Q: This is Will Lang with the University of Houston in the Houston History Magazine, conducting an oral history with Andrea Varela.
A: Hello, I’m Andrea Varela. I moved to Houston in 2005 July to start teaching after I graduated from college. I’m originally from El Paso. Had never been to Houston before, didn’t really know anything about Houston, except that it was the fourth largest city. I moved to the Humble Kingwood area because that’s where my boyfriend’s sister lived in Walden. Since she was here and offered me a place to live, I got a job in Humble and I’ve been in this area since, 13th year teaching. With all the growth I wanted to live near close proximity and a fast commute to my elementary school.
It ended up that I liked Kingwood a lot because of the green belts. I could be close to a grocery store, we ended up moving into the apartments near Sharkey’s to Harbor Cove because one, they were older, so they were a little cheaper. They might not have all the new fancy stuff, but all the new apartments around here have gotten. Two, we really liked the style of the apartment. It was cement floors; it was stainless steel, kitchen countertops, that stuff just for what we had to pay and all the stuff. We got a garage, we got a covered patio. We’re just like, “Yes this works. We like it.” James had a place to work from home and I didn’t have to drive for more than 20 minutes to get to work.
Q: That’s good, in Houston. How long ago did you move into those apartments in Kingwood?
A: That was the sad thing. We had moved in on October 1st, 2016. We had been in a small one bedroom further up off North Park and they were slowly renovating them to keep up with how fancy all the new apartments have been, and they kept jacking up the price. I went from 700 the first year I’d moved in to 880. The third year we lived there, it was like this isn’t a very nice place compared to all the others. I’m basically paying the same amount without all the amenities. That place was built in the 70s or 80s. When we were looking for a new area to live in, it said that that part of Kingwood was a lot more desirable because it was before Kingwood Drive, so it didn’t have as much traffic and then I can keep going.
Q: I think it’s just ended.
A: It just, what?
Q: It just ended.
A: Yes. The tape’s done?
Q: Did they give me more? Oh God. They said it was a 14th, ready to go, feel something. It’s a book about the camera.
A: How long was that tape?
Q: I don’t know. One hour, three minutes and 10 seconds. It seems an odd time to tape.
A: You’ll have only the recording to get away.
Q: I guess we could just continue with just the audio recording. That’ll be fine. We can. Sorry about that. Back to where were we at?
A: The moving in.
Q: Moving in yes.
A: When our rent was up that final year, we didn’t feel like paying so much for not a lot. We’d been looking around in May of 2016 was the last time the water had risen high that Memorial Day of 2016. When we had looked, we knew that that area was a possibility for us. We actually checked it out on our bikes and rode through the water when it flooded then. The back two buildings did not have water at all near them. They had it in the parking lot and it was up to our knees when we were riding bikes. But it was nowhere near how deep it got and how close it was to the buildings that were lower, in that same a complex.
We figured, okay, at least in my mind, I figured we’re safe. We’re an entire building separated, we’re a little higher; we’re in the back, where the water didn’t get type of thing. James had checked the floodplains online that our building wasn’t in the floodplain either. We figured, “Okay, we should be alright.” They claimed that no water got into those buildings, the other buildings in 2016. Garages, yes. But not-
Q: Garages, yes.
A: But not the home. The separate garages; we figured we if we should still be okay to live there. In hindsight now, knowing that it had gotten that close before, we probably would’ve been smarter to get flood insurance. At the very least, because I’ve never had flood insurance, at the very least it would have been. We thought maybe it would get a few inches. When everyone was saying it’s going to be torrential rain and that type of thing, then we will maybe, if it keeps coming up that high, just a few inches could get really that high up from where we were. It wasn’t the case.
Q: Just for clarification, how close is your apartment complex? How close was it to the shores of Lake Houston or was it?
A: To Lake Houston or the San Jacinto?
Q: Because it’s up in the front, isn’t it? Or is it close to both?
A: Where the bridge is and then it’s some Smitty’s and Sharkies then it’s the bank and the brownstone. Then it’s the complex apartments. Ours were behind that. If you went to Shark that where Porto’s used to be and you went back there and they have those other brownstones, it was those that was Harbor Cove behind that in the back of that little curved area. Then it was the ISE. When I first moved here, it was just the ISE and those apartments back there that had been developed. Then in what, 12, 11 years, all that other stuff has been built there with it.
Q: As Harvey was developing into a storm and making its way towards landfall what was going through you and your boyfriend James’ minds? Was there any concern or anything?
A: It was just we monitor, like Friday when we got to go home early from work, we went late lunch first because it was just raining. We know it’s coming. We know it’s going to rain a lot. We just watched on Saturday, and we would go check the river and see how high it got. I think Saturday night we even went and drove around the whole loop of 6:10 looking at all the water. I want to say Saturday morning was when some people from work had started texting and saying, please pray for us. The water is three inches from our door now. I’m just like “Be safe, we hope you’re okay.” We hadn’t lost any power. It was just raining a lot and we knew other people were starting to get a little bit of water in. Then Sunday we had heard more people it came up and then it receded a little bit. Then other people got flooded instead, type of thing. But the same thing Sunday we went to HEB on Kingwood Drive.
Q: The new nice HEB on Kingwood Drive.
A: Yes. They were closing at 3:00 p.m. so we made sure we went before that and got a few- we got stuff to make sandwiches and it was just raining a lot. We would every few hours go look at the river, maybe drive around a little bit and then go back home. Then Sunday night I think it was really heavy. That’s when it the real bad thunderstorms happened. Sunday night we were fine, woke up Monday morning around 8:00 a.m. there was a nice little river in our parking lot. I was like, “Okay, well this, now it’s here.” and I apologize, Sunday night, the river had gotten up high enough that it was starting to flow. I don’t know if it was the river or the rain, there was so much rain.
Our street was starting to back up from having all the water. James had been going to check the river and then Sunday night he could not take the car out to go drive around to look at everything. Because it was on the curb. It was getting too high, he didn’t want to, he could drive around our complex, but then trying to get out, he didn’t want chance the car getting stuck or flooded or something, just trying to go over that little dip onto the street. We slept Sunday night and then Monday morning it was a little river in our parking lot. We figured by then the river had definitely breached by Sharkey’s by then. But it was still okay. He made a nice breakfast. We had eggs, we were watching a movie. They were the coast guard in the Cajun navy we’re starting to come around. When James talked to them, the first time they said it’s not mandatory. I’m like, “Okay, well yes, we’re cool; we’re just hanging out, riding out.”
Q: Monday after breakfast?
A: Then by 10:00 a.m. it was a little higher and someone had decided to, since we had an attached garage to the building. Our neighbor who lived above us had the other garage that was attached next to us. She was an emergency nurse and she had already said before all this started like “I’m at the hospital until they say I’m not, feel free to park both your cars in our driveway.” It was angled up so we could have them out of the parking lot a little bit. By 10:00 a.m. that day, someone else that lived in our building had decided they were going to park their car sideways up on the sidewalk, blocking our car and I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool.”
It was already starting to; it had hit the curb on both sides where the cars parked, all the way. Our entire parking lot was covered in water by 10 or 11:00 a.m. Monday. It was maybe halfway up the drive; it still hadn’t gotten to our cars yet. It still wasn’t over the little sidewalk and up our little steps to the building yet. We were hoping, “Okay, if it just keeps raining, let’s keep flowing down,” and it’ll be the other flood where our building just didn’t get touched because it was too high. Then around 2:00 we saw another coast guard and he just said, it’s still not mandatory, but water’s going to come in.
Do you want to leave now when you have some time or do you want to leave when you are in the water type of thing? I was like, “Oh, okay, we’ll leave.” I’d been talking to, I have a friend who lives actually in our building, but her parents live across the bridge is it on, I guess on the, I don’t know, the left side when you’re coming this way from Kingwood, she lives on that side. I guess still in the Kingwood neighborhoods.
Q: That’s technically still Kingwood, I think.
A: She had gone to stay at her parents’ house, and our issue is we have cats and back when that happened and we left because of the electricity, not because of water. That was my issue too, either people are allergic to cats, or they have young children that can’t be around cat, or they have pets of their own that wouldn’t be good with cats. She was like, “Yes, of course,” they have no pets and there’s no children, so we were good. That’s when they said, you can’t go across the bridge anymore. Everyone I know that would be willing to take us lives across the bridge, shoot.
I just happened to when the Coast Guard had told James that and he’d come in and said, I just happened to be on the phone with my team leader. She got on Facebook and posted we’re all stuck in Kingwood is anyone over there that might be willing to take her in with the cats? I had just said I’ll call the next time I know where we’re going because I just know we’re getting on a boat. That’s also in hindsight, I guess just to be safe. I should have taken, I didn’t even take my purse. I just pulled my wallet out of my purse and left.
