Friday, September 1, 2017

Harvey Dispatch: 3 feet

I woke up every 2 hours or so Thursday night, stomach grinding at the thought of my parents getting to their house.

We waited on tender hooks all morning until 9:20 a.m. when Eric sent a text saying "3'..."

A few minutes later mom wrote one word, "Horrible."

And then we didn't hear from anyone for FOREVER.

I sat at work for a few minutes, stunned, telling colleagues the update and reading internet shopping lists. A cousin asked if she could send money to help buy supplies, a friend asked if she could get supplies from her husband's shop and buy snacks and food for me to bring from the grocery store. I started to move- telling my boss I had to go, changing my time sheet to "vacation leave" for the rest of the day and week. Finding a sub for my two barre classes. Canceling a sitter and reservation for tonight to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. Posting on facebook to ask for generators, shop vacs, fans, and more. Running home to throw clothes I didn't mind ruining in a bag, while coordinating supply drop-offs and making a Home Depot shopping list.

James cleaned out his car, thoughtfully leaving his fins in the front seat.

We went to Home Depot and bought everything- shovels, box fans, cleaner, trash bags, masks, gloves, sprayers, and an entire case of bug spray. A man next to us in line said, "Going to Houston?" "Yep," I replied. "Me too," he said, with a stack of box fans 3 feet high.

I went to Target and got one of every brush and sponge they sold. And bleach, so much bleach.

We loaded up the Suburban, greeting friends as they dropped off items. My uncle, who lives in Houston too, drove over from Southlake where he was staying with his aunt after flying home from the hospital in Minneapolis and being diverted to DFW. We filled it up until there wasn't any room and then I shoved in my bag and a diet coke and kissed the kids goodbye, one week to the day from when I returned from being by my unconscious grandfather's side.

I left at 3:45, still without any contact from my family, but assuming I was needed and hoping I'd bought the right things. The reality of driving 4.5 hours in a car I'm not comfortable in on highways next to trucks that make me hyperventilate hit me about an hour down I-45, but I white-knuckled it, used my yoga breathing, and listened to Pod Save America while tearing up every few minutes seeing all the trucks on the road with me loaded down with hurricane clean-up supplies. There was a feeling of solidarity on that drive, even as I got nauseous every time I got trapped between a highway divider and semi-truck.

The highway by the house is still closed, but google maps got me on an alternate route. The neighborhood looked okay at first and then BAM. The air hit you first. Heavy and abrasive, it burned my eyes and throat with the car windows up. Piles of water-logged trash higher than the Suburban I was driving in. Flooded-out cars just haphazardly placed all over the street wherever their owners or the water left them. Debris everywhere. I have lived through some floods and this was like nothing I'd ever seen.

I pulled up to my parents' house in shock. Trash, furniture, insulation, mud, and dry-wall everywhere. My mom walked out, covered in mud and dust, saw me, and started to cry. Rattled and shaky from the drive, I walked over and gave her a hug. She cried more. Holy shit you guys, it's just so much.

They'd made tremendous progress. Eric had a crew of 6 friends come over who worked like crazy for 10 hours. They'd cleared out the smelly sludge and slime from the floors, shop vac'd out the water, cut out and removed nearly all the drywall below the waterline, and ripped out the carpeting. I know it was SO MUCH. But oh my god, looking at their beautiful home just broke my heart.

I showed them the supplies I'd brought, when they asked how much they owed me, I was so glad to be able to say it was all a gift from friends and family. They'd gotten power somewhere along my drive, so they were able to set up my fans immediately and start closing up the house. The doors are so swollen they couldn't close them, but eventually a mallet was able to do the trick. Most of their possessions are up on the second floor, so it was hard to leave it behind knowing the house wasn't secured, but as my mom said - you can only worry about so much at once.

She told me a little more about their day. Friends who weren't flooded coming by to check on them, taking her nice work dresses to be dry cleaned, taking their wet clothes from their drawers to wash at their homes. Eric's friends who worked like crazy. Other friends dropping off lunch because they couldn't leave the work. They're so lucky in so many ways, but when you pause to take a breath it is still crushing.

We got to Eric's condo last night around 11. Dad showed me his insurance claim work and we made an action plan for today. I need to find them an apartment. They need to call a few more insurance people. Mom's car flooded out; dad's has damage but still works. The boat and jet skis are gone. And of course, the house.

