David Enav discusses his experience with two previous floods and his harrowing experience during Hurricane Harvey. Enav spent most of his life in Meyerland, attending Jewish schools for his education before attending the University of Houston. Enav relates the difficulty he now has returning to live in the Meyerland area after his parents decided not to leave.
Enav feels that he will not feel safe again in the area and wishes his parents had chosen to move to a high-rise apartment like so many others. A vital story Enav relates the family that lived next door to where he was with the danger of being trapped in a flooded house. In Meyerland and Jewish, this family opened their house many people displaced who wound up there for about five days. Enav is still in awe of their generosity and is still in contact with all the people who shared the harrowing experience.
Interviewee: David Enav
Interview Date: October 4, 2018
Interview Location: Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, Texas
Interviewer: Mark Goldberg
INTERVIEWER: Today is October 4, 2018. This is Mark Goldberg interviewing David Enav at Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire, Texas for the University of Houston Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project.
MG: So David, thank you for being here, and meeting with me, and sharing your story.
MG: Before we get into a discussion about Hurricane Harvey and your experiences during that time, why don’t we start at the beginning, so to say? And why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself, about life in Houston, and what things were like for you growing up in and around the Jewish community in the city?
DE: Okay. Well, I’m born in Houston. I lived for — you know, my early childhood, we were members of Beth El. We lived in Sugar Land. And we moved to Meyerland [0:01:00] when I was maybe around four. I have an older — I have an older sister named Rachel. And she’s about three years older than me. And my parents are Naomi and Eyal — Eyal, which you know pretty well at this point. We — I went to Beth Yeshurun Day School, then moved to I. Weiner Middle School, and then to Emery High School. So I was, you know, very active in the Jewish community. I did — I went to JCC camp. I went to CYJ for some time. I even — in high school, I was involved in BBYO. And so I was very well-immersed into the Jewish community, I felt. And so living in Meyerland was definitely part of that. I had a lot of — you know, in high school, actually, I had a good amount of close friends who lived within 10 minutes walking distance of myself. Where in Houston can you say that, right [0:02:00]?
So it was definitely in a — we were very close. I spent a lot of time at Godwin Park, especially as a kid but also as a teenager. So that was definitely a real central part to Meyerland as well. And we’re members — I work here at Brith Shalom, but we’re actually members of Beth Yeshurun. And so that’s where I had my bar mitzvah with Cantor — actually, Cantor Diane Dorf since it was actually during Hol HaMoed Sukkot. And so that’s the time where the cantor and rabbis are super burned out. And so she was actually — and we’re actually close friends with them, so that was very special to have Cantor Dorf as my cantor. She was also my teacher back at Beth Yeshurun. You know how this thing goes.
Let’s see. My dad’s from Israel, so we have about — and my mom’s family kind of moves back and forth all the time. So we actually have a good amount of family living all over [0:03:00] Israel. So we go every three, four years there. My Hebrew is — it’s pretty good, but it definitely needs some work. But let’s see, so I learned it, you know, sort of talking through — to my family on the phone and also Hebrew classes at Emery.
So after Emery, I went to the University of Houston, so I’m very honored that I’m going to be a part of this. Go Coogs. I studied marketing with a minor in Spanish. I was very involved with Hillel — with Students Supporting Israel on campus. I did — I was active in pretty much anything Jewish that was on campus. I led services as well. And that was nice to have that sort of platform — somehow enjoyed that. Or no, I definitely — not somehow, I definitely enjoyed that. And I was also involved with Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity [0:04:00]. I was in it for three years, so I was in just about anything — just about anything Jewish on campus.
At U of H, I was also involved with American Marketing Association. That was — and yeah. And you know, through my years, I definitely got close with Rabbi Kenny Weiss, who’s still the head of Hillel — had a really great experience with them. And right, so I graduated back in May of 2017.