I wish I had taken our passports just to be safe. Ironically, I had my school iPads and we had put stuff up, furniture that we didn’t want to get wet period. We put on top of the bed, we moved things up higher. I made sure on all my school stuff was on my top of my desk or moved back a little bit because we thought if it comes in maybe three inches or something. We put things on top of the couch, just I picked up stuff, the books off the bottom two book part parts of the bookcase and put them on top of the table type of thing. Just things like that. We had found some spots since it had been raining so much. We found a little leak in our desk in our sunroom/office area, that had been leaking down in the back of one of our pictures.
We had taken that off and put it on top of the bathroom stand, the bathroom counter and the guest bedroom. Then we found a couple weak spots. I don’t know how the rain was coming and I guess on the cement and the stairwell. There was a little opening where the boards were it wasn’t sealed or anything. It was leaking into the wall and then just pooling on our ceiling and below the second floors floor. We had water spots on the ceiling in both of those areas that we were nervous about.
We put stuff up and just, we’ll just make sure it’s safe. I took one iPad from, because I had taken them for my class, and I thought about taking my personal school one and the other iPad. That’s silly. I’m like really the fact that I’m even taking an iPad is ridiculous. But I wanted some entertainment if I couldn’t be at home or whatever. I was like, “Okay, I’ll just take this one. I’ll just leave this one here.” It’s always on the bathroom counter, it’s fine type of thing. Then we went by airboat and so we were, we just with.
Q: With the Coast Guard?
A: Yes, we just grabbed a backpack put a couple days again just we’ve done this before. Just a couple days just to get through waiting it out. Just as long as the cats are safe, just making sure they get out okay.
Q: How many cats in there?
A: He pulled a few of his clothes. I got a few and we tried to think water wise, what would be movable so we could get things or scrunch up or whatever and trying these type situations, or still stay warm or dry and yes. What just like “Okay, my license.” Then James in a super hurry, he was just shoving the trying to get the cat because they don’t getting in the crates as it is. I have this like we get one and we do this and we’re okay and then we do this type of thing, and we close all the doors.
They can’t hide anywhere, so that was crazy trying to- they knew something was wrong and they didn’t like it and so they started freaking out and that’s when their claws or not. That was a little stressful because he was ready to go and so he just was shoving them in, you can’t just shove cats into things. We finally got them done or I had at least thought about suitcases and stuff, I don’t need that.
That’s not important. I think James had said- he said a couple times, but I forgot what, there were certain things. He’s like, “Oh, I should have probably taken this.” he had taken pictures of our home just in case water did come through the ceiling for insurance purposes, then he forgot that camera, that he had taken pictures on type of thing. He’s like, “Oh, I should have,” once they said you need to go, he really took that to heart and he was just like, “We’re going now.” Whereas I had been like, “Well we can, it’s okay the water isn’t out yet, let’s just go slow and think about what we need type thing.” It’s like, “We got to go.” The cats are, we’re leaving. Then we went by airboat with a bunch of other people that had their luggage and stuff. They dropped us off.
Q: From your apartment complex or?
A: That was funny. I remember in May when we had gone to check out the flooding in May 2016. Everyone’s cars had been moved, it was all crazy, that neighbor who just randomly started ridiculously parking in our driveway. This time since the water was coming up so high everywhere in all the parking lots, a lot of people had gone to Wells Fargo in the old Wells Fargo building and parked there in that corner of Westlake Houston and Magnolia Cove. It was all crazy in there because it was higher, and that area had never flooded. They dropped us off before the YMCA started, that’s where the water was shallow enough where the boats really couldn’t go anymore, and big trucks could get in to transport people.
Initially they said we left around two, they dropped us off there and then we had to wait. Because I had my flip flops on. I’m like, “That’s fine, I’ll just take my flip flops off, I’ll walk barefoot, be careful of the fire ants.” You had to be careful of that, then putting the cats down and their cages that there weren’t fire ants there either. And right where that water was, if we were on top of the curb in the median where the trees were, the grass and the ground are obviously saturated, but there it wasn’t, I think it was just a slight amount of water above the curb off from the ground right there.
Luckily, we were able to get to just a truck bed instead of, they had the giant dumpster type ones, that you needed a ladder to climb into it. We didn’t get in one of those. The trucks weren’t supposed to transport people from there to where the emergency center and the library were on Westlake Houston. From there they were supposed to take a bus that was taking them to either a holding site or was going straight to George R. Brown. The buses had stopped or they, I guess there weren’t enough after by the time we got there.
The trucks that were originally just going back and forth from the boat site to the bus stop, were now just taking them all to the holding, which I think was St. Martha’s old area, they still use it, but yes, the old St. Martha’s. We got to St. Martha’s by then I finally could call because we were out on a boat in the rain and then we were waiting in the rain and then we were in the back of a truck in the rain. I’m not taking my phone out. Of course, in that time since my team leader had put it on Facebook, people had been like, “Oh my gosh, we can do this or that.” They had already started connecting and networking because everyone had electricity over here or the people in Kingwood who didn’t have electricity had enough juice or some of those special power chargers or whatever.
Q: Those portable ones?
A: To at least yes, charge their phones. She was getting intermittent Facebook and stuff, she saw it. One of my old partner Amanda Vaughn, she was like, “I can get them, they can stay at my house.” Even with her two kids, her two young kids, thankfully her dog was with grandma at the time, she was like, “Yes, the cats can come,” and she had an aunt who had a litter box. They were nice enough to pick us up and then go get the litter box with litter so that we could have a bathroom for them in the little room that we kept them in. Then from there, also another one of my coworkers said, “Well I have a house that’s for sale that’s completely empty now.” A realtor just needs to have the code to get into the house type of thing.
Then someone else said, “I have a realtor who lives two houses down from me. Let me see a piece of here.” and behold maybe four, maybe it was around four, maybe earlier, I don’t know. Vaughn finally got to us at St. Martha’s and picked us up and took us. By six o’clock we had my coworker picked us up in her car from Vaughn’s house and took us to the empty house and we met her neighbor there, that was the realtor, he let us in. We checked it out to see if it was okay. It had electricity, there was no water issues. He gave us the key and we went back for at least that night to stay with Vaughn because she had been nice enough to pick like “Thanks. See you.
We’ve used you for what we need to.” It was nice, even though they had no electricity. It was still someplace warm and safe, her kids liked this. They got to see the cats and I was going to have her oldest in my class this year. We stayed, we just hung out with them and had dinner with them that night. Because that was the other thing, there was nothing in that house. They were nice enough to also like “Why don’t you just come back? We can get you some food or some canned stuff to take with you back there.” They at least had dinner or something we could eat with them too, and we had already gotten the cats situated there, so it’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to go through it again, so close together.” Because they were so wet, they looked little rats.
By the time we got them into the house, and they were just gone. They were so freaked out. We just wanted them to feel safe and not have to move again. Because our clothes were wet, our bags were wet, their cages, they were just like, “We just want to dry off now.” Now that you’re nice enough, we’ll just stay here. The next day we slept with the windows open because it was, they had no electricity, so it was hot. The next morning from where they live in Kingwood, near Bayer Branch, we could hear helicopters. I was like, “Whoa, what’s, wow, that’s something you don’t hear waking up every day.” Then I guess it was like, “What’s going on?” Because it was just helicopter noise nonstop, back and forth.
You could hear it coming, getting louder, getting softer. When they took us around lunchtime from their house to the empty house that was for sale that’s when we saw, because they go through wherever their house is located, they could go by in front of Creekwood Middle School and then back by Greentree Elementary to get to her house. It was all in that little area back there, which thankfully was completely out of the way of where the water was which I left that part out when we were driving in the truck from the library to St. Martha’s. You could see the water and all the ditches and whatever, that was high, that was up to the sidewalks at that time. There were still people at Kingwood High School. They were standing outside waving at us when they drove us past. But all the little creeks and they were full by that time. You could see it at street level.
That’s the last we knew because I knew those. She lives in Bayer branch and so some of those homes on Kingwood Drive also feed into Bayer Branch. But I knew it looked like they would eventually get it because they’re the older parts of Houston where they have the ditches and then their front lawns, they just have a little thing over for their sidewalks and stuff. Those are already up, so it’s like, “Well that means their lawns are for sure going to be done and flowing with water soon anyway.” But I guess she was just further enough and away from that that she didn’t get that water in her home. We just kept working that way. Luckily, we just ended up being around the water.
When we went by Creekwood, that’s when we saw the Cajun Navy again and the Coast Guard and everyone doing the same boat and truck thing. But it was there by Creekwood this time we’re like, “Wait a second.” Then after they dropped us off, since we didn’t have, they had tried to give us a couple of bottles of water, a couple canned, but we were hungry, and I thought at least we had a place to stay that was dry. Again, put the cats out, tried to make them comfortable as possible. They were nice enough to give us little plastic cups so we could put food and water up for them. Then we were like, “Well we would like to eat real food, we’re hungry,” maybe the grocery store is open.
