This year has been a hard one. My mom died in January, and we were among the thousands who lost their home in Harvey. I’ll have commentary on homeschooling through things like this at some point, but for now, I just want to archive our experience.
Thursday, August 24th was about the first real mention of Harvey as a threat to the Texas coastline that I got wind of. I was in Denver, CO on day 7 of an 8-day business trip and ready to get home. News of a hurricane wasn’t particularly worrisome; I live in a hurricane zone so I’m used to the sensationalism that a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico tends to spawn. Those of us who were raised along the coast know that you don’t really start worrying until the day before the storm makes landfall, and even then, only if you’re in the target zone. At that point, Harvey was still out in ‘projection’ zone with no clear landfall destination, so I wasn’t overly concerned that it would hit my city at that point. Although I will say that I was a bit concerned about driving into a hurricane, since we were scheduled to begin the drive home that afternoon. We got in touch with our respective husbands to touch base about hurricane plans and whatnot and started home. By Friday, we were back in Texas, and the news was a little more stressful, so we were eager to get home. As evening fell, we were driving into Houston from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and there was a steady line of traffic for hours, headed North on I-45. We decided to bypass Houston to get back home to Beaumont. We hit gas shortages and issues with ATMs and credit card readers along the way, but made it safely home before midnight.
The weekend was spent in recovery mode. I don’t ‘people’ well for long periods of time, so I was in total hermit/hibernation with my family mode after being gone and surrounded by (amazing, fantastic, inspiring) people for a solid week. Being back home – in my own space – was divine. News over the weekend was bad – Harvey had hit Corpus Christi and bounced up the coast to Houston, with major flooding and other related issues. Though we had a lot of rain in our area, there was no wind or other ‘normal’ hurricane related stuff going on. At this point, I was sympathetic to those affected, but super glad the storm had missed us although the forecast looked like we were still in the line of fire. I wasn’t worried though; we’ve weathered storms before (hurricanes Rita and Ike, among others), and we were as prepared as we could be.
Monday, we had still more rain, and we lost power for a while, but it came back on. We have a weird drainage issue on our property, and sometimes get water leaking into our office/school room, which is a converted garage. It sits on a slab, at ground-level while the rest of the house is on pier and beam. Because of all the rain, we got a little bit of water into that room – no big deal; it happens sometimes. Basically, it looked like someone spilled a big glass of water in the corner of the room. We cleaned it up, and Loverly Husband grabbed a shovel and cleared the drainage that ran beside the house, then he and the boys took turns using a broom to encourage the water not to accumulate near that wall. By Tuesday (August 29th), the sweeping thing was getting old, so I took over for a while so the boys could get some sleep – and still the rain came. The power went out again, and stayed out this time.
By Tuesday evening, things were pretty stable. No power, and lots of rain, but not really even all that heavy – just *constant*. I took a little video clip and posted it on Instagram; even though we were hearing about water starting to rise and people getting flooded in and trapped, we didn’t have any standing water in our yard – just a bit up by the porch where the weird drainage issue is sometimes. We weren’t even having water in the office anymore at this point. I was absolutely not concerned that we were going to get flooded in. Our street may get covered, so we might get stuck in our neighborhood for a couple of days, but I was in no way worried that we’d have water in the house, much less be in danger. Our city called for a mandatory evacuation of streets that branch off of ours, but never for our street; our property is high – my family has lived on the same piece of land for more that 60 years and it has NEVER flooded where we are. Even in 1994, which is the benchmark that everyone was using to gauge how bad things were going to be, we never even had water near our houses. We went to bed Tuesday evening honestly believing that we were in no danger.
That changed at 2AM Wednesday morning. Loverly Husband shook me awake to tell me that we ‘have a problem’. We had about 4″ of water in the office. It was wild to see! My shoes were floating. I think my brain kindof shut off; how do you react to wading through ankle-deep water in your house? We made a lot of jokes about indoor pools and unplanned remodeling, then took the office chairs out of there and put whatever wasn’t already wet/ruined up onto the desks. It was still raining, but we figured that this would surely be the worst of it. We did what we could; things were already wet in that room; there wasn’t anything else we could do about it in the middle of the night in the dark with no power, so we went back to bed thinking that we’d figure it out in the morning. In hindsight, we were already in trouble at that point – we just didn’t know it.