And right now, I’m working as a communications coordinator at Brith Shalom. So I’ve been here for about eight months now, and it’s really nice to come back to the community in a different way, especially in a synagogue that I wasn’t involved with as a kid. So it’s — it feels — it felt very familiar. And here, you know, I meet a lot of people who have gone through similar experiences as me, whether it’s — usually [0:05:00], it’s the — as the congregants. And I don’t know. I just feel so connected with the Jewish community working here. I mean, I’m getting interviewed by the — head of the Jewish Studies at U of H at my workplace. Like it’s a place where I can definitely relate to a lot of people around me, and that’s really — it’s really special.
MG: So I actually have a follow-up question about your trajectory. So first, when you were at U of H, did you live on or near campus? Or did you live at or near where you grew up?
DE: I was — I was fortunate enough that my parents let me live in a dorm for three years. Last year, I lived off campus, because most people had moved out by then. So I wasn’t about it. I just — I thought about it, and I had the option. But I think it was better to be at home. And I also worked at the religious school at Beth Yeshurun [0:06:00] during that time. So I was also — I also have another way — another way of being involved with the Jewish community.
MG: So the reason why I asked this is because, as you’ve told us and are showing us, the Houston Jewish community is very geographically centered in southwest Houston. And the University of Houston is south to southeast of downtown — so not near or in southwest Houston.
DE: I think it used to be a — it used to be the center like back in the — I heard like maybe 60, 70 years ago.
MG: Yeah, yeah, so in the early part of the 20th century. But now, at U of H, the Jewish population’s pretty small.
DE: Oh, yeah.
MG: A few hundred. So what was it like going from being in the heart of the community and also at Emery, which is a Jewish high school [0:07:00] which is part of the community as well — even if it doesn’t sit inside Meyerland, there’s a clear link.
DE: Close enough.
MG: Right. And the people, like you said, many of them lived in Meyerland. How was it going from that environment to a University of Houston environment, where you’re one of a few hundred Jewish students?
DE: Yeah, that was — that was a huge change. I definitely — in many times, I found myself the only Jew where I was, whether it was in a class, in a — you know, a big group of friends hanging out. You know, I did definitely seek out Hillel my first week. That’s definitely almost like a crutch. I hate to say it, but you know, when you don’t really know many people on campus — I knew — I knew some of the Jews there. And I was friendly with them, so you know, I definitely branched out, too, but I also liked [0:08:00] — I really appreciated my time with Hillel, especially my first year just because it helped me meet people — and also just give you a place where you’re — you’re kind of — I don’t know. It’s — it just feels very different just because you’re around so many people who are much more like you.
But anyway, so I started using just the word Jewish more. Like I had to tell — it was just so interesting to have to tell people that I was Jewish. I mean, I had — I had met — you know, I had friends who were not Jewish before, but usually, it was because they were somehow involved in the Jewish community. Like they worked at the JCC or something, so they knew. But I started meeting people where — I started meeting people who were — I started meeting people who had never met a Jewish person before, which was — that was very different to me. So they — a lot of them asked very similar questions, like, “You know, what do Jews do? Or was it kosher?” Kosher was — that was a huge question — a very common question that I got. So yeah, a lot of, I don’t know, my [0:09:00] culture and who I was was very — was very just foreign to a lot of people. And that was — that was interesting.
But I didn’t have too — I didn’t really have too many bad experiences with it — a couple jokes here and there, but you know, all in good — all in good fun. And I did — it’s almost unfathomable now to think of going to a school that a hundred percent Jews or ninety — I don’t know what it is now. But at least at the time, it was like ninety-five — or even a school like UT, where one out of every — thinking about like one out of every 10 students I walk by on the class is Jewish. That is just unfathomable. It just — it’s not real, right? U of H, I mean, it’s a small population, but it’s more — it feels more like the real world in many senses. And that was one of the aspects that really felt like the real world.
