Weeks After Hurricane Harvey – The Recovery in Texas Begins Now


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.


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.


  • “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.


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.


  • “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.


  • “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?


  • “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.)


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.**


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.


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.


  • “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.


  • “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.


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.


  • “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.


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.


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


**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.




Texas Still Stands & We Stand Together


The last few days have been akin to falling into the dark end of the rabbit hole.  We have been living in a surreal nightmare that kept us in fear while caging us with wind and water.


This is not a river.  This is a street.

As I have lived in Texas my entire life, heavy storms are not unfamiliar territory.  However, from Friday through Tuesday, we received more than one hundred forty tornado warnings as well as dozens upon dozens of flash flood alerts.  Those are actual numbers of alerts, not exaggerations.  Spending hours worrying if you are going to lose your home is exhausting. Spending those same hours worrying if your family is safe is exponentially worse.    rescue

I was so afraid for my children’s safety that we set up little mattresses in my husband’s closet, and that’s where they slept for the past few days.  They are just returning to their rooms tonight.


This was taken in a nursing home to the southeast of us.  They were rescued and relocated, but my heart feels raw when I see this.

The news just said that we received 52″ of rain in this storm.  52″.  It seems unreal, but the deluge was impossibly heavy and pummeled our homes relentlessly hour after hour.  I joked to my friends that I expected to look out my window and see pairs of animals walking toward a big boat.  It was beyond belief.



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God bless the Cajun Navy.  I can’t put into words my love for these people.

Incredibly, our home and neighborhood never lost power.  We were able to keep track of the news while keeping in touch with our friends and family.  We quickly learned that we would not be facing this alone.

cajun navy2Before the rain showed any sign of stopping, many dear neighbors from surrounding towns and states were in the water rescuing those in need all around Houston.  I have friends who were picked up by boats and oversized construction vehicles at their flooded homes.  Firefighters, police officers, members of the military, and overall amazing people continue to risk their lives to help us here.  A few beautiful souls have lost their lives in the process.  I cannot express my sadness at these losses.

Countless people have lost their homes.  Hurricanes are known for their destructive natures, but Hurricane Harvey drew a tremendously broad stroke of destruction unlike any other we have experienced.


This neighboring family was extremely lucky.  They lost a beautiful tree, but it fell away from their home.

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These dear friends were less fortunate.  It makes my heart ache to see this.

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This photo was taken by a close friend of my sister.  She took the picture right before first responders transported her and her family away from their once beautiful home to safety.

The three images above are neighbors and family friends.  There are thousands upon thousands more homes that have been terribly damaged or destroyed.

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I saw multiple military transport planes overhead as I left the neighborhood today.  I was overjoyed to see them.

Although the rain stopped at last today, we found ourselves facing yet another complication from all of the water.  The flood control authorities have initiated controlled water releases from the reservoir dams in an attempt to maintain the integrity of those critical structures.

Certain neighborhoods are expected to experience additional flooding given these releases, but I understand the need to sacrifice a small area with controlled water releases for the sake of preventing a very literal tidal wave of water flowing over miles and miles of heavily populated areas.  Despite my ability to understand the need, this does not change the fact that my parents live in the high risk zone impacted by those releases nor does it change the fact that their home will be washed away if the dam fails.  Water is already spilling over the top and around the sides.


I wish I could tell you that this was me in my car, but it was another rescuer in a better vehicle.  Thank you for coming to our town!

So I did what any tenacious girl with stubborn parents would do.  I jumped in my 4×4 Texas mom-mobile and headed to their house to drag them out while they raged.

A dear friend (I love you K!) stayed on the phone with me as I drove.  She guided me to the best possible (and sometimes only possible) routes to allow me to avoid the innumerable streets that were closed due to high water or road failure.  My parents are about fifteen miles from me, but it might as well have been a hundred.  I weaved back and forth and backtracked repeatedly.  There was water everywhere I looked.  Thankfully there were military trucks, high water vehicles, and boats in abundance as well.

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The raw truth is that my tenacity did not make the trip any less terrifying.

Meandering through high water on unfamiliar streets and knowing that you are deliberately driving into an area with rising water that may turn catastrophic is incredibly scary.  I tend to be rather steely in a crisis, but this one had me on edge.  When I arrived, I was met with angry parents who didn’t want to go.  No surprise there.