We walked from where she lived to the Kroger on North Park, and they had already closed at three. Luckily, the gas station was open, there was no gas, but they still so we bought a bunch of snacks and drinks. She was like, “Who knows when we’re going to get to get out again and we have no transportation.” It was still raining, that was on Tuesday. We bought a lot, then we were lucky enough as we were trying to walk back that someone had come out and was walking from the donut place by Skeeters.
They were open and both the gas station and Skeeters were like, “No, our homes are fine.” This is the best way we can think of to help now is to be open for people who still need things. The donut it was, I don’t know, one, two in the afternoon and the donut place was still open and baking and they usually are closed by then. James bought a dozen of everything. Then we had all these bags, at least we had warm food, something that we knew, and she had a microwave still in her house, we were like, “OK, well we can warm things up now.” Her fridge was working; there was still electricity there, so if we had something to store, we could use it now.
Luckily on our way back in the rain, someone was kind enough to stop and say, “Do you need a ride? Yes please.” That was nice that someone offered to get us back since it was like, “Oh we’re wet again.” Because that did, which FEMA asked about any health issues as a result. I was like, “Does ringworm count?” unfortunately it does not. But there’s still a cause come from. Because I didn’t realize, and I think half the reason we didn’t shower when we were at Vaughn’s house is because she didn’t have electricity. Even if we took our wet clothes off, we didn’t clean off or, and we still had the wet clothes from our backpacks for over 24 hours because we just slept. We changed clothes and pajamas and then slept, and we didn’t take off the clothes we had sat on the boat in until that night if you were in it that whole afternoon. That was fun like, what? Then we found out, I don’t know if it was at the grocery, the gas station or the donut place that the water had gotten all the way to the Wendy’s on West Lake Houston. That was when it was like, “Oh my god, what?”
That makes sense that there were helicopters and all those people. That Wednesday it had stopped raining. It was more intermittent and less than usual. One of my other friends in Kingwood had gotten ahold of me and this is all texting. There was very little actual talking on the phone, because by then even it was safe where some people were starting to be able to drive around again especially with less rain. You couldn’t get into Kingwood anywhere, people down here are having to go all the way to 45 or the toll, what is that one?
A: Yes, thank you. The Hardy Toll Road going up to 99 and then coming down to get to people they knew in that area. She was lucky or we were lucky enough that she could get to us by going up 49- — because she lived in the front of Kingwood. She went 494 instead of Woodland Hills. She came and got us, and we had called our insurance that morning to say, we’re pretty sure our cars are gone type of thing. Until we knew, my insurance had said like, “Okay, you can go get a car. Here’s your reservation number,” go when you can type thing.
I thought that I needed to get there and then I could reserve a car, but somehow, I was on the list already. Initially when she finally could get to us, I had put my name on there and then two hours later she called and said, “Can you be here?” It was 5:30, “Can you get here before 6:00 PM we have a car for you.” It turns out at 5:30 that afternoon was when I finally was up. It was my turn to get a car when I had called at eight or nine that morning. I was lucky I guess that I had just called early enough. It took a whole day unbeknownst to me that I got a car the same day. I was lucky.
Since she lived in the front of Kingwood, it was at that enterprise by Lowe’s in the front of Kingwood. She was nice enough to ask us to come to dinner. She’s like, “What can I do? How can I help you?” That’s what it became. Everyone was just like, “What can I do type thing.” At that point we’re like, “We have no car, and we have a limited amount of food,” and that’s about where and we want to make sure the cats are safe and okay, or they need water and food too. At that point, that’s all we could do, she was nice, she had us over for dinner. We had a warm meal that wasn’t kolaches or donuts.
Luckily, we were there when they said, can you get here before six or put the spoon down out. That was nice, we got the car two days after leaving. That helped tremendously because then that meant we could go find a grocery store that was open or find some place that was open to get what we needed type thing. It wasn’t, “Okay, is Kroger going to be open today?” Trying to be on foot. When was it, Thursday is when in the late afternoon is when we found out that the bridge had finally opened again to even get in somewhere big trucks could go. Little cars or normal cars could not get through the water yet. Luckily, our friends had been checking they had a big truck. Because they had wanted to try and help, they had done the whole loop thing, trying to find people that they could help, because they were fine. They took us in, and they finally got us to our apartment. Sorry, I forgot that part. The day we got the car, let’s just drive around. Let’s just not be in some stranger’s home.
But we don’t know, and she didn’t have internet there because they’re, but at least electricity. It was just like, “We’re just tired of being inside and we just want to know what’s going on.” We had walked by Wednesday. Tuesday it was still at Wendy’s, by Wednesday night it had receded a little. We had parked and we went down just to see what exactly where we talking about? Because if it was that far, what did that mean for our apartment since we were so close? This was so far from in. When we talked to the policeman, he initially said on Wednesday night, they were hoping by that weekend it would be to what Kingwood Drive. That was like, “Wait, so three, four more days for the water to be here?” Then when we asked, well what about closer by Sharkey’s and stuff, he said that might be another week.
That’s when I freaked out. Because my coworker who was letting us stay in her home, she had been really, “Don’t worry about it, stay as long as you need, please.” What are we going to do? Who’s going to buy it now? But a week later, I’m depending on this house now it’s we’re the cats don’t need to move anymore. We’ve created just a safe place for everyone there. She was great. Take as long as you need it, whatever. As long as you’re okay if for some reason we do show, if you wouldn’t mind putting your stuff up and not being there, we don’t care how long you stay unless our ourselves. It’s like, “Okay, good deal. Thank you.” That really freaked me out that the police had no idea, and they were taping it off and the curfew was still in effect and there’s like, “You’re not allowed to go past this point.”
They only let some people who were going to already try and help with the pet store and that shopping center where the old HEB was though, because he had a badge, he was a retired policeman or something. We trust you go on type of thing. That’s when I freaked out. Then Thursday, thankfully the water had gone down enough. That I guess is with all the stuff that’s going on where people are, I don’t know if you’ve heard the conspiracy theory that one, they pumped out way too much, way too fast from the reservoirs. That those neighborhoods wouldn’t flood or whatever, that really that is the reason it wasn’t all the rain that made the water go that far out and that over swells it was because it could just literally not handle so much water at once coming.
When it stopped raining and it was able to drain, it was fine and that’s why the water receded so quickly for people to go back and see. Because they had also thought it might have gotten up to the second-floor apartments at ours. That’s when it was like, “Okay, what do we do? What is it going to look like?” We thought we had left because we had two entrances into our apartment. The one from the garage and then our main door in the little hall breezeway. We had been leaving that one unlocked just in case the garage, the electricity went out and we couldn’t get through the garage. But I guess that old bad habits, we had locked both locks on the front door when we left, and we had only locked the bottom one in the garage.
We couldn’t get the garage open. We couldn’t get the door. We broke our screen to see if we could get to our back door. It was really nice because one man was actually there, or he had come back just to see what his apartment was like on the second floor. he’s like, “What are y’all doing?” It’s like two couples and you could hear little kids nearby with them like “This is our place. We’re not trying to really break in or anything.” He’s like, “Well, I have a hammer.” I’m like, “Okay.” We finally get in. I don’t know if I’m allowed to see that on camera though.
Q: The cameras out of tape anyway.
A: That’s cool. Because we were trying to, we couldn’t get in, we were trying to break the glass to get in and since I was the smallest. It was easy and it was so muddy and stuff and slippery. I tried and I was afraid I’m going to fall into this stuff. I’m trying. I’m like, “I can’t do it.” That’s when the guy offered a hammer. Finally, James had to get in and even still, it took him a few whacks and finally when it whacked it just went (crashing sound). The whole thing, it’s not just the little pains, it was a whole thing with just fake pains. Then it still took another one before it would finally fall apart to get in.
We unlocked it that way and we were able to get in and they were at about three or four inches of water still in there when we went that first day. I don’t know, you could see, we are at least able to see the stuff on top of the bar wasn’t wet, so that was our barometer, whatever a bar high is, it was at least not up to it type of thing. That was the good news. The bad news was countertops are not bar high. Everything and counters below that did get wet.
That picture we had taken off the wall so it wouldn’t get water damage there, was damaged from below instead type of thing, or things we had put, everything I had put on my desk that I didn’t think about like, “Oh, my computer is gone. Oh wait, all the main books I was using and all my notes and articles, they’re all gone.” Things like, “Oh, the iPads are gone.” The table fell over, everything I had moved up was now even more damaged than maybe it could have been where things that I thought were okay on that next shelf. They were all gone. What was it like books that I had gone, made and published in India and dedicated to me or what from people I’d met there, those were gone. That type of thing or things that I thought were high enough a lot of that stuff was not okay. Then the things we’d put on the bed and the couch, the couch was pretty good.
