Weeks After Hurricane Harvey – The Recovery in Texas Begins Now

25

The photos included in this entry were taken a day ago in a neighborhood a couple of miles away from my own home.  Almost every photo is of a different street that was flooded.  There are countless other subdivisions that I can drive through at this very moment that will look the same or worse.

21

The water has receded, but the real work is just beginning.  The hurricane impacts are no longer splashed across the national and global news stories, so many people seem to think that life has returned to normal in southeastern Texas.

24I have been surprised at the number of questions I have received repeatedly over the past week, so I have come to the realization that many people must have the same questions as well.  Hopefully these responses will give some insight regarding why the post-hurricane recovery is a tremendous challenge that truly needs ongoing support from the community.  This entry addresses some of the key questions I have heard.

1

  • “Is everything finally going back to normal over there now?”

This question stings every time I receive it, and the answer is short and simple.  Not in the slightest.

28Speaking from a personal perspective, my housing situation hasn’t been impacted, and the only automotive hiccup beyond the increased traffic is that it’s still tricky to consistently find gasoline.  However, the moment you step into an area that was slammed by the floodwaters, it becomes shockingly clear how much life most definitely has not returned to normal.26

  • “The hurricane was weeks ago, and you haven’t received any rain.  Hasn’t all of the water already gone away by now?”

The bayous are still extremely high and will likely remain this way for some time to come.  The water continues to recede, but many people are just beginning the process of re-entering their destroyed homes for very brief periods of time.  Given that some areas had ongoing high standing water for a couple of weeks, the homes and cars display heavy black mold, and the smells of mildew and rot hang thick in the air.

8

We have been told of the dangers of entering these homes without specialized masks and equipment, but people continue to return to their (potentially former) residences to salvage any small items they can recover.  The rest is left in mountains in the yards.  Building materials, appliances, furniture, clothing, toys.  Memories heaped into piles awaiting assessment by FEMA adjusters and cleanup by professionals with the equipment to do the job.

16

  • “Why were so many people without homeowners insurance?”

 This issue has been broadly misunderstood by many who do not live near water or in a coastal area.  If you are a homeowner with a mortgage, you will almost certainly have homeowners insurance.  That insurance covers instances of theft, fire, and water damage for limited circumstances such as broken pipes or damage from water coming in via a hole in the roof.  Unfortunately homeowners insurance does NOT cover rising water.  There is a national flood insurance program specifically designed to cover rising water damage (examples include storm surge / extremely high tides from the ocean, rising water from overflowing rivers and bayous, and rainwater pooling in the streets that ultimately floods a home).  If you lived 50 miles from the ocean and several miles from a river, you wouldn’t normally be concerned about those bodies of water. If your neighborhood had not flooded ever and you had lived there for decades, it might seem excessive to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars each year for flood insurance.  Correction – it seemed excessive until the statistical impossibility came creeping up our driveways and pouring through the doors.

23

  • “Many people knew that they were in high risk areas.  Why did they move there, and why didn’t they have flood insurance after they bought their homes?”

 The flood patterns have changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and we have experienced record-breaking water heights that have never been documented for our areas.  Flood insurance premiums went up drastically a couple of years ago.  If you happened to live in a home that was in a zone hit by these changes, the cost increase was exponential.  A flood policy that once reflected an annual cost of roughly $350 for full coverage jumped to $10,000 or more per year for 50% coverage. This is not an exaggeration.  I am using actual premiums currently paid by a family friend.  How does the average family just find another $10,000 of cash to spare, and how do you sell your home once you have been tagged as living in the danger zone?

22

  • “But at least auto insurance will cover the loss of their cars, right?”

 People were trapped in their homes.  The storm pummeled the area without mercy, and we simply could not drive through the dangerous high water that rose at an alarming rate.  (A common saying you hear in areas that flood is, “Turn around.  Don’t drown.”  People drown in high water every time storms flood the area because drivers simply can’t detect the depth of the water until it’s too late.)

17

The rain predictions went up with every forecast we heard, and the final tallies were beyond anything we could have prepared for in advance.  People moved their cars up their properties as much as they were able, but there was nowhere to go once the water was several feet deep.  If you have ever been in a severe auto accident that totaled your car, you know how far Blue Book value does NOT go.  Your car depreciates at lightning speed, but the balance owed on your automobile loan does not match that decrease.  Hundreds of thousands of vehicles were lost, and many of these car owners instantly became upside down on their loans.**

20

This makes me so angry.  I’m not upset that they wrote the words, “Do not take anything.”  I’m upset that had to say it at all.