But then you also appreciate times where you’re randomly around lots of [0:10:00] Jews. Like I, one year, decided to join the Real Estate Scholars Club. And it was about thirty percent Jewish. And that was very — that was refreshing, but it was very odd. Because it was — it was something I was — felt like I was back in high school. So you appreciate the sort of pockets of Jews when you find them. But yeah, I started looking at myself as — I started thinking a lot more about the Jewish community and kind of realizing that it is a bubble. I mean, it’s — not all bubbles are bad. You know, it’s good to have community, but there is a lot of world outside of that and a lot of people who are very different. And so it helped me to sort of understand other cultures and have them understand mine. It was a — it was a good experience. It would have been nice if there were some more Jews, but that’s okay. I made — I made do.
MG: So it sounds like you built community [0:11:00] at UH — well, built community and also tapped into or found Jewish community at UH along with the other communities that, as you mentioned, were specifically Jewish. So you were in college, then, when all of the flooding instances occurred.
MG: So why don’t we move in that direction? And Harvey, of course, is in the last few years, the third of three floods. The first major one in the last few years was the Memorial Day flood or what has become known as the Memorial Day flood in 2015. So why don’t you tell me a little bit about your experience during the Memorial Day flood?
DE: Yeah, so that was — you know, that may have been almost a more traumatic flood just because it was the first. I [0:12:00] remember I was up late. You know, we had just finished watching the Rockets, I think, either — I think they lost to the Warriors that night. And so I usually stayed up — because my summer classes hadn’t started yet. I was staying up until like 2:00 in the morning. My dad — my mom was at a — yeah, my mom and my sister were in Israel. And it was just me and my dad at home. And I was just watching TV, and it was raining extremely hard. But you know, I was getting a lot — getting flashflood warnings on my phone. But we get those all the time, and there’s never any flooding in the area. So I never really took it seriously at all. I always thought that was just to scare us — the word flashflood. It was more just telling people to not drive, but anyways, it was just pouring and pouring.
This is going to sound so strange. I just felt like doing — it was late and night. And I just felt like doing something weird, so I went outside and brought [0:13:00] — and it was starting to flood a little outside, but I went to like a covered area, brought my chair — put a chair outside and started playing the guitar as it was pouring. I don’t know. It just felt like a theatrical kind of thing to do. I didn’t think any — you know, too much of it, but it was just this fun little thing that I did that night. Anyways, so I — my dad, he comes to me. He’s — it’s like 2:00 in the morning. He is so tired. He’s like — I’m sorry. Backtrack a little bit, sorry. After I had gone in already, I was just watching — or actually, wait. Okay, I don’t remember exactly when my dad told me, but he said, “Look inside.”
And so I went to one of the sides of our house. And I saw that water was coming in. And I’d — I was shocked. I just couldn’t believe that it was — the concept of a flood is so obvious now, but just — I always [0:14:00] was under the impression that floods happened when pipes burst, or leaks in the roof happened or, I don’t know, something — a tree fell on your house or something. I didn’t realize that the water was that high. And so when we saw it happening, you know, we — this sounds — we started trying to put towels to stop it from coming in — trying to get like a squeegee and squeegee it out, which sounds so shortsighted now.
But anyways, so after we realized that that wasn’t going stop, my dad told — you know, it was very late at night when this was happening. It was just maybe 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. So our minds are not functioning in a super-sharp kind of manner, especially my dad was in the middle of sleeping. So you know, I kind of asked him, “What do we do?” Because I was so worried, one, about our cats. We have [0:15:00] three cats. Cats hate water. Are they going to — in my — I kept concerning myself with the fact that they were maybe going to go to bathroom on the couch, which is such a stupid thing to worry about when your house is being flooded. But like you don’t know. I don’t know. I probably figured that maybe another inch — maybe it’d be another inch. So I kept thinking about that, which is so dumb. So I spent so much time sort of worrying about them and making sure they had a litter box that I wasn’t — but anyway, but my dad and I were lifting, you know, books up and putting them higher — onto higher shelves.