We had just gotten that couch made and so it was pretty, it was specified to what we wanted, and it’s quality, I guess everything hand cut, hand stitched or whatever. That soaked up a lot of the water, all the foam. The cat bed I had put on top of other blankets or cushions and stuff on it. Some of our blankets were damp but were salvageable. The cat bed could be a little seemed mostly dry, that type of thing was okay.
But our bed was really old since I’ve lived here and all the sheets and blank stuff so we just sucked that up, which means the things that we had tried to save and specifically put up that was wet and a wooden chair thing that we had put on top of, just kept stacking that was slightly wet on the legs but was the most salvageable. The other things were just, they were completely soaked. That day we at least just got little things, ironically, I had some stuff from my parents’ house that I had been waiting to bring up here because we lived in a small one bedroom. We had this nice two-bedroom home together. Like I said, we had bought our two first pieces of real grownup furniture.
I finally got a couch instead of a hand me down. We got a beautiful on wall that I’ve been looking up wanting to buy this style or this type of furniture, since I was on my own type thing, or I bought my own stuff. That stuff was gone. Then my parents had come to visit at Christmas. They had brought that stuff that I was waiting to have. We had finally put that up in our apartment. I got it for six months, now that was gone when it had been waiting in my parents’ house for three years. My grandmother passed away in November of 2016. I had brought not a lot, but just a few little things when I had gone for a funeral like a little picture frame, she had, little magnets or just things that I associated with her that I liked with her.
Or things maybe I had bought her when I had traveled that she had out that. it was nice to have backed I guess that I knew my grandma had had this type thing. I think the only thing I had from her house that was still okay or that I could find that hadn’t been strewn or damaged or it was a picture of them on their one trip that they went to New York, and they were looking up in Times Square. It’s my favorite picture ever. Thankfully that it was on the door up high, that was okay. But that was the only thing from what I’d taken from my grandmother’s that was still okay. I just got this stuff.
Q: What was all that scene, all of that like for you?
A: For me, I was still in the mode of we’re working, we got to whatever we can get, get it out type of thing. James, that first date when we couldn’t get in ii think or maybe it was on Friday because when I talked to again my team leader or people that were just let us know we’re ready. They had been planning those that didn’t get hit and knew people had had to leave like, “Let’s go, come on.” They were ready on Thursday, and I was ready on Thursday. We got to get in there. We can get big trucks in, let’s get as much out. James was just like, “Can we just not do it again?” He didn’t even want to go back after we took a few things out and had taken them to our friends who had taken us into the apartment or gone with us. They took some of that stuff back to their house. I was ready to go.
I thought they were all coming back and then it was like, “No, we’ll just go get stuff we need from Walmart to actually be able to be in wet things in a wet apartment and safely gloves and good shoes or whatever and go in.” Then I wanted to go back and clean up more and he’s like, “Can we just- he didn’t even want to go back.” Then we at least parked over there because I was gung-ho and we just sat for a moment, said, let’s just go look or think about it or see what because I knew the little things, we got a lot of stuff off the walls that first day.
Because that’s what’s important a lot of it to me because it’s stuff from El Paso. It’s all El Paso stuff. That’s how I decorate or whatever. I have stuff from when I was in middle school that was up on the walls type of thing. That was the important things I wanted or that’s what makes me feel it’s my home, I guess. We got some of that out and I just want to see what other, you said my magnets or little things that we could at least get out, or books or picture frames that had been up high. The cat bed that was still okay, just little things that we could just find before people came. We went back and then in hindsight he was like, “I’m glad we went” just to see if there was anything dry just to get it out of there so it wasn’t in that environment anymore type thing.
Then, we just was it that night? I think I was okay that night, but I couldn’t sleep, or I could fall asleep cause I was so tired. But then I would wake up at four in the morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep type thing. I’d known I wasn’t expecting it, but there’s been one other thing in my life where it’s been a major life changing, stressful event that I had learned what my body needs to function or like “This is what it’s going to be like. This is how I cope to still be able to resemble a human type thing. When I couldn’t start sleeping again, I knew what to do type of stuff. I knew what the plan was to help myself out or whatever to at least get rest.
I want to say, I guess it was that Friday. People had posted on Facebook, like Barela needs help. I was like, “eight, nine, what time in the morning.” He’s like, “How about can we do 11” he wanted it later. He just wanted time by himself. Even then we were like, “Oh, just leave it. Forget it. Just, no.” Eventually people just started coming in and just like, “Okay, we’re taking this, we’re getting this.” Thankfully didn’t listen to us or hadn’t heard us or whatever, they just started pulling things out and if it was dry or could be washed or it was okay. They took it type of thing outside. I think it was they came at 11 and by…
Q: This is on Friday?
A: Yes. When everyone came and I can talk more about that day, but just to answer your question, James I guess broke down at the end of that day. I can’t remember. I thought it was on Friday where it just hit him like, “Oh, we’re going to have to do this. This is our home is gone and we have to see if there’s anything we can save from it.” It hit him for a second and he got it out and then he was okay. I think mine, I was so much like and that I think that’s who I am in emergency situations. What do we do? This is wrong, how do we make it type thing. It doesn’t hit me until later.
I think it was that Friday night we were trying to go to sleep and then all of a sudden, my mind will start racing and then I just started crying and then I couldn’t stop. It just got worse till finally I woke him up, I didn’t mean to, but I was trying to catch my breath and I guess it’s like you can’t do anything in the middle of the night and it’s calm and quiet and that was just my moment. I think maybe he’s had one more time where he’s, I guess been that emotional to get sad. Mine is more, I don’t get sad all the time, but there’s just certain moments now. When we went to go it didn’t make me cry to watch them taking stuff out or going back and seeing what it looked or whatever. At the end of the day, I did eventually, just looking around and still.
But when we went back to sign our waiver that we’re just parting ways. The apartments are not going to charge us for anything. We’re not being charged for anything, we’re just in a mutual agreement. I’m just like, “I really like living here” and I start crying a little bit. Not the crazy crying I’ve done that night, but just it’s just sad. There’s just little moments like that with certain things. Like last night at the symphony, I think it’s their third time they’ve performed since they reopened Jones Hall. Their program has a little thing about Harvey and about the musicians and what the musicians did to help each other and those that were affected or how their hall is doing and stuff. Just reading about that and just thinking, because that was one of my things like, “Oh, I need to get thinking in the aftermath, I need to get this done or take care of this or we lost this,” and I have to make sure this is in place or whatever. Things like that will still make me sad and then I’m like okay and so I’ll get, I don’t know, emotional, but I won’t start crying like I did. Now it just depends.
Q: What was the cleanup process for you guys? In the immediate aftermath and the storm had already passed?
A: In that sense, we got lucky. That since it was just an apartment. It wasn’t ours type of thing. We had been told by our apartments that they would have a cleanup crew coming in that weekend. We knew anything we left would be taken care of by them. In that sense it was well all the furniture just piled, so we can get to things that we can’t save type of thing. I think you and your dad were probably, I don’t know if you remember there were certain things, we wanted the most important, I guess things that we could salvage that were wet, that were in the kit. It was the kitchen and the closet for sure.
There was stuff in the office that didn’t get wet that we would like, but there were some things that we were willing to just say forget it. People were like, “No, this is, no, we can do this.” Your dad was one of them that he had said like, “All the dishes and stuff, his grandmother’s stuff.” My old wedding China, whatever, just it’s been in there and its gross and it was in muddy water, and we can live without it. We haven’t lived with it anyway. He was just like, “No, this is nice stuff.” It was just in water. It can be desanitized or whatever. Just getting that stuff out or taking at least some shelves, I guess we had really wanted to get down to the nitty gritty, we could have taken the toaster and the microwave out and saved that shelf because that was supposed to be chrome at least, the other chrome shelves or whatever.
I don’t know what else. There was some like the laundry shelf that we had in there, we could have unscrewed, that type of thing or I don’t know think, but in that moment you’re just that’s not. I guess now I feel like, “Oh, that would’ve been nice to have.” Or I guess I’m going to buy a new one type of thing. But it wasn’t something we really felt we needed. He bought a lot of jackets from the thrift store that he really liked. But they had been on the couch in the guest bedroom, so they got all wet, he’s just like, “Forget it,” someone took them and cleaned them that was like, “Wow. It was really nice.” There’s been some things that, or we just thought, forget it, it’s not worth saving or I don’t know if we just thought it was too hard or just the idea of like, “Will it be, okay?”
I don’t know. It’s not worth it type thing that other people did take. I had decorated for Halloween because I had been bored Saturday and Sunday, not really having much to do. since we had moved in October last year, I didn’t get to decorate for Halloween, so I was like, “I want it up.” Then of course, shoot now all my Halloween stuff is wet. I had stuff on the walls. I was like, “Can we take that off please? I would like that.” I know it’s a spider on a wall and it looks ridiculous, but that was I just bought that type thing and wanted to decorate with it. I don’t know, James just focused on the garage because that’s where his bikes were and that’s what was really important to him.