To add insult to serious injury, that means that these same people who lost their vehicles now are left without a trade in nor do they have any cash for a down payment.  I imagine that it would be tough work finding a decent used car here anyway given the massive vehicle shortage, but even if you could find one, would you buy it from this area?  Speaking personally, that would be a hard pass, but maybe that’s just me.  Most people can’t afford new cars, and they certainly can’t afford them when they are starting from zero.5

  • “Why didn’t everyone evacuate?”

You had to be here during Hurricane Rita to really understand this dynamic.  Hurricane Katrina had obliterated the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi one month prior.  As Hurricane Rita barreled our way, it sent all of Houston into a panic.  We were told to expect a fierce storm, and families raced to pile clothes into bags and kids into cars.  Vehicles swarmed the roads like ants in a fury.  At the time, my husband and I lived in a patio home by a couple dozen other families.  Only one of those other families stayed behind.  Every other family we knew got stuck on the road for hours, and when I say hours, I mean that the traffic was so unimaginably bad that many sat in their cars for 12-13 hours without ever actually making their way out of Houston.  Some found a way to turn around and head back home, while others were only able to return after the storm missed the city.  People had left expecting to drive a couple of hours and were not prepared to be camping in their vehicles on parking lots once known to be interstates.  One set of neighbors at the time had their grandmother in the car.  She died while they waited.  Yes.  She literally died in their car while sitting on a highway.  I can’t fathom this, nor can I forget it.

19

Evacuation was never a consideration for us then, and it didn’t even make the discussion list for Hurricane Harvey.  The last place I would want my family to be trapped in during a 175 mph storm is a vehicle.  For most of the city, evacuation would not have helped.  More cars might have been salvaged, but the homes would be underwater nonetheless.  I’m truly sorry for the lives that were lost, but that same evacuation could have been catastrophic if traffic had trapped families in cars on the roads during tornadoes, hurricane force winds, and flash flooding.

  • “What does it look like today?”

It really depends on where you go.  If you step outside my home or the home of anyone else in my neighborhood, you wouldn’t ever know that anything happened.  If you drive a couple of miles to the east, you will find the homes I photographed yesterday.  If you drive a few miles in any other direction, you can find the same scene.  Large areas lay in ruins.  The word “home” leaves you with an ache in your heart.  You feel the sadness when you see the residents, and there are no right words.

27

  • “Are people meeting with FEMA already?”

I have spoken with people at different places in the process.  An area resident I spoke with yesterday told me that FEMA gave her an appointment date 3 weeks down the road.  In the meantime, she was given a hotel voucher if needed.  One of her neighboring families had been fortunate enough to meet with someone from FEMA, and they had given them a payment.  The family received $9,000 to complete all of the repairs on their home.  That was the full payment, and it was $4,000 more than the check received by a resident in another neighborhood by one of my sisters.  Keep in mind that these amounts won’t even cover the cost of having your home gutted let alone sanitized so you can enter it safely.  After that teams must come in to repair and replace sheetrock, electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc.  Then come the appliances, furniture, clothes, toiletries, food, and everything else saturated by the toxic floodwaters.18

  • “It’s tough, but they can just walk away from their house and car loans.  They can start again.  If they don’t want to do that, they can get loans from FEMA for the full amounts they need.”

It’s not that simple.  Not at all.  FEMA loans do not cover car losses, so no change to that problem.  The loans would be for home repairs and possibly content replacement as well.***  We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in new debt.  If they walk away from the homes, those properties will go into foreclosure.  If they walk away from the car loans, they will forfeit ownership of the vehicles.  In both scenarios, good honest people who have paid their bills diligently for years will be slammed with terrible credit scores.  Poor credit severely complicates buying other cars and homes, and foreclosure is visible on a credit report for 7 years.  It’s a vicious cycle, and there are no ideal answers.

12

  • “How can I help?”

