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Hurricane Harvey: Losing Everything

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This is a guest post penned by Diana Donath about Hurricane Harvey’s impact. After reading, you will find links on how to help. ~ Sam

Losing Everything by Diana Donath

Today started off pretty normal for me. It changed though.

I woke up this morning in my dry, comfortable, clean, air-conditioned home. I made coffee and checked Facebook. I tended to my animals and made myself a late breakfast as I waited for my daughter to get here with her fiancé and friend.

We decided since we have been so fortunate through the storm suffering only minimal losses that we would do all we can to help others. We had talked the day before about going to NRG Stadium in Houston and about the fact that volunteers at certain time periods were actually being turned away. That’s very heartwarming, and there are a lot of people there suffering and needing help. However, I quickly realized that we were/are surrounded in our own community by people who are in dire need. There was the very sobering fact that there are people all around us and those we know personally who have lost everything.

Lost everything.

Two words that you can see written and you think you understand them. But you don’t.

My daughter had put out a Facebook post questioning where we could be the most useful. When a couple of people right here in Baytown commented back or posted with screenshots of residents asking for help, we knew we would not be leaving our city to render aid. Then, indiscreetly one address was typed in the comments that got my attention. It was the address of my son’s girlfriend home where she lives with her mother. Madison didn’t type anything except her address and we decided that is where we would go.

In the year and a half that my son, Alex, has been dating Madison, I have never met her mother. I met her today.

When the four of us (Lana, Ryan, Felicia, and myself) got in our vehicles and left my home heading to Pinehurst, we encountered lots of heartache as we traveled through the neighborhood of Kings Bend in Baytown. It is total devastation. All up and down the road leading to our neighborhood & to other surrounding neighborhoods were stationed police officers checking IDs to make sure looters would be kept out and only residents let in. That was the case as we pulled into Pinehurst. After being questioned and ID’d by an armed police officer, we drove in but did not immediately encounter the type of devastation we had just driven through in another neighborhood. But we just hadn’t driven far enough yet. By the time we made a left on one particular street, the scene was surreal.

I’ve lived through a lot of severe storms and a lot of hurricanes as a lifelong Texan, and I’ve never seen anything on this scale.

Finally, when we turned right toward our destination, all we saw was water at the end of the road and the homes there still underwater. We had never been to this home before but we recognized my son’s girlfriend and her mother. We stopped the car and got out and greeted them. They seemed understandably tired and somewhat confused, but ready to get to work. We walked into the front door and were assaulted first by the smell of the overturned refrigerator full of dirty water with spoiled groceries swimming in it. Everywhere we looked, everything was destroyed. Things had floated everywhere. The paint was warped and bubbled and peeling. Some of the furniture was still upright but most of it had been moved around. Many other items had been put up on the furniture. There was mud all over the floor. It was chaos and sadness.

Outside the yard was still full of water with trash and personal belongings floating around everywhere. That’s where I started. I began to pick up all these things and trudged through the water to throw them away. There was no shortcutting across the lawn though because the water was just too deep and had snakes in it (yes, we saw them). I used the top of the trashcan lid to push around like a boat as I collected trash and put it in the lid.

We decided to open the garage door and get started in there as well. While Madi’s mother, Anne and her aunt Belinda were working to sort some things out in the garage, Lana and Ryan had started on trying to empty the overturned refrigerator of water. I spotted a tall Tupperware pitcher floating in the dirty refrigerator water and I used it to start pulling out water and food products and dumping them into a bucket. We successfully removed all of the water and set the refrigerator upright so that we could move around more easily. As we continued to move things out of the home and into the trash pile, we gradually all gravitated toward the garage and started helping in there.

Needless to say, I did not want to film. It is very personal when people are going through a tragedy or suffering in any way. They deserve privacy.

It is even hard for me to type about it now but I want people to understand as much as they can what it must be like.

As I helped Ann go through her belongings, I watched her experience a range of emotions and I felt helpless. I was at a loss for words.