And I started hearing a lot of flooring popping up, which is a pretty scary sound. It’s just — and it doesn’t stop, right? Because there’s — we had, you know, wooden flooring all over the house. So that’s one of the scariest parts of it — was just those constant noises. And we start — you know, I had a — I luckily had a pair of flip flops [0:16:00], so I went and put those on. My dad put on his Crocs, and we were just going around the house — our house. You know, the water kept rising inch by inch. Now, it was getting to the point where every time we walked next to an outlet, it started to hurt in a very uncomfortable way. Yeah, that was one of the — yeah, that’s got — that’s making me — it’s giving me chills now just thinking about how those plugs felt and trying to pull them out, which was so stupid, right? I just didn’t — like I just didn’t know how to act inside a house that flooded.
So anyways, we put a lot of things up. You know, I just didn’t know how floods work in the sense that I didn’t even think about things that were in drawers. I thought the drawers would keep out the water, which feels so silly now, right? Because obviously, they didn’t. We had a foot of water in our house. And I thought that — and so I — you know [0:17:00], we moved a lot of stuff up but not everything, including a — probably my worst loss, which was a collection of vintage magazines. I had magazines from when the Rockets won the championship back in ’94 and ’95, and all these sports memories as a kid, and you know, the newspaper from Craig Biggio’s 3000th hit. All that, I put on the floor inside my closet.
And I just didn’t even think about that, right? I mean, it was also — I got to — I don’t want to be hard on myself. It was 3:00 in the morning. No one’s mind is going to work the right — imagine going to work at 3:00 in the morning on a normal night. Like you’re just not going to do a good job, so anyways, it just — the rain just wouldn’t stop. And it stopped around like maybe 6:00 in the morning, 7:00 in the morning. The sun was almost already out. And so we’re just in this house with water up to our knees.
It hadn’t really hit me yet. I tried not to panic or cry [0:18:00], because I — one, I was already — it was like 3:00 in the morning. So my emotions aren’t going to hit me as hard. And I just — I knew that — I saw my dad being very stoic. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but pretty — he didn’t show too much emotion. He was just kind of getting — putting things up. And I knew I had to do the same. Because crying wasn’t going to do anything about it. Like it felt right to cry. It felt like more theatrical to cry. Like I feel like someone would just break down crying in the middle of the water, but you can’t. Like the water is coming up. Like you got to get your stuff up. So anyways, I took a nap on the island. I put a — I found like an apron, and I used that as a pillow. And I just laid down on the kitchen island and took a nap for an hour after we just kind of gave up on lifting things up.
And in the morning, the water came out. The water started coming out of the house, and yeah. And that was really [0:19:00] — man, I’m trying not to blur all these together just because they’re similar in some ways. But that next morning, it was sort of the hangover from it — just — I mean, mom and my sister weren’t there. It was just my dad and I. And so — yeah, we were — yeah, I don’t remember too much of that morning. I was really tired and —
MG: I mean, it sounds like you were up all night working.
DE: Oh, for sure, yeah.
MG: So at what point did you realize not only how big this was, in the sense that you’re getting a foot of water in your house, but how widespread it was? Was there a point when you could see what was going on in the neighborhood and that this was happening all around the area [0:20:00]?
DE: All around the area. I was actually a little disappointed when I texted my friend who lived — he lives on like Beechnut. I thought this was all over the city. I’m like, “Hey, dude. Did you get flooded?” And he said, “No, why?” So I was almost a little — almost like, “Oh, okay, just me then.” That was the next day once I’d gotten power back on my phone, because my phone had like maybe fifteen percent battery. Because I was about to go to sleep, so I didn’t think about, you know, keeping a charged phone. So I went — I dealt with the whole thing. I don’t know. So I guess I don’t really — we walked around the neighborhood — talked with all our neighbors obviously. But it seemed like it was a very Meyerland kind of flood — very Meyerland-centric. It didn’t seem like too many people got affected other than us Jews living in this small subdivision or people living along the bayou. So that was — so yeah [0:21:00], it didn’t feel like the whole city was impacted. It seems like the city mostly went back to normal in like four or five days.