He put a lot of money into that and so he focused on that since I had an idea of what I wanted in all the other places. Initially I tried to be like, “Okay, well I know you will be nice to my dishes and stuff, so you all go in the kitchen, or I know you all are good with pet stuff, so I’m so sorry. Can you deal with the litter boxes and this closet type thing?” I only may really care about this stuff or this stuff. Then other things furniture that had been in the guest bedroom somehow, I don’t know, I guess I’m not really sure. The TV ended up underneath the TV stand. The TV stand was sideways or something, so I’m not really sure what happened there.
But to me and that’s where all my teaching stuff was that I had boxed up and I just shoved over there and just so in my mind all that was just gone like, “Okay, I just not just forget about it.” Where I think some people actually went through some of that stuff, the jackets or whatever, and took it out. It was like, “OK, thanks.” I didn’t think, I had just said, leave that alone, this is all I really care about. Then later I was like, “Oh, all my plastic tubs that were high and my colored baskets that were high,” maybe I could have saved those for my classroom. I think people did get them when initially I’d been like, “Just don’t worry about it.” And after I was like oh, that stuff. There’s some other things.
People who did the kitchen, did one side, but then they forgot the major stuff that they could see, but then they didn’t think about looking all the way through the cabinet, to see if there was a small shelf type thing. I think it eventually, and sometimes the guys who came, they were ready. Sometimes people came thinking we’re ready to throw stuff out, pull things out type thing. I was like, “No, you don’t have to pull things out of our place.” You don’t have to get major appliances out. It’s fine. We don’t have to clean out a fridge or anything. They’ll just do it all. I think it’s just a matter of getting things out.
I would say I was surprised, no one looked in the coat closet. That was one of a little later that I was like, “It’s still all here. Okay. We need this, take this out please.” After the first major waves of people taking clothes to go wash type thing. That was really nice too that some people might not necessarily be able to stay or to help move for one reason or another, but they were willing to come and pick up clothes and wash them. One of our coworkers has two young children at home, so she couldn’t, so not only did she send her husband who we’ve never met and who doesn’t know us out, and he was very willing to help, but it worked out that then she was the babysitter, the daycare provider.
She watched all the kids from everyone who else that could come and help. That was her way of providing, I guess help and support. That was nice. Then lo and behold, some people who came and picked up lots of clothes, it turns out, would then distribute to other people that we knew or that they knew a lot better, and they washed our stuff for us, and they didn’t even come. They just delivered it to them, and they took care of it type thing. I had one person that was, I was just like, “It’s fine, we’re just done, it’s okay.” You don’t need to do anything anymore and you feel bad, people start to get tired or they’re doing a lot of work for you.
I felt I was just running around checking on everyone not trying to slip and yes, throw this away or no like, “Yes I want this. That’s fine or whatever type thing.” I don’t, yes, it’s just like, “Oh I just don’t want to do this anymore type,” but you have to because time is important in that regard. One person went around with me, and we tried to look through everything and make sure, did I get everything I wanted? Sometimes there are still some things I’m like, “did we get this?” I hope someone got this. I don’t know, maybe I should have gotten this or that. I had said, no, I don’t want, or that’s fine, I’ll leave that there. Then somehow, it’s already at the house.
I don’t know, it’s just been or something that I wasn’t sure about, or my mom pulled something out while she was here. She was like, “Well the bottom half was still wet, so I cut it off and threw it away, but this half is still here.” That for some reason made me cry that night, then the next day with the stress of work and what was going on there, I was just super emotional that day. Our cleanup was just more finding what could be washed and cleaned and still not be lost type thing. There were some things that were questionable because it was cork or foam that had done a great job sucking it up. Some things did if they weren’t open- I wanted to keep all my soap. I like to buy soap in six-month supply because it’s cheaper at certain times of the year. Then I have the holiday stuff, it’s like, “But it’s not opened. It’s all this soap.” they’re like Barela, where I just bought material to make curtains for the classroom and then I didn’t.
It ended up someone had given me their curtains, so I didn’t need this, so I was going to take it back and get my money back. I found it and it was all muddy. I’m like, “What if I wash it and take it through it’s gone stop type of thing.” And your dad too, he found that drawer with all the towels and it, I thought they did the kitchen. Why is there still stuff? Then I almost forgot to look in the little drawer under the oven and found out, I guess Clay can’t save the clay because who knew like, “Yes, that absorbs, I was like, dang it.” But there was still all the other trays that weren’t, that were metal. They hadn’t gotten that. It was really you still had to go back and really check, which was not fun because you’re still looking at every things you knew you had but weren’t really thinking about it in the moment. Now you are, you’re like, “Oh.”
In some ways it’s been nice seeing what was saved. That was really nice of them, I don’t know we did not go back after that Friday. It was just like, “We’re done, that’s it, that’s all we can save. Forget it. There’s no more.” We don’t want to have to not deal with it. I guess it’s not worth trying to save anymore type of thing. I guess we’ve put enough effort in, and we’re exhausted, and we still don’t know, things are everywhere and there’s still so uncertain about thing about when are we going to work, when are we doing this? What’s happening with that type thing that it’s just whatever? Not normal, but we just not be in a wet place or in these same clothes still type thing.
We didn’t go that day, and then Sunday was when we went to go sign and I think that’s when I need to go check one more time like, “Did we get this? Did they take off? because since I to put things everywhere, did they take everything off the doorways?” I had started taking my magnets off the door by the garage and then had stopped to go talk to someone about something and realized no one took that stuff off the back of the doors. My grandmother’s picture thankfully was still there, and I was able to get that. But that had been just sitting there in our empty apartment, well in our damaged. It wasn’t empty. There was lots of things, but the people could have easily broken into because nothing was locked or closed after people started going in and taking their stuff out. Things that were important I guess to me we’re still there to take. I don’t know if you need that part.
Monday Labor Day one of my coworkers had already started looking for homes or places for us to rent and we had already started going, I guess that’s what we were tired of trying to see that house. “Okay, let’s go see if we can find some place to actually live and put all this stuff.” I think that’s what we had done Saturday and Sunday. Looked at apartments up here. That Saturday one of my coworkers had looked for homes to rent down there down in The Heights area because that was an area, we were willing to live. It was a distance for where James might be working and for up here. We had gotten a hit, and someone had responded and said, “Yes, we can look. When would you like to?” On Labor Day we went and looked that Monday, a week after we left, we went and looked at what ended up being the place we live in now.
Then we went to our furniture stores because, if there were two things and besides the things that we were lucky enough to save, the things we would back were the couch and the on wall, our grownup stuff. We went and talked to the Furniture Place and talked with them about things and then we went and talked to the on-wall place. It turns out this is her business. She imports, or she finds things from mostly India, but other little countries with a different historical or architectural design. She creates furniture. She has her own furnace and wood working, I don’t know, warehouse. She calls us cause we literally, she had opened the door as we were walking out.
Thankfully the lady had said, “Oh, they were just in here. They’ve been affected by Harvey type thing.” She says, “I can save it. I have the furnace. It is built for that type of thing. It get — kills all mold, all bugs. It’s a desensitization.” Because it’s coming since I get it from a different country, so when it comes here, we do the cleaning process to make sure it’s available for furniture. It’s real hardwood. It should be able to last anything. That’s when we were like, “What?” She’s like, “Yes, if you get it here, we will salvage it.” we had gone to see Janet Tabor and her husband for dinner the night before and Janet was upset because she didn’t have Facebook. She’s like, “I didn’t know I would’ve been there.”
She was mad that she wanted to help somehow besides just, I mean the dinner she gave us fed us for a whole week. It was wonderful. That was more than anything asked for. She still wanted more to help. It just happened that we raced back up here. All of the tolls were still open, thank goodness, so Sunday they still hadn’t taken things out of our apartment. Monday, they had started, and you could see a big pile of everyone’s furniture out there. James runs up to the pile and you just see his face fall and there were the doors of, yes, the four doors. They’d been torn off or ripped off. He was just like, “It’s too late. he was and he was done, and he wanted to leave.”
I’m like, “No, this is ours. She said she could save it.” At least we could have the door that could be something. I’m like, “this is ours.” I’m going through the garbage like it’s ours. This was what we got together type thing. We found all four doors and I’m still looking, I’m like I can’t find any pieces that are still torn apart in here. Thankfully, he gets out of his funk for a second. He goes, wait a second. He again, we’re like, “Oh crap again.” Because we had just cleaned off our shoes and stuff from all the mud and pressure wash stuff. Now we’re getting it all muddy again. We weren’t I got new stuff muddy because I wasn’t prepared to go in.
It just happens that that’s the one piece they have not taken out yet. They had torn the doors off but everything else was still intact in the room. We call her, we take pictures, she’s like, “Yes, I can salvage it. I’m not sure about the doors. If I can’t put them back together, at least you’ll have a beautiful bookcase and some art pieces, but everything you will get back.” We had bought it on a special credit weekend or whatever, we got it for 0% interest, and we have this many years to pay it off type thing. She was able to talk to the bank through that was through and the same deal, it’s going to be this much to save it, but you’ll have six months zero interest to pay it all off.