Mom's taking a shower before we head to Target to get more storage bins so they can clear out what they can salvage from the downstairs. I've got a list of apartments to stop at on our way in. My brother-in-law is on his way down from Colorado with a work truck of supplies. His family also lives in Kingwood and has a house in Rockport that needs to be cleaned and boarded up. Also, his sister had a baby yesterday. In Houston, just to keep things exciting.

There's so much. It's a marathon, but it's also a sprint. Stop the water damage. Keep things from getting worse. Prepare to live somewhere else for an undetermined amount of time. I haven't seen Kingwood yet- normally you drive through it to get to my parents' new place, but I had to take an alternate route as parts are still under water. It's going to be a physical blow.

One thing I've realized is that pictures and video don't come close to capturing the overwhelming nature of a flooded house when you walk in the door- the oppressive feeling of wet, the slime, the smell, the humidity, and the thick clogged air. Eric took a quick video as they left last night after 13 hours of work; it gives an idea, but only just.

Today will be hard. They're tired, the adrenaline is a bit worn off and even knowing they got so much work done yesterday, it's going to be hard to walk in the house and see how much is left. But truly, they are the fortunate ones. They have help. They have insurance. They are supported. We can do this.

But goddamn, it is hard.


  1. Thank you for the update! I've been refreshing like crazy thinking about you all. But okay- wedding dress and wedding albums and chess board and everything were on the second floor, right? So, the people are safe. The pets are safe. The sentimental things that are just things but really matter are okay. You've got this. You do. Just take everything "now" and "next." Literally, like, "Now: swab down counter with bleach" and then "Next: drink some water." When you feel more stronger, try thinking about one thing after that. "Make one phone call." When it feels overwhelming, just do "now and next." You are the team! One other thing that has helped me in times of crisis comes from my sister's yoga teacher, and it's this: salt, potatoes, coffee. When you get into hot water, you have three choices. You can be salt, potatoes or coffee. Salt gets into hot water, and it completely dissolves. Potatoes get into hot water, and they hold up for a while, and then they fall apart. Coffee gets into hot water, and it gets stronger. Not only that, it transforms the water itself." You. Are. Coffee.

  2. Omg. I've been reading and thinking about you. My children are there with my mother in law. They had to leave her house and are staying with other relatives. They haven't been able to check in the house yet. My husband is flying there today to help (and get my babies back). Reading this made me cry. You are strong. You can do this and you are being such an amazing support to your parents. As my T shirt says today "nolite te bastardes carborandorum". Even when those bastards are Harvey.

  3. Tears pooling as I read this. I have been refreshing all night thinking about you and your family and what you found at the house. Oh I am so sorry. The comments above are perfect - and you are coffee. And damn fine coffee, too. You are by definition a dream daughter and I cannot even imagine the comfort you are to your folks right now. My heart aches so much for your mama. If it's at all appropriate please tell her she has prayers in WA state for her dad, her home and her heart. And for you, too. You have a whole team on this blog pulling for you. Me included.

  4. Wow. Just wow. I live in Columbia, SC where we had a 1,000 year flood 2 years ago and we're still rebuilding (infrastructure, homes, and lives). My office was closed the week after the flood, so I was volunteering at one of the water pick-up stations. (I think people underestimate how important clean water is after a flood.) One of the groups dropping off water that stuck around to help us hand out water and load trucks was a group of grad students from the University of Texas. Several times, they rode off with a person who was picking up water so they could lend some muscle to the clean up process at individual homes. The idea that they would drop everything to coordinate the donation of a trailer load of water, spend days loading water, hauling off debris, and drive half-way across the country and back to help out was humbling. I've been equally impressed with the volunteers making their way to TX this week. I hate that it takes a disaster, but it's so nice to be reminded that this is a country (continent if you consider the relief workers coming from Mexico) that helps its neighbors.

    Warning - I just realized the rest of my comment is crazy long and really directed at your readers, not necessarily you!

    You've mentioned that the flood recovery process is both sprint and marathon, and that is the BEST description! In the short term, this is obviously an absolute disaster and it's going to require a lot of work to repair. The damage you can see is horrible and the hours of physical labor required to put everything back to rights is difficult to comprehend. But months from now, most of that will be done. As you've mentioned, even with all the damage your parents are dealing with, they're the fortunate ones. They have adequate insurance, adult children who can help, amazing friends and family to support them so that in the end, for them, this is about the loss of things and a few months of major inconvenience.