MG: So when do you feel like things got back to normal? Or did they?
DE: They did actually. Fortunately, we — we’re in this — we moved into an apartment near NRG for a while — maybe like — we lived with our grandpa for a bit and then, after that, moved into an apartment for like seven months. And I think in February we moved back. So from the end of May — so I guess beginning of June until the beginning of February, we were out of our house. But we decided to put the tile back in — sorry, not tile. We decided to put the wooden flooring back in, because we figured this was a once in a fifty — one in a hundred-year flood. It would just never happen again. You know, this is [0:22:00] — I don’t think Meyerland had flooded for at least 50 years before then. And so we figured it just wouldn’t happen again. And so we just built our house right back how it was. And once we moved in, yeah, we just didn’t think it was going to happen again.
MG: So you moved back in in the spring of ’16, and the Tax Day flood was in the spring of ’16.
MG: How long were you in your house before that happened?
DE: Tax Day, that’s — maybe about — if it was — was it — wait. Was it exactly that year? This is all blurring. Was it –?
MG: Yeah, it was one year. So Memorial Day was May of 2015. Tax Day was April of 2016.
DE: Oh, right, yes. Yeah, we were in the house [0:23:00] for about three months until it flooded again. I guess it — with the Tax Day flood, I was actually in my dorm when this was happening. We only had about a half-inch of water in the house. It didn’t actually go to the entire house. So I said we went through about two and a half floods. So while the house was being built — or while we were, you know, repairing the damages, we were still allowed to live in the house. So I guess it didn’t feel like it was that soon. Or it felt like a longer distance just because we were still living in the house. We weren’t — our lives — our way of life wasn’t totally uprooted — about a half of a flood. And that flood, I wasn’t there obviously, but my parents were. And so that was the first, you know, my sister and my mom had experienced a flood.
MG: Well, what was it like having experienced Memorial Day in ground zero, so to speak? And [0:24:00] you describe it as, of course, this intense moment. And then how did it feel to be in another part of the city —
DE: While it was happening?
MG: – while you knew it was happening at your house? And you couldn’t fully visualize, because you weren’t there. So yeah, what was that like?
DE: Well, I was — I didn’t worry too much, because I knew it wasn’t as bad. Even at the time — one thing that was very different is that it happened during the day. And my mom and my dad and my sister were at home sort of ready for it to happen. We had — my dad had definitely been through a flood before. And so I could — they were sending photos on the group chat of all the things raised — yeah, of things raised on the higher shelves. They were ready, and they were — and it was daytime [0:25:00], so they were alert. And you could also see things a lot better than at 3:00 in the morning. So I wasn’t really worried. I wanted to be there, but it was — yeah, it was a half of a flood. I didn’t think too much about it honestly.
MG: So actually, there’s a question that refers to both floods that I forgot to ask. Do you remember the relief process after the floods beyond just the family? So the way in which, for example, the community responded to the flooding, do you remember?
DE: Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m trying not to blend it with Harvey. It’s really hard to not blend it, but we definitely had a lot of people coming to help us. I think — I don’t think we had a — we definitely didn’t have as many people for the Memorial Day flood [0:26:00]. I think we hired mainly professional — mainly had professionals doing it. We had friends and family help — or not so much family, but we had friends helping out. I actually don’t remember it. Wow, this was only a couple years ago, but it was — I definitely — I think it took about a week until we gutted the whole house and moved ourselves out. But I wish I could tell you more, but I actually don’t really remember.
MG: It’s okay. It’s okay.
DE: I remember my mom actually canceled — or she left Israel in the middle of her trip, because she just couldn’t bear to be there while we were doing this. But I think it was — it was mainly my dad and I doing it. We didn’t ask for too much help. Yeah, I didn’t know we could. Or we knew we could. Wow. I don’t remember.