That’s fine. Thank you. Yes, please. Just randomly call up Janet and her husband and say can you come to our apartments right now and get this giant piece of wooden on wall and take it? I don’t know what initially if they would at least take it to their house. It’s not on site where they can destroy it. Then James he was willing to drive it all the way out to Katie because that’s where the place is to her warehouse to deliver it there to get started on the restoration process.
It was so kind. A neighbor came out with him, the three of them got it in the back of his truck and dropped it down safely. We went and dropped the neighbor off and then I followed them safely to all the way down to Katy again and dropped it off. We’re saving our own wall. I don’t know because I had wanted to try and save so one of the things from my parents’ house that they had brought were these tables from my neighbor and who knows how old they were. I guess that was special to me because they were my neighbors, and he was my emergency person. I just loved the look of them. They were so cool and unique, they had that personal connection and then I lose them.
I wanted to see maybe they’re okay and people are just like, “no, you just got to let them go.” Now it would’ve had to have been because of the on wall, what if we could have called around and found someone do you have some of these special furnaces type thing, if we paid you could you be willing to try and salvage these tables type thing for me? I wish we had tried to save the tables to see if she would’ve been willing if we paid, even though she wouldn’t, that wasn’t her stuff. If maybe she would’ve with our own wall. But it’s those kinds of things you’re like okay. But other than that, so that’s the one like, “Yay type thing.” We’ve tried to be positive of everything that was up high we still have type of thing. Most things that could be washed and sanitized, we still have.
Q: Switching gears for a bit. Have you had any interaction with FEMA at all or any other I guess assistance programs?
A: In our experience, FEMA got to us late compared to other people we knew that were also affected. Gosh it was a Tuesday. That’s all I remember now because I had a pre-K meeting. What was it? It was about a month ago whereas I’m not sure about Lavina, but Alyssa Hadley hers was a week or two later. By the time we had a half day in September FEMA had already come and talked to her and I think Lavina job the same. It was one of those I heard, well we can’t, they were borrowing her parents’ Lexus. We can’t roll up in the Lexus, we’re going to have to park and walk-up type of thing. We finally got in, a little over a month ago maybe.
We had already moved in. It was after September 15th because we’d already moved into the new place. We had already bought a couple things. The shower head was not conducive for us to be able to shower, it was bad and that pissed me off because we had bought a new shower head for the shower there. Of course, I’m like, “Why didn’t I get that type thing.” We met FEMA and that was frustrating because initially they had said 5:30. I thought I’ll just go after work. Then he called that morning and said, can we reschedule for 1:30 or something? Thankfully, and our jobs have been nice about it but they’re like “Okay, yes you can do that, whatever.” Talking with Alyssa Headley too, so it seems FEMA they need to know what the makeup of your home was, but then it’s a set standard of what do you need to survive type of thing.
I’m not sure, I forgot how much she said she got. Because she said they didn’t care about her medical or all that stuff. They just need to know maybe major appliances and that’s what he was saying. Since we had two bedrooms in our apartment, we got credit for, that would mean a bed, maybe a chest of drawers. Then since we didn’t own anything in the kitchen, we couldn’t get credit. But since we owned a washer and dryer, well that’s something you had, if you had a dining room, you only got credit to have a dining room set. They just calculated it from there. I had full coverage on my car and James only had what is it, partial coverage?
Q: I think so.
A: Or whatever it’s called. That’s FEMA ways it has, if one of you has full coverage, well that means your insurance will probably be working with you and at least one of you needs a car. But you don’t have to have two cars to function type of thing, you get no credit. James didn’t get anything for his car. We only got a base credit for the homes we had in our apartment. Then we got $1,500. I was like, “so that would’ve covered the laptop I had.” maybe a chair or something, I don’t know, a stool. It’s like, “Okay.” I’ve heard it go Headley the same thing that she didn’t really get a lot.
Then I’ve heard so and other place I guess more for homeowners, they do give you more money. But it just depends. The guy was really nice. He’s like, “I simply swipe if you had this or not then I just say, yep, they had this and they calculate it type thing.” That was it. He was really tired. He’s from Portland and he was like, “I have to be honest, this is my last day. You are my third to last people. I have one more to see. Then I have one I have to follow up that hasn’t answered and then I’m out of here.” This is so hot. I do not like this place. It’s like I’m ready to be back in cool Portland. He hadn’t been home in over a month. He’s just like, “I’ve been living out of a hotel room.” I’m looking forward to having a little break.
He’s like, “thank you sir.” He was nice. He claims to do what he could, and he recommended the FEMA business side or whatever. When he left or when he went and did all his stuff in his car on his little iPad with his little swiping things, I was like, “Can we just, I would like to go look one last time, even if there’s nothing in there just what does it look like now?” The spots and the ceilings and those two different places were so much bigger and looked so bad and so, okay. Because we both had gotten renter’s insurance. Because I didn’t know if mine or what I was supposed to cancel mine because or I don’t know what happened.
We had to have proof that we had insurance from when we moved into that apartment. Since I wasn’t sure if they had switched it over yet, James went ahead and got insurance or renter’s insurance through them and then I just forgot or just didn’t want to deal with having to cancel it. We both had insurance and we both put in claims and our insurance through the apartment said if nothing came from the ceiling, there’s nothing we can do. If it came through the door and up, we don’t touch it unless you had flood insurance.
Mine didn’t even email me once, didn’t contact me even though I called twice, wanting to talk to him and nothing. I got more response from my car and that was it. We walked through and just looked at the layout of what it looked when it was initially being built with just the wood structure and they still had the shower heads in there. I was just like, “Screw that. I’m taking this is mine.” I felt a little vengeance I guess because we couldn’t find the shower. We liked that shower head, and it was cheap, and we had even asked it low, it was like, “Where is this one again?” They’re like, “This is all we have now.” We had to get this scrawny one that was still more expensive and wasn’t as good. Even though James is okay with it, I’m like, “this is still our shower.” because we had made sir I guess to go along with the cleanup. We had made our own improvements to make it our home, the light fixtures and the light bulbs, I’m like, “I want those.”
I would’ve taken them when we moved out anyway. I wanted the light parts that we had done that James had made and that’s still something we could put in our new place, and it didn’t get wet. People were nice enough to get that for us. Then I had a box of the old glass parts that the apartment had in a box way up high. It was nice and dry, and someone took it out and it’s in our new home now. They’re these aren’t ours. That was awesome because when we were going through with just the foundation, everyone you could see the light still there, but ours were missing. It was great. That was fine. Then we just did our FEMA business one last week, we finally got our appointment. James, they had talked on the phone a couple times and then they’re like, “You need to go to this place at this time and fill out the forms.” I forgot we needed our license, and we needed proof that we had flooded or.
We needed at least renter’s insurance. Then we could get a business loan, it’ll be for at least 20. I think we qualified for at least $25,000 at 6%. James was like, “At the very least, we could use this to pay off all the other loans we have and have just this one small one and we’ll have this many years to pay it off.” That’s a lot cheaper than every other debt or whatever we have now. We went to go sign all those papers and then that became tricky because on the papers, even though James had tried to say, we aren’t living there anymore, because one of the stipulations is that we would have flood insurance on this property, which was our old apartment, but if we’re not at that property the question then becomes, do we have to have flood insurance at this new property if it’s not in a floodplain type of thing or a history of flooding, I guess in that new area too.
They had to fix that. That’s what it was already the end of October when we did it and now they have to rewrite it to make it clear where we’re living, what it’s covering, if we have the correct insurance over it. I think we’re going to have to go back again. We’re going to have to wait longer. We literally have, I think they said something like from the date that it’s written up even if we haven’t signed yet because they wrote it up the beginning of October. We get a year and then after that year, that’s when the interest starts accruing.
But since we hadn’t, I guess that was that’s stinks that even if we signed it a month later, it wouldn’t be based on our signature. It’d be based on when it had been drafted type of thing. But they have to redraft it because it wasn’t right. We’ll have to go back. When we went at four, our appointment was at 4:30. We got there around 4:10 and they said it had been crazy that day. I guess everyone wants to do it in the morning. We’re like, “Oh, you got in.” Because they were waiting forever, because there were so many people that day and we just walked in. It was so late. We had to see, and then there was an issue with the car because it was in my name.
I owned the car, but James was the one that had partial insurance on it. I didn’t have insurance on that car. I had insurance on my other car, but when they ran the report, they just saw, “Oh, Barilla had insurance, she’s on there” we’re not trying to claim the one with insurance. We’re trying to claim the one that didn’t get covered; he had in the partial to prove that it was messed up. I have the part that proves that I owned it. That’s-
Q: It’s tricky.
