually our friends came to pick us up and take us to their place a few miles away that wasn’t in danger of flooding. There we stayed for the rest of the week.
The Return…(Friday 01 September 2017)
When we returned 4 days later, a Friday, volunteers from all over the state, and surrounding states, were taking residents in by boat to their houses so they could grab any belongings they needed to get by. We went in with two other couples who lived nearby. It’s quite an experience jumping out of a boat into almost 4 feet of water at your front door. We were fortunate our front door seemed mostly undamaged, and wasn’t too swollen into its frame. We unlocked, and went inside.
Yes it was as bad as you can imagine. What wasn’t already floating was either sunken out of sight, or was covered in mold already. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but suffice it to say there wasn’t much we could do at this point. We went upstairs, grabbed 2 carryon size suitcases and a dufflebag – filled them with clothes and some important papers and waited for the boat to come back.
And that was it. All we could do for the next week and a half was wait. Below is some of what we saw when we opened the door for the first time since leaving.
So that’s what happened. I couldn’t get into the laundry room and subsequently the garage because the doors were swollen shut, plus the washing machine had floated and tipped and blocked the door, too. So unfortunately I wasn’t able to get pics of our car in the garage submerged in water.
In the next post I’ll write about the immediate aftermath – demolition and figuring out “where do we go from here?”
If you read through this lengthy post – thank you. And I hope you’ll read the follow ups, too, which will have a lot of important info for you in case you’re ever in a similar situation.