MG: When you say you’re doing it, what do you mean? Cleaning out the house?
DE: Yeah, gutting [0:27:00] it.
MG: Gutting it, okay.
DE: Cleaning and gutting.
MG: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Before the professionals came?
DE: Yeah. I guess we were the ones cleaning it, and they were the ones gutting it. I remember we did get help from — but yeah, I wish I could remember that part. Not so much, it went really fast.
MG: Well, let’s talk about Harvey. I think that’s the most recent also.
DE: Fresh on my mind.
MG: Right. And it was a big one. So Harvey then was in August of ’17, a year ago.
MG: Just over a year ago from now. So tell me about that whole night or lead up.
DE: Okay. So we knew that there was a huge storm coming, but it didn’t actually seem that big. It seemed like it was going to come in waves, which is not what the Memorial Day flood did. It came and never left. Like it just completely — it [0:28:00] kept raining for maybe like eight straight hours or maybe more but at least eight straight hours. And so seeing this — seeing the forecasts as, you know, a storm that was going to come in waves, I wasn’t too worried. I figured it would just come and go, and as it — yeah, it would come in waves. So as it wasn’t raining, the water would drain. And it seemed like the city was really ready. And you know, we’d gone through this before, but we were actually prepared this time. So we raised everything. We even raised our couches like three inches about the ground, you know. We were — we were very optimistic. Yeah, we figured the worst-case scenario we’d get the same thing we got for — as Memorial Day so about a foot of water in the house. It will come at night. And in the morning, we’ll go and inspect what happened.
MG: Were you planning on being there [0:29:00] or leaving?
DE: Yeah, I was planning on being there.
DE: Yeah, I figured there was no better place to be than in your house, because it was — it was only going to be for one night. You know, what’s — Memorial Day flood, I could handle it, because it was just for one night. So — but we — you know, we actually prepared. And we actually lifted our valuables. We made sure everything was out of harm’s way. And then — actually, that night, we had — we hosted my friend Stevie for dinner. Stevie Glombicki, his house was right across the little bayou on South Rice/Rutherglenn. And his house got hit even harder than ours in the last couple floods. He lives really close to the bayou, and he’s — man, that house has gone through a lot. Let me tell you. And Stevie has, too, as well. He’s had a — he had a rough couple of years definitely.
But anyways, we were hosting him that night for dinner. His dad was [0:30:00] — his dad was out of town. And his brother was in college, so he was actually by himself. And it started to, you know, start pouring while we were having dinner at my house. And he wanted to just — and granted, he prepared his house for a lot of water. But he just wanted — he wanted to go back. And we were telling him, you know, “You should just stay with us. You know, don’t be by yourself.” But he really insisted on going back, so I actually joined him at his house. I went with him, so my dad actually drove the two of us sort of through Harvey a little bit. It was the intro to Harvey, but it was raining harder than we’d ever seen — than we’d ever at least driven through before. So he drove us to — the short drive to his house. And then we had a brief maybe 30-minutes of peace in his house.
We were actually playing video games. We figured there would be a flood, but we’d just go upstairs and stay in the attic and then come back in the morning when it was over [0:31:00]. We were playing video games up until we started seeing water coming into the house.
MG: What time? Do you remember when that was? Or like what part of the night?
DE: It was — it was maybe around like 10:00 — definitely dark outside. And you know, we kept looking — but even before — leading up to it, we kept looking and saying, “Oh, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen,” even like 30 minutes before then — even as it was pouring and we’d been in a car during it. So we really felt it. Like it was — we still didn’t feel like it was going to happen. And then it started, and you know, we — this feels so silly. I grabbed a couple of snacks from his — from his pantry and two water bottles — just two. I didn’t even bring a — really anything up there besides that. And we just — we were just sitting up there, and it was super uncomfortable in his attic. Let me tell you. I have a much more spacious attic than Mr. Glombicki.