A: Been another issue, we could only get 5,000 for it anyway, but that still would be nice to be able to buy another car with. Even yesterday someone had, well, it’s a mother of a little girl I had last year. I knew they were moving schools. I just hadn’t seen her in a while. She had texted me and said, I had heard, and that’s why I’ve been surprised a lot of the parents, two parents showed up. I don’t know if they were delivering food or if they helped in some way, but I’m not sure how but she was in my apartment and gave me a hug and I was like, “Aw, whoa” almost one of the kids. I can’t believe you’re here and you’re in my home and it looks like this type thing. But then other parents have given me a little card or other parents, my former students have brought me a little gift.
The mom has been like, “I knew you liked this when we gave you something for Christmas, and so I wanted to give you something else and we’re just so sorry to hear about it.” This one in particular parent that had was moving. I hadn’t responded back to her, and we were in the process. I was going to go visit her daughter, but it was what day is good? This good is going back and forth. Well, I ran into her yesterday and she’s like, “I wish we’d known.” She’s until the house this house can get sold. It’s just there, so you could have been having some place to live type of thing. She’s like, “We have a car there too.” That’s just waiting until we can figure out what to do with it. Then I had said something about, I had to wait a while for everything to go through with my insurance and then I’ll look for my little Toyota again.
I just want my car back. She goes, “oh, well, my husband’s friends with Fred Hoss or his son. Let me know when you’re ready and we he will help you get a good deal and stuff.” It’s still nice things are still happening, I guess from this, I don’t know if I’m more okay with it or willing to accept the kindness because I know it’s mostly been Lakeshore people. We’ve gotten a lot of stuff from our family, but immediate or helpful just everyday stuff has been from more of my coworkers and people I know. I was okay staying in my coworker’s house until we could find a place.
Even when she was showing it, I was okay having the cat. No, she’s okay. I’m okay. She says, it’s alright, so I’m not going to do it. Just exactly how she said, she’s like, “just let the cats be out.” I’m like, “no, I’ll still put things,” they’ll have their little place in the closet. I’ll have everything out, we’ll just discreetly place it or whatever. Where she made it sound like, “Yes, just let him be.” Where James did not feel. I think he, I felt bad having you all there and you all doing all this work. Why are you all being so nice type of thing? You’re too nice. I’m sure you have other people that are more important to you to go help type of thing.
Then he felt very uncomfortable. We were ruining her home and the chances her home had of selling by being there. He had other types of helpful survivor skill. I don’t know how to describe it whereas everyone wanted to help because they feel so grateful that they didn’t get harmed. I think because we have family that has been willing to help because we’ve had you all it’s hard for him knowing that there’s other people that have, don’t have that. He’s like no other, if people wanted to give us clothes, no, it’s okay. Other people need clothes. Other people lost everything. We just lost the material. We still have some stock type of thing. We have a home still.
Luckily, we were in a position that we could put the, what was it? The deposit was 14. It was 1400 because it’s a month’s rent and the pet deposit. Then we also had to pay the first month’s rent two. It isn’t a lot of money because since we didn’t have to pay our rent for September, we could technically, that’s how we made it up. We were just using that money to pay for the deposit then we just paid for October. We still have income.
We didn’t miss a beat in terms of rent. Rent’s a little cheaper now because we went from 14, With everything with the pet deposit and crash and all that, it was 1400 something and then all of a sudden, we just had to pay 1200 initially just to get started. That’s not all the bills that we. He’s already said the gas bill will probably be big now because we just turned the heater on. I was like, “Oh, wait a second I thought having gas was a good thing.” But so, we were lucky enough that we could find a hunt another home or that, and people were willing to find another home for us, and then we could move in and get started away. He’s struggled a lot with the idea of knowing other people have not been so lucky.
Q: With that in mind how he feels about that and talking about the community effort that came around you guys to help out, what have each of you been thinking about? What happened on a wider scale with the community coming together for the city and other people sort of the volunteering opportunities and donations and everything, the stories coming out of the, on the news all the time.
A: We had the big circle, and everyone talked a little about what was going on in their families. A lot of people have said, or a lot of people who have moved here have said like, “I have a lot of pride, home pride,” but this was the first time I really felt like I had Texas pride type thing. That’s something I need to I have this idea in my mind. I’m getting it done, but just the distribution your mom doesn’t know but another parent and this is a way of helping, made little decals. Just to show I don’t know, I hope they know I appreciate it, as well as a thank you note, getting them a little, even if they already have one, a little Texas strong thing just to know you were part of it or whatever. Some things when I hear about stories or what other people have done in their communities that still gets me.
I guess choked up or whatever. Because that I know how helpful. It just makes it easy to have to process and go through knowing that people are there to support you. Is it weird? I’ve thought, I don’t know about him, it has gone through my mind a little, thank goodness, this area was not affected more because we would not have been in a situation where so many people would be able to help us. It would’ve been all of us trying to help each other. We would not- someone gave us a table and chairs type thing, that stuff probably we would not have been that lucky, and I know there’s other communities that was not the case and everyone’s in the same boat. In the front of Kingwood, she was a former parent at Lakeshore, she also does pink Chaos, which is a worked out for ladies. I don’t Tiffany Thompson?
Q: I don’t think I do.
A: They’re now at Summer Wood Elementary, but so she has a friend who is friends with this other lady, who owns a workout store. Her way of giving back was to give tennis shoes and workout stuff back to people, before I had wanted to, and I’m like, “Oh, I can’t work out. I don’t have time, I don’t have the materials.” I was like, “that’s brilliant.” I was so excited. She’s like, “Yes, come to my house and you can see it.”
I have to go off Hamlin to get to her house. Well, then I go back there and it’s still, I went the end of September and then I went two weeks later. Two weeks ago, at the end of September, it was still a mess. The trash is still out there. They were still trying to get find all the golf carts and stuff. A little restaurant is barely standing up still. It just happens that she lives you turn, and the homes are okay. Then suddenly there’s just trash and you can see which homes were affected and you turn this other way, and all those homes were affected, and you turn this way and the first three homes on both sides of the street are affected and then it’s her neighbor and then her.
She’s living in it, her home wasn’t affected, but everyone she knows and she’s still willing to help others outside of her immediate community. Let me know. If they don’t fit, you can come back and get more and they’re nice in the running world that’s it’s the top tier, stuff and she’s like, “take three to see if it doesn’t work, then let me know and you can bring them back and try another one.” I’m like, “What? Okay.” But the now some of them granted it’s a two story, so they’re just living in their second story and they’re just going to do what they can with the first story. But she had said the first story ones, I don’t know. I mean, and that’s what’s sad. That’s a really old neighborhood. It’s a lot of older people that just they were just enjoying what they’ve built for their life.
When I went back two weeks ago, it had been cleaned up a little, but there was still a lot out there. She’s like, I’m not really sure what’s going on. It just seemed off that it’s not, it doesn’t seem to be going as fast with stuff. Even when my mom came out, I think, it was the end of September, beginning of October. Even then there was still trash in those neighborhoods off Kingwood Drive. In that sense, we got lucky. All that trash was gone from our apartment by then. They had that crew out there.
We just know what it was up here. When we had gone about the whole am walking thing on Memorial Day, the water was still so high off 10. By Barker Cypress or whatever. so just thinking and hearing they really won’t be able to get in for a week just thinking, I don’t know, I think that could be much easier depression knowing that they have stuff that they can’t even get to their homes like we did. I don’t know. That’s a little murky or whatever.
Q: Sort of connected with something you had brought up earlier and talking about how much worse this area could have been affected, I know you’ve moved out of Kingwood now, but you’re still sort of connected to the community. What are your thoughts about the potential lawsuit now going around against the San Jacinto Authority?
A: I know some people are really and fully. If I was one of those older people I don’t, I guess on one hand I would be ready to fight till the death type of thing. I would be so pissed, but on the other hand I wouldn’t want that to consume me. I could see how that could easily, that’s going to be what life is for a while for some people. I don’t want to keep thinking in the what ifs or well I used to have this type thing. I did sign up. I have to finish because I wasn’t sure about it and James did it. I’m like, “Okay, well, I need to do it already.”
Someone reached out. I think there was some website that we had heard of Facebook or whatever someone sent us. We signed up and then it was sent if you’re interested, these two law firms, which is interesting now because all that stuff coming out about class action lawsuits and stuff. And it did, it said they would get 75 or 80% because the way it’s broken, maybe not that much. They got 25% and they got 25% and we would get the rest type thing. That would be divided between everyone that’s in it. Just like, “Oh, is it worth it?” But at the same time, that’s I am doing it or I’m willing to do it because that’s not. If it could have been prevented or it shouldn’t have even happened, at least up here that whole I’ve heard with the Barker Cypress one. That they knew they were sacrificing this area of people so that this area of people didn’t have to go through it, and I thought that was also another thing didn’t they give them enough warning or time?
Q: Down there I believe they did. I’m not entirely sure though.