If you are not in an area that was affected or you are far away, please send gift cards (Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, Target, HEB, Kroger, etc.) to area locals that you know and trust.  Those people can hand these out to those residents.  Another option is to contact the churches around Houston, Fulshear, Katy, Bear Creek, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Rockport (or any other areas you know who can are doing broad relief efforts directly with the surrounding communities).  The animal shelters also need aid as there are thousands of displaced animals now requiring care until their owners can be found or other homes become available.10

This is not about being a Christian.  I mention churches specifically because we have seen many organized groups of people coming from various churches.  They are working directly with those hurting right now, and their work is having a tremendous impact and reach.  The J.J. Watt Foundation has done incredible things for our community, and we will be forever grateful for the help they gave our communities.  Unfortunately this foundation has stopped accepting funds for hurricane relief and is requesting that further donations be given to alternate relief groups.  There are other widely recognized organizations, but many have noted their absence in areas in dire need of assistance.  Hopefully those groups will be in it for the long haul, but the initial response (or lack thereof) has been extremely concerning at best.9

Please research where you are sending your money if you truly want for it to go to actual assistance.  I would also ask that you please remember the small Texas towns like China, Meeker, Westbury, Sour Lake, Devers, Nome, and Refugio.  These towns are hurting, and they have not received the press coverage or assistance that Houston and Rockport have had.

4

If you are in southeastern Texas and you are able to help, please keep volunteering your time, treasure and talent with as much generosity as you can muster.  Please share the names of all good contractors who are giving fair quotes for quality repair work.  We are already hearing about price gouging and egregious job bids by some unethical contractors.  I pray that most will operate with honesty and decency toward their fellow man in need, but many dishonest people will flock to communities that were hit hardest in an attempt to squeeze the homeowners in need.  We aren’t asking for free work.  We are asking for fair work.

7

  • “How is everyone doing?”

It’s hard to see this all around us, but we are the lucky ones.  I believe that we were blessed, so we would be able to help those in need.  I drove my kids to the neighborhood pictured in this entry because I wanted them to have some shred of an idea as to what many of their friends are facing right now.  Even though our lives are becoming routine once more, we still hear about this everywhere we go.  Countless conversations include the question, “Did you guys flood?”  Often the answer is no, but frequently the answer is yes.  And it hurts every time I hear that response.

6

Every person in the area knows people who are in the predicament I laid out above.  These people have worked their whole lives to give their families a sense of home and safety.  They need us now more than ever.  It is critical that we continue to support and help them – all of them.  This is just the beginning.  The reconstruction of these homes and these lives will be months and years in the making.  Again I ask that you please give support if you are able.  It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.  Maybe you don’t buy a soda or a cup of coffee for one day, and those few dollars go to a gift card or a local relief group instead.  If you want to send gift cards but don’t know where to send them, please message me, and I can provide you with more specific options.  And if that isn’t your thing, prayers for healing and support are incredibly powerful and always appreciated.

3

Thank you for your kindness.  Blessings to all of you.  Love and light always – Joanna

2

**Being upside down on a loan means that your car is gone, but you still have a loan balance owed.  The insurance reimbursement you will receive will not be sufficient to fully cover the loan, but those payments are still owed by the (former) car owner.

***I am not knowledgeable in the specifics of the FEMA loan program, so feel free to share via comments if you have more info.  I will update this post if I can confirm those comments.

14

 

Sting

40 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. foodzesty
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 16:19:09

    😦

    Reply

  2. Jodi Stibora
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 16:28:59

    Well put Joanna! Thanks for the info and updates!

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Sep 17, 2017 @ 16:36:21

      Hey lovebug!!! It was a long post, but people kept asking the same thing. I forget that most people don’t live by the water! 🙂

      Reply

  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 16:29:57

    Lots of good information and pictures. I worked for Red Cross in flood area in Australia and the scene was similar and the smell you described the same. Hard to take. My thoughts go to all affected.

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Sep 17, 2017 @ 16:35:27

      I wish that you worked for the Red Cross here, too. It’s been a very sensitive subject in Houston. I’m thankful to know that they had a beautiful soul like you helping people in need. It’s so terrible for these families. Everyone is so thankful that they survived, but the living part can be tough, too. Thank you for the kindness you gave and continue to give sweet friend.

      Reply

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist
        Sep 18, 2017 @ 02:13:50

        Yes after you get over surviving the living is tough following such a flood. I guess the impact of Irma has also impacted on the help available to you as well. Wishing everyone the best.