She had put her entire family’s collection of VHS’s or home movies on the shelf in the garage. Unfortunately, the shelf was particleboard and gave way. She lost all of her family’s movies. I noted that they dated back to the early 80s. These tapes had footage of her parents who had both passed away before Madison was ever born. She was distraught and had to walk out of the garage and down the street. At a separate time she had pulled up a box that had a beautiful pair of leather Michael Kors boots and a matching purse. She had bought this for Madison for this upcoming Christmas.
There were personal and sentimental things of value and there were things of monetary value.

Like most people who live in this area, flood insurance is not included in your home’s insurance and since it is quite expensive, most people do not get flood insurance if they live out of a 500 year flood zone. No one thought this would happen.

The storm set records for rainfall. 52 inches for one event is a continental US record.

The National Weather Service had to invent and include new colors for flood maps.

This flood, this storm, was unlike anything that has ever happened before.

It is the worst flooding disaster in US history.

The women of this family are not only tall in stature and imposing with their wit and intelligence, they are also resourceful and proud. They don’t ask for help. They’re not diminutive, elderly, or poor.

These are not the type of people that you would see on the news because they keep to themselves and work out their issues theirselves. I respect that about them. And I watched today as the mother of my son’s girlfriend sorted through a lifetime of memories and cried several times as she discarded most of it.

I had never met this woman before but I get the feeling that crying is not something she does very often.

The water that we were wading through and that has saturated everything from a box of quilts that her grandmother stitched herself to every other item in their home is soaked in filthy water. The water has sewage mixed in it.

Yet, without flood insurance, everything that CAN be saved, they are trying to save.

Their house was the last house on the street that did not have water remaining in it. Every house beyond that point was still filled with water and the owners could not even get in to do anything yet.

About a dozen DEA agents were parked in the street right in front of their home as they launched a small boat and used six men walking in a specific formation with white poles as they did a body search.

There was also an emergency response truck in the street in front of their home from San Diego. Firetrucks rolled by and police from Baytown and Mont Belvieu did periodic patrols. Volunteers drove through the neighborhood stopping at intersections and offering bottles of water and hot dogs and sausages with bread and mustard. All of these things were being cooked on a giant barbecue pit at the front of the neighborhood.

The US Army had a convoy of trucks at the front of the neighborhood and all the soldiers were housed at the fire station there. The sound of helicopters and air boats were still being heard with frequency.

It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

However, this post is about those hours I spent inside that home with a family who lost everything. That was day 1. We go back tomorrow.

As I lay in my bed tonight and type this Facebook post, I hear a constant stream of helicopters. I can’t help but think that they are either helping to protect that neighborhood and others like it from any potential looters, or that they are looking for or have found bodies.

But mostly, I just can’t quit thinking about that neighborhood and all the families suffering there, especially the family I was helping with.

I probably have about 10 loads of laundry here to do of theirs’. It’s not their everyday clothes at all. It’s a Rubbermaid container full of quilts made by a grandmother who is long gone. It’s a treasured outfit saved from when a baby or child wore it for some occasion. It’s a special present bought as a surprise for a daughter.

At one point, when Ann was crying but trying not to cry, she mentioned to me that people always say that it’s “just stuff” but she said through her tears, “it’s not just stuff.”

And no, it’s really not “just stuff.”
This stuff is their memories.
This stuff is their life.
Losing this stuff hurts their hearts.
And it would hurt yours’ too. It hurt mine to watch this process. I really wish I could do so much more.

I just wanted to share this post so that when people see those two simple words: “lost everything,” that they might have some better understanding of what all of these people are going through.

If there’s any way at all in which you can help a family or an individual who is going through this type of tragedy, please do.
Many do not ask for help.
Look for them and offer them assistance.
Don’t be skittish or ask what you can do because they’re confused and not thinking straight. Just be there.
Just show up somewhere and get to work.
God knows, these people need the help.

Thank you. #TexasProud

How to Help

Black Lives Matter: Houston –  email BLMHOU@gmail.com

Democratic Socialists of America: Houston

Houston Food Bank

Houston Area Women’s Center

The Lighthouse of Houston

How to Receive Help