So I was super uncomfortable over there, and just the water [0:32:00] — I realized that I had not brought enough water up there — like not at all. Like, you know, two bottles of water, that’s nothing — and some stale chips, because Stevie never throws away his stale food. So anyways, it’s just him and me up there. I think we were both wanting to panic, but we didn’t for the sake of each other. We just wanted to keep it together. We were calling 911. We kept — because fortunately, he brought a phone charger up. I didn’t, so my phone had died. I didn’t even think. Like, see, even flood veterans make mistakes. But anyway, he’s trying to call 911. He keeps getting a busy signal. And let’s see.
MG: How much water came in?
DE: To his house total? About four, four and a half feet.
DE: Yeah. It was [0:33:00] really not the right place to be at the wrong time, but — so we were up there in his attic. My body was aching, because I have just a really sensitive back. And that’s not a place — an attic is not the place to lie down when you have that. So we were really nervous. You know, you don’t want to say, like, “We could die.” But like, we could have honestly. It was — it was one of those times where Houston just kind of shut — the city kind of shuts down. Like all the systems that go into place are just completely helpless as the water just keeps rising. And it just wouldn’t stop raining. And we were looking at the forecasts on his phone, and they just weren’t getting any better.
And so it was a miracle we — he called up his neighbors. And they said we could come and stay at their house. Their house was raised about five feet in the air [0:34:00] — or six. They had actually flooded earlier — in a previous flood, and they completely rebuilt their house. So luckily, they let us stay over. So him and I just stripped down to our underwear, lifted anything we could above our heads, and walked downstairs. It felt like we were in a movie. We were saying, like, “Alright, here we go.” And it was something that could be just so dangerous for us. You know, you don’t know what’s in the water. You don’t know if you could — how strong the tide is. You know, it was still raining so hard.
MG: Yeah, was there any current in the walk? How far away was that house?
DE: It was — it was his direct neighbor. That walk on a normal day would have taken maybe 15 seconds. That day, it took about three minutes. It felt like an eternity, but we were — yeah, so we — well, first, to get out of his house, since his couches had sort of blocked the door [0:35:00], we had to like move them out of the way — you know, move a floating couch out of the way before you open your door. That’s a very odd feeling. And also, there’s a lot of — it’s very hard to open a door when there’s four feet of water in the house. So we opened the door. The water is about up to — I guess up to around here about — almost — not exactly shoulder-high, but around mid-section-high. And walking through there carrying everything above our heads, he was carrying a backpack full of supplies. And he — by the time we got to the neighbor’s house, he had almost — it almost seemed like he was going to pass out just by how much weight he was — like carrying it through that was just so strenuous on the body.
But anyway, we’re wading through this water — sort of like a walking — fortunately, him and I are both around 5’9″ and able-bodied. And the whole time I was telling him, like, “Thank God we’re like able-bodied people. Imagine [0:36:00] if we were handicapped or short — like very short.” I don’t know, so we wade — I guess we didn’t swim there. We walked, but it was very difficult. We were kind of like water jumping. It’s hard to describe it, but we finally made it to the neighbor’s house. And oh, man, we were soaking wet. We were really cold from the water. And luckily, these neighbors took us in. And so once they dried — you know, gave us towels and I went into their — they gave me a shower, which was probably the best shower of my life. Oh, my god.
It was — it was like a totally different world. It was a house next door, but it was so completely different, you know. We saw that there were around three other families there — families who lived on the street who, smartly, decided to evacuate before us. They had kids, so you can’t really [0:37:00] mess around — like when you have kids, I can understand why you’d just totally not even want to try to wait out any sort of flood. So in that house, there was food. There was — you know, the house worked. They didn’t have any power, but it didn’t really matter. Because the house worked. Like the — so it was dry. And it was peaceful, and we were talking with people who were, you know, just as scared as us even though they — well, not as scared as us, but you know, they lived on the street. So they totally understood what we were going through.