      • MoJo
        Sep 18, 2017 @ 10:56:12

        Irma has been an interesting twist. One example is the garbage cleanup. Florida put in a higher bid than Houston so the trucks bailed on the jobs here. Houston had to up the bid to get any work done. It’s a mess because everyone is so desperate and it’s creating a pricing squeeze. These poor homeowners can’t get a break.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist
        Sep 21, 2017 @ 02:34:11

        Yes you have had too many in such a short space of time and it is the people that hurt.

  4. C.C.
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 17:47:01

    Thank you so much for the info. I’m intending on donating all the royalties for my book this September to help (which sadly won’t be much because im lousy at spreading the word) and I’ve been trying to figure out where on earth to send it.

    I’ll discuss these options with my husband!

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Sep 17, 2017 @ 19:30:18

      Lucky for you the internet is a magical place that (fingers and toes crossed) self-propagates good books. 😉 Clearly it’s your call, but I wouldn’t focus on having to give 100% of the royalties. It’s a lovely idea, but you should accept some love for your book, too. That’s just my.very humble opinion. I just think that it would be nice if everyone helped a little if they were able to do so. And while this specific situation is obviously near and dear to my heart, I think that the real key is helping anyone who really needs it in some small way whenever we possible. If each person did a small extraordinary act of kindness every day, I sincerely believe that the world would be a much friendlier and happier place. I do love your kindess though. It’s wonderful sweet friend. ❤️

      Reply

      • C.C.
        Sep 18, 2017 @ 05:54:31

        True, but I don’t really need the money right now, and it will do a heck of a lot more good elsewhere. That makes me happier than wasting it on another pair of shoes I don’t need (which, trust me, I don’t need).
        Besides, people reading my book brings me joy enough for now.

        And I hope you don’t mind, but I shared your post in a few facebook groups, in case they want to help and weren’t sure how.

        My heart and prayers are with you guys.

      • MoJo
        Sep 18, 2017 @ 10:57:51

        You are amazing. I hope that you know that. And of course you can always share my posts (even if it’s to point out what a goofball I am!). 😉

  5. wakinguponthewrongsideof50
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 18:23:54

    Oh Jo this is crushing me! I can’t even imagine what you guys are going through!! Please know you’re in my thoughts and prayers! It’s just unfathomable!!xoxo

    Reply

  6. wakinguponthewrongsideof50
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 18:26:04

    FYI….my daughters national honor society is doing a bake sale this week. I’m going to bake a whole lot of brownies. Proceeds are going to the hurricane victims

    Reply

  7. elbycloud
    Sep 17, 2017 @ 23:51:22

    This was so helpful. I learned a lot and caught myself in some idiotic assumptions that needed peeling back. Thanks.

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Sep 18, 2017 @ 00:56:32

      I don’t think that any of the questions or assumptions people have made have been because they were not thinking or uncaring. It’s just the kind of stuff you would never know because you have no reason to be familiar with it. This is more of a general Q&A post. No judgement intended or included lovebug! ❤️

      Reply

  8. I tripped over a stone.
    Sep 18, 2017 @ 08:27:44

    Wow. Information, great points, downright real. Thanks for this post. ~Kim

    Reply

  9. Tracy
    Sep 18, 2017 @ 09:06:54

    Those pics are something else… Us Brits moan if we have a fence panel blown out. Puts stuff into perspective. 😦 X

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Sep 18, 2017 @ 11:01:51

      I’m with you. I was annoyed because some of the neighborhood trees blew over behind our fence and no one straightened them back up for three whole days. Perspective Jo – perspective. I truly miss the boat sometimes. But I will tell you that my jaw dropped when I saw the neighborhood, and it’s even crazier to know that it’s all around. A friend of mine was with me and she commented how the pics didn’t really capture how gigantic the piles were. As she said, 2D just can’t do it justice. I just can’t imagine this is happening to so many people.

      Reply

  10. magickmermaid
    Sep 18, 2017 @ 10:35:35

    Heartbreaking and eye-opening! I can’t even fathom the epic devastation. Sending healing energy to all!

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Sep 18, 2017 @ 10:54:14

      On the one hand I really do recognize how blessed so many people are for coming through a huge storm safely. I just can’t imagine having to start over because something that was viewed as an impossibility happened. I wish I could help them but I don’t even know where to begin.

      Reply

  11. mavimet
    Oct 07, 2017 @ 11:29:40

    This is so sad and so hard for those of us not affected to be able to understand. Thank you for letting the rest of the world know.

    Reply

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