A: Because I think that was something that was stipulated and the things that we read to see, if you would to be part of this no one told us the government was supposed to give us enough time to get out if they were going to sacrifice our area or something. I’ve heard they did way too much, way too fast. That they didn’t give us enough time that the due process or wait time or whatever to do this to give us that opportunity to take care of what we could type of thing. I don’t know what the other things were. I’m willing to do it more just like, “Hey, this is not right” or if you do, in my mind, why wouldn’t they if they know the possibilities, especially less than a year after what happened last time and how many, not even thinking about this area, but what it did to the area off 59 that last time.
Why wouldn’t they let it get halfway and then half drain half out and then maybe halfway again and drain or maybe three quarters and then do half of that. Why wouldn’t they try to keep letting it move back and forth to give, if it was able and maybe they didn’t know, but still that’s, I think it was just for what ended up happening to that back area and up here. That was ridiculous. That it could have been so improperly done that so many businesses and homes could just be washed out that and that’s, I don’t know, we keep thinking or I keep thinking because I really loved that area. I’m the one who wanted to live up here. When I lived down there the first time, I didn’t like it as much.
Part of it was the neighborhood and that just, I live in a neighborhood now. I didn’t the last time I lived down there, so it’s a little easier. But I just keep think the things I loved about being up here, we were so close to HEB, or I loved going to the Tea House, or we could do this and wait, none of that’s there either. It’s hard to, okay. I don’t know, wrap my mind well what’s happening. Were like your mom said, oh, bed Bath and Beyond. I can’t go there. I’ve heard they might not come back just things like that, that it’s trying to look down that, okay, where’s this store? Oh, there’s none in the loop. Awesome. Okay. Where’s the store?
Oh, there’s none in the loop, where it’s, it’s all down by Rice. They have that stuff down there. But it’s not as bad. I at least I don’t have to live in that traffic, it’ll just be now. It has been nice because since we’ve bought, we like doing things downtown. We have season tickets to the symphony, and we got theater under the Stars season tickets because of Hamilton coming and we’d to do society for Performing Arts stuff a lot. We were going, we go at least two or three times a month downtown on the weekends. it has made it a little nicer like, “oh, that boom we’re here. Convenient type of thing.” we don’t have to start getting ready at four in the afternoon for an evening date or something. But then thinking, I had the student’s birthday today and then we were invited to a friend’s party up here and instead of making the trip down there.
We are closer to his friends though. That hopefully that’s good for him too. It’s a little more even in our makeup of where we spend our time and who we spend our time with together. I do think about that idea. It’s hard not to get that sick or twisted or malicious. About that really messed up. It shouldn’t happen again. If I can help be a part of perhaps making sure that doesn’t, or, then yes, I’ll do it because. It wasn’t right if it could have been avoided.
Q: We’ve covered pretty much most of what I had planned to talk about. But if there’s anything else you feel we probably should have discussed or if there’s something else on your mind you want to talk about, we didn’t cover?
A: I don’t know. I think for the most part we’ve covered everything. We went to FEMA and all that. I guess it would be more just, it’ll be different for everyone. But since the house we moved into is so old it’s very basic. We have 1925 closets, so it doesn’t even fit some of my dresses because they’re too long. I brought when me, they’re too, yes, I had to wear a wedge so it would fit correctly, but still that link is still too long in that with the floor and where the pole is. Even with the stuff we have moved in that we were able to save, it’s still been frustrating.
I can’t clean out or I can go through the clothes, but I still have to reorganize them in the baskets and the bags because, we’re slowly, we don’t want to just bombard or in my mind I’m trying to be smart and not collect too much now or get too much furniture or just I had stuff, at least for me, from when I was in middle school and high school and in college and I had just finished free packing and putting everything away from my student teaching and like “Oh , I would to hear , oh, who knows?”
Or this is important or just little gifts I’d gotten from my friends when we would do the secret Santa in high school or whatever. I still like that stuff. I still keep that stuff. Just little things like that. I still had back from one before we had paperless statements, all those statements or whatever. I mean eventually, it was coming up slowly with each year. The seven years was up that I could get rid of it, but still I had certain things from certain I wanted to keep my graduation invitation or stuff like that. Now it’s all gone. Just okay, well, I don’t have it and I’m still okay, just learning to not get that again.
We had a lot of stuff in storage or in our garage type of thing. But we might not necessarily have need it. I still had my college hard drive because I wanted to save stuff on there. Now it’s gone, but I hadn’t done it for over 10 years of saving it. I just kept taking it around, I’ll get to it type thing. Things like that. James had a few things, and he was, when it came down to it. I’m not sure he even remembered how much of his grandmother’s stuff was nice or, he just had it because it was his grandmother’s type of thing. Was something I wanted it because it was my grandmother’s but we didn’t need it. We’re still okay without it type thing.
Just thinking at least I am trying to be mindful of do I really need to buy this? I did buy a few new Halloween decorations that that got ruined type thing. We’ll see, there’s not a lot of, he’s trying to make shelves that’s, I’m feeling inspired, I’m ready. I want to do this instead. He stayed home and he’s building the shelves and so thinking like, “I don’t want to buy this nice expensive furniture. I just want him to put some pipes and wood together and I am good with that type thing.” I don’t need a Nancy pretty whatever. We did want our couch back and so we did get that.
But the table and chairs and it’s been used, and I mean it’s fine. It’s great and it will work for us. Who knows how long we’ll have it, I’m a little nervous because I did have some stuff with each apartment, I would buy shelves or something to accommodate what could fit or what I needed for it. Then they were all gone. We’ve bought two new things for the kitchen because there’s not a lot of counter space. We needed somewhere else to put a new microwave and a toaster and a Keurig over there, whatever. I feel like, “Oh, I want clay things again.” I’ve been okay without them. That type of thing. Just unpacking it took so long to get stuff from your mom’s because we needed to get drawers.
It’s not the drawers we want type thing. It’s just, well this is what we can have now. Just seeing where everything is and it’s figuring out what is James’s and what was mine because he couldn’t really find a lot of his clothes. It was a lot of mine, then getting more stuff in means like, “oh, we just got cleaned this out. Or oh, okay, we finally have space. Oh, now we get our other stuff. Oh, I forgot about that or oh, I wonder again who has this? I’m just, am I ready for that? Should I start asking people I don’t know when I go get it or can I, how does that work type of thing now?” Then and your mom said it too these are really cool towels. Who knows if someone is like, do we like this? She won’t remember this type thing.
Q: It’s got dark.
A: It was funny. Will everyone who has our stuff say it or are they okay? That was hard at first making- thank goodness we found a place. I didn’t want to move so quickly, but I don’t know. To help James and with everything else, to find a home and then Matt and Sherry, we had a lot of our stuff inside their home and picking up their garage and that was nice of them because that FEMA also asked if we had had to get a storage unit as a result of this or they did ask about extra expensive.
We were eligible to get a hotel room. But again, we have a place to stay. Let’s let other people who need places use that. Why are we going to take advantage of that when there’s someplace, we can be type of thing? That’s been the only thing. Now it’s like, “oh we got his or oh, I’m still it’s a little sink” and I did not know. I could only see from here up today when I got ready, I’m like, “I guess I’m okay. It just looked — I’m not showing off anything inappropriate.” Just getting used to a new place without having. We had to buy all new nails and stuff to put things up because we let them all in the walls type of thing.
Just OK, what do we need now? Sorry, the lights, we have one light in the front and that’s it. There’s no outside lights except for that, so you don’t have to worry about lights outside in an apartment and hope, I guess maybe we’ll just stick to renting homes now. But I’ve been looking at a lot of solar things or whatever so we could have at least something so I can take the litter out at night or a light comes on just for that time so it’s not on all the time and or just a sensor light. We don’t have to worry about, it’s still dark if we get home and we didn’t turn the light on in the middle of the day before we left type of thing.
But I want nice lights, that type of thing. Then I’m lucky and I’m still trying to price compare. There are still certain things we need to semi make this the home we want and, but not going overboard with it because we don’t necessarily have the means or whatever. I don’t know. I also think about we had one or two things, those tables, it was important to me because it had that, that connection. But I keep thinking that when I go into other people’s homes now all the time like, “Oh my God, they would not be able to replace that. All of this would be ruined.” I just look at all the stuff that would get wet and I can notice that everywhere I go now. I just think about that for other people who had furniture from their grandparents’ stuff. Thankfully, my grandmother’s stuff is still in El Paso or whatever. To lose that thing how they’re doing, I’m just hoping that we’re doing okay. It’s still frustrating and still I just want things to be in place. For people that don’t have anything in how they’re dealing with it. I think that’s all.
Q: I appreciate you coming and doing this.
A: I really like this stuff. This is I think the biggest reason why I’m still continued my education. Because it just fascinates me, and I love hearing about other people’s stories and I’ll share my stories too.
[End of Recording]