    I know a lot of people, like myself, aren't able to load up and go to Houston right now. And honestly, you don't want people like me right now! I don't know how to fix things and I can only lift 2 cases of water at a time. My cousin is out there with his truck, boat, and a dozen or so dehumidifiers to help dry out homes (did you know a hot house dries out faster? Fun Flood Fact of the day). So, for all the people out there like me who want to help but can't, remember it's a marathon. Three months from now, people who didn't have adequate insurance, savings, or support from friends and family are going to seriously need help. So many people who think they're okay realize that they aren't when they suddenly have to go without pay for 2 weeks because their employer was shut down, replace half their wardrobe, pay their mortgage and car payments while simultaneously renting an apartment and car, etc. All while waiting on a check from their insurance company that can take months.

    For the people like me who don't feel very useful right now, bide your time. Set aside the money you would spend getting to TX if you could go and use it this November/December. There will be hundreds of families who will find themselves unable to provide the usual (or any) presents for their kids. Gifts don't have to be extravagant - books because they lost theirs in the flood, cute pj's because anything that's not a necessity right now is considered a luxury. Speaking of luxuries - Christmas decor! Thinking of getting new stuff? Donate your old stuff! It's only old to you. If you don't have money to donate, do a bake sale at work. Do you know how many people will buy homemade baked goods the week before Thanksgiving and Christmas to pass off as their own to their families? Everyone has talents and all of them can be used to help others.

    Thoughts and prayers for you, your family, friends, and the affected communities.

    PS - Super excited that Grandpa is on the mend!!! Unlike drywall, he's irreplaceable - and way more exciting ;)

  5. Man I'm so sorry to hear/read this. How can all this stuff happen to you and your family? Man. I am so glad you are so resilient and that you have a community around you.

  6. I'm in tears reading/watching this so I can't imagine how much it is in person! I've already donated to the Houston Diaper Bank and some other local charities. Our local blood center (all the way in KY) also had a drive this week as they've been asked to supply blood. I just came back to my office from donating during my lunch hour. If you have any recommendations for organizations/charities to support that will directly go to those in need would be awesome! (Of course, when you have time and it's appropriate! Taking care of your family is what's most needed). Continued prayers for your grandfather's recovery as well!

  7. Tearing up as I read this, but love that--as usual--you are able to see the positive. I am so thankful that your parents are safe and that they have such an awesome crew supporting them as they put their home (& lives!) back together. Continuing to send prayers and hugs to all of you.

  8. When you have a moment, could you link to any local charities or organizations who are on the ground doing the hard work? I work for county government, and I work with a lot of local non-profits, and I know that they are often the ones most connected in times like this and are really on the ground doing the marathon-type work. I would much prefer my resources go to one of those, as opposed to the Red Cross or other national organization. Thanks!

  9. I am so, so sorry :-( Ditto the request for local orgs in Houston. Much rather send to them right now

  10. I'm glad everyone is safe and that your grandpa is getting better. James leaving his fins on your seat made me giggle.

    The damage, wow the damage. Continued prayers for your family (and really the entirety of the hurricane's path).

  11. I wanted to pass on an apartment recommendation.
    Kings Landing Luxury Apartments off Forest Center Drive by Kingwood College
    Brand new and offer short term leases without raising the rent
    Ask for Lisa Ferrell

  12. For those asking for local organizations, here is a list I shared with friends/family outside of Houston earlier this week:

    Little Lobbyists:
    Help send supplies to medically complex children impacted by Hurricane Harvey

    Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies:
    Post-disaster relief work for people with disabilities

    Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund:
    Rebuild and restock local teacher's classrooms

    Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund:
    Established by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for tax deductible flood relief donations

    State Bar of Texas Disaster Relief Volunteer Form:
    If you are a licensed attorney, paralegal, or law student in the state of Texas, please consider lending your services to those in need as they navigate recovery.

    Texas Diaper Bank:
    Help provide diapers for families in need

    Feeding Texas:
    A network of food banks across Texas

    SPCA of Texas:
    In need of financial donations and foster volunteers

    Houston Coalition for the Homeless:

    Undies for Everyone: Houstonians in shelters are in desperate need of clean, new underwear. Please see the Amazon registry below:

  13. Glad that yours parents were able to get to their house and have such support and help. No doubt your legal skills will be SO useful when it comes to dealing with insurance (ans thank god they had insurance). Harvey is still very much in the news here...

  14. You are amazing. Your family is amazing. You can do this.

  15. Heartbroken reading this. Thank goodness for insurance, but it's still so hard being displaced. Thinking of you all.