My father recently had knee surgery and can’t walk well, and my mother has somehow hurt her shoulder.  They have no power at that house and aren’t expected to get it back for several days.  It isn’t the safest area to begin with and looters are likely to begin their hunts.  The water is rising – not receding – in front of their house, and they are within tidal wave range of the dam if it blows.  Naturally they would want to stay.  (Argh!!!  Seriously people??  Do we really have to discuss this??)  Thank heavens my rabid bulldog style of encouragement worked.  No surprise there either.  Off we went once more to head back to my house (the house with power and without rising water).

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I thanked God every single time I saw a military chopper or truck.  I said a prayer of protection for all of the people I saw working to help others.  They were everywhere I looked despite the incredible water levels, and we were blessed to make it home safely.

The drive to help others has been amazing across the board.  The rain did not cease until mid-morning, but the shelters were already bursting at the seams with donation items and volunteers within a couple of hours.

donationsPeople are doing everything they can to help those in need around them.  The response inside and outside of our community is stunning.  On a personal level, I can’t tell you how many people have invited us to their homes should we need a place to go.  They have offered everything.  Family, friends, coworkers, and total strangers – all have stood with us.  It overwhelms me emotionally.  I can’t adequately articulate my feelings, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is more goodness in this world that we could ever imagine.

The news should cover the beauty I have witnessed here.  It is truly a spectacular sight to behold.  I am captivated by your kindness and your love.  I am enamored by your strength and your courage.

When I say that Texas still stands and we stand together, I am saying that Texas still stands and we stand together with you.  In our greatest time of need, so many of you have served as our shelter in this physical and emotional storm.  You have extended the lifeline we so desperately needed, and now we are able to continue that with you as we move to help each other.

There is no division of economic class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, or politics.  We are one united people, and we are all here for each other.

Texas still stands.  Thank you for standing with us.  We truly stand together.

Much love to all of you. Joanna




We Are Never Alone


Over the past year, we have experienced many difficulties. I have witnessed extremely hurtful infighting in relationships, our town, and our country. I have seen divisiveness and anger so often that I now refuse to turn on the news. But this storm that has flooded our little corner of the globe has shown me the very best in people. We have received kindness after kindness.

People worldwide have reached out with offers of assistance and much needed prayers. Family and friends we have known for years as well as absolute strangers we have known for moments have offered to allow us to stay in their homes if it comes to that. I have seen so many stories of people working to help and protect each other. This disaster has revealed how wonderful and amazing people truly are. Hope is powerful beyond measure. Regardless of what happens to our home, I know that we will be alright because we will never have to get through it alone.

Thank you for sharing your love, your strength, and your hope. Despite our differences, we stand together and we will always protect each other. We are blessed to have you in our lives.

Thank you. Truly.  Joanna

***I took the video at the top of the post yesterday morning.  This is a teeny creek that catches runoff water in our neighborhood.  On a normal day, you could jump over it in a couple of hops (if you felt like braving the alligators).  It has been raining nonstop since this shot, so no telling what it looks like now.  There is flooding all around us, but we are dry at this point.  Much love to all of you.


Sleepless Nights


I have faith, and I believe that life falls into place as it should.  Of that I am certain.

While that belief fortifies my soul, I still feel tremendously tired and extremely worried.  I very literally have dozens of voicemails and emergency warning messages on my phone for local flash floods and tornadoes touching down around us.  My children are sleeping once more in the closet for their safety, and I find myself mentally circling all of the “what if” scenarios as I lay here listening to more rain pummeling our home and our town.

I get up every few minutes to see if floodwaters are creeping toward our home. I read the news and learn of more catastrophic occurences as well as further worsening predictions.  I watch the radar constantly.  It feels like this should be ending any moment now, but we know that there will be several more days of this still to come.  I wonder if we will still have a home once it’s over.

No matter what happens, we will be alright, and we will get through this.  I’m just ready to be at that point.  Thank you for all of your love, kind wishes, and prayers.  Your friendship and support have been such lights in this fearful darkness we have been in the last few days.  I appreciate each of you more than I can possibly express.

Much love to you all.  Joanna

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