The top image is from Tuesday (Aug. 29) afternoon. There is no water. The grass looks fantastic. It looks absolutely no different than any other typical rainstorm that we frequently weather. There was nothing to suggest that we were in trouble. My dad (who lives next door to us) drove down the street to areas that normally flood, and had been evacuated, and reported nothing extraordinary – just what we’d expected. Everything was within normal expectations for a tropical storm.
The bottom image is what we woke up to just before/at sunrise Wednesday (Aug. 30) morning. We had 2′ of water in the office/school room, and it was rising FAST. I wasn’t thinking anymore. I was in survival mode – in ‘get the kids; get to Dad’s; make sure everyone is safe’ mode. Loverly Husband and I told the kids to get a bag packed and we did the same. He moved the car out to the street (which wasn’t underwater yet). I don’t know what I packed – just threw some clothes into a backpack. There was no cohesion; no planning – just reaction.
We gathered up the two dogs and the cat and waded out to the street in thigh-deep, freezing cold water. I sat in the car while the boys went to my dad’s to check on him. We decided that we’d go to my Dad’s; his property sits higher than ours (though only slightly). We moved the cars off the street into his driveway – the highest spot around. All over, there were little islands – his driveway; the street in front of our neighbor’s house; a little island across the street in the horse pasture. I stayed in the car to charge phones, and watched the water rise and rise and rise.
At 9:30AM, we finally had enough snap to recognize that this was going to get WAY WORSE and called for help. Between our neighbor and a friend on Facebook who was helping coordinate with local volunteers, we got put on someone’s list.
While we waited, Loverly Husband went back over to our house and water had already risen to the point that it was several inches high inside the main part of our house. He emptied the refrigerator (something we knew to do from previous experience so it would be a massive, gross problem later), and grabbed some of his work things that he’d forgotten in the mad rush out the door. That was a peculiar feeling – watching as everything you worked for and planned for and saved for is destroyed right before your eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it. I *literally* watched the water go from being ‘problematic’ to ‘terrifying’. The pictures don’t show it, but there was a crazy strong current. The water in my dad’s front yard (to the right of the above picture) was hip-deep on me and strong enough to push me over when I lost my balance. By the time we were rescued, it was chest deep on Loverly Husband.
At 1PM, thanks to several amazing neighbors and volunteers from Louisiana’s Cajun Navy, we got my dad (who is disabled and in a wheelchair) loaded into a flat-bottomed aluminum boat, and headed to meet my sister who was waiting with rescue volunteers to pick us up. A second boat brought me and the boys, our two dogs and cat and my dad’s dog out (and a rescued chicken along the way), and a third trip brought Loverly Husband out. We were each allowed one bag, which was all we could realistically carry anyway, but it meant that we didn’t necessarily have everything we needed. LBB made it out without shoes, and in the commotion, my dad ended up leaving his bag at his house, and so had nothing with him except his dog.
I cannot describe how surreal it was to *boat* down a street you’re used to driving down. The line of sight was completely different; our boat driver was from our neighborhood and so was familiar with the terrain. I can;t imagine how much more difficult it must have been for volunteers who didn’t know what the land under the water looked like. We stuck to the ditches for the most part, but the water was so deep that it wasn’t necessary for most of the ride. We passed a car that had been completely submerged; only the tip of the antenna was sticking out of the water. Many of the houses were already flooded up to the bottoms of the window sills, with a couple up to the eaves. We live kind of in the country, so many of our neighbors have horses and other animals – we saw horses congregated on little islands of high ground; pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens, dogs, cats… it was really weird.
My sister was waiting for us, with her father-in-law (and my dad’s BFF) in his big truck to pick us up. Thank goodness for family, because I don’t know what we’d have done without them. We went back to their house and got showered and into dry clothes, and my sister’s MIL cooked and got a warm meal into everyone.
The next few days were a blur. We stayed with my sister in her tiny 2 bedroom house – the boys slept on the couch while Loverly Husband and I stole my niece’s bed. I’ve been through hurricane displacement before, so I knew to apply with FEMA and call the insurance company. We didn’t have windstorm or flood insurance – just regular homeowner’s, which doesn’t cover anything related to a hurricane.
We weren’t able to get back into our neighborhood until the following Tuesday – nearly a week later. There was still water covering the road on Monday, and the Army was in our neighborhood with a ‘gas leak’. We think they were doing house-to-house checks for bodies and didn’t want interference or to freak people out, which I can totally respect; we saw several houses tagged with the big orange X and the date once we got back in.
We ended up with 4′ of water in the office/school room, and about 2′ in the rest of the house. We lost everything that was on, or near or touching the floor – basically everything from doorknobs down in most of the house and *everything* that was left the the office from about waist high down. The water in there was about an inch or so over the top of my desk. Unfortunately, that’s where some of our most important paperwork was; the kids’ school stuff and archives/records, and most of my art supplies. I was able to keep most of our curriculum, which is fortunate, but all of the kids’ school records that weren’t digital are lost. And books… so *many* books.
The kids and I spent Sept. 6-8 clearing out the house and packing up what little could be salvaged into containers. We took a mental health day on Saturday, but were back at it on Sunday, with Loverly Husband finally getting some time off work the following week so we could start demo’ing the house.
We lost basically everything: all of our furniture, beds, the kids’ violins and my grandmother’s piano, heirloom furniture, books, movies, games, music, memorabilia, photo albums, scrapbooks, clothes, electronics, computers & tablets, shoes, holiday decorations, tools, toiletries, our car… I can’t even begin to list what all we lost. I keep hearing ‘it’s just stuff; stuff can be replaced. At least you all are safe’. That’s true, but as my friend Renae said…
All in all, it could be worse. I know that. We have been INCREDIBLY fortunate to have family and friends to stay with and rely on. We have been the beneficiaries of donations and funds to purchase supplies to demo our house (which is now devoid of doors, trim, flooring and sheetrock from 4′ down), and to purchase some basic necessities. We are still in the waiting pool, with thousands of others, for FEMA to inspect and allocate funds to begin repairing our house. I have 5 close friends who also had water in their houses, a couple with water all the way to the eaves, and several acquaintances who also had some pretty severe damage. It’s not just us; there are so many families who are affected by this storm, and by the others that followed – Irma, Maria…
I am so incredibly grateful to the people who risked their lives to help rescue us. The people who boated us to safety were our neighbors, who themselves lost their house with water up to the eaves. We are fortunate to have support from friends and family so that we have a place to stay, transportation, and pretty much all of the basics.
That said, we are not ‘okay’. Being a guest in someone else’s home for a long period of time is difficult. Probably the most frustrating thing is not having any sort of timeline to go by. You can power through almost anything if you have a set time frame and a date at which your situation will end or change; we are in a constant state of limbo, without any information with which to make plans or goals. We are slowly starting to regain some small bits of normality and replacing things we’ve lost (just basics at this point, like clothes and toiletries and instruments and minimal school supplies so we can at least get back to school), but we have a LONG way to go. Our house is destroyed. We have no furniture. Talking with friends who’ve undergone similar disasters (floods, fires, etc.), I know that it will be a long time before we are back to ‘normal’. We really haven’t even begun yet and I don’t know when things will start to settle down into whatever the new normal will be. But we’re making the best of it… or trying to, anyway. Self-care is, as ever, a central theme in my life. I am trying to stay positive and model good coping behaviours for my children, and overall, we are managing.
I am incredibly glad that we are homeschooling, because we are currently living with a friend in another nearby city. If the kids were in school, that would be a big dilemma – stay in our home district or move them to the district we ‘live’ in now? Since we homeschool, we just delayed the start of our school year by a few weeks; we actually started yesterday with a ‘soft start’ – just a couple of subjects and assignments. We’ll start in truth next week with a return to co-op and music lessons and the whole shebang.
I guess it kinda goes without saying that I will not be participating in the Not Back to School Blog Hop this year; I’ve already missed all of it! But I’ll do my own version of the weekly themes as we get to them this year. First up is usually student pictures – we did get that accomplished! LBB is in 10th grade this year, and PeaGreen is in 9th – it’s all high school from here on out. I can’t believe that both of my babies are high schoolers!
I’ll have a more detailed look at our school year at some point – no promises though. I don’t have my desktop computer and am forced to write on a laptop (which isn’t horrible, but it’s not as user-friendly as my big computer and I don’t have access to everything that was on that hard drive), so I am not even really sure what our school year will look like right now. But say tuned and I’ll be in touch soon!