It was, you know, a lot of people. I had never met any of these people before, but you know, it’s — the family name is Vetrano. And they saved our lives, because the other option would have been to wait for a rescue crew. But the problem with that is they were telling — they were suggesting that people go on their roofs to be saved when the rain is like pouring down [0:38:00]. One, how do you get up there? And two, how do you stay up there without getting like hypothermia or falling off? Like that is — I know being in an attic was not safe, but we just couldn’t imagine just going on the roof of a house. You know, and imagine if — you know, and the house that we evacuated to was one-story house only two years before. Imagine — you know, imagine if Harvey had happened two years ago. Like you just wouldn’t have anywhere to go. And that, you know, could have been a — I hate to say like fatal scenario, but it could have happened.
So you know, the Vetrano family saved our lives. And we stayed there for about five, six days. And we could see through the — and even they almost flooded actually. Their house was raised about five, six feet. And it came up to the last step before — the water came up until the last step [0:39:00]. So without — you know, and I had not talked to my — you know, and so it was several days until I could talk to my parents, because I had no idea what was going on in my own house. I was really scared for them, because I — we don’t have any two-story houses on my street. At least, I didn’t think we did. Now, you can tell with my dad’s testimony, my neighbor — my direct neighbor had a little studio apartment upstairs. So that’s how my parents were saved.
But yeah, so I was in this very big, nice house for about fix, six days with people who were very nice, who were feeding us, clothing us. And it was just a surreal experience just being around all these people. You know, we were kind of like a family in that we got to know each other very well. And they were just so unbelievably nice to us. Like they — so actually, I’m — right now, I’m planning to have a reunion dinner with all of us [0:40:00] — with the family who saved us and also my family and Stevie’s as well. We’re — we just moved into a new house. I spoiled the story, but we just moved into a new house. And so we wanted — one of the things we wanted to do once we moved in was to host them. So soon, I can’t wait to talk with them again, because they really did us — did — they saved — yeah, they saved my life. And so that was — that was a crazy experience, Harvey.
MG: So you were at their house for five days you said.
MG: And your parents were at their neighbor’s house. And you were communicating with them at some point?
DE: After a couple days. Once we got power back, then I gave him a call.
MG: Right. But when did you see them and learn about the house in which you grew up?
DE: Yeah, it was actually not the house I [0:41:00] — it was the house — we moved there when I was 11, but who cares. That’s not the point. That’s just me being picky, but there was — I learned about it about three — about like — it’s hard to remember, because the days really just blur. Like you know, when do they really start and end? Like it’s just — it’s very different. I mean, I found out, but I only saw it maybe after the water had stopped, so about — it had already been flooded for about a week before I actually saw it and, you know, saw my parents. They, fortunately, got a truck to take them to my grandpa’s house, which is a little out of the way. So them and our neighbors were staying with them — but that’s another story.
MG: So tell me a little bit about the immediate relief in addition to your friend’s neighbors taking you in. After the rains ended [0:42:00] but all these houses were flooded, what happened? How did people respond?
DE: Let’s see. So man, the whole neighborhood was in ruins. You could see when you — when you walked by it all. And so many tree branches on the — all of the road. And they were, you know, pretty — still lots of water all over the place. You walk in the house, and the house thing is just — I mean, the — well, the first thing you notice is the smell. Floods smell terrible. And so you walk in, and you smell it. It smelled pretty familiar. Let’s see. The floor was wobbly, because we had flooring. So I can’t imagine my parents having to go through the floor popping again. That’s — you know, at least with the house that I was in, even when it was flooding, it was tile. So we didn’t [0:43:00] — at least it wasn’t a noisy flood, you know. All those — all the popping sounds are very traumatic. It almost sounds like gunshots. Like it sounds — those noises are something.
But anyways, yeah, so the floor was wobbly. All our, you know, furniture was just totally damaged — you know, all over the place, including like my bed. Fortunately, you know, a lot of the — my things — not too many of my things were damaged, because I had just lifted them up several feet high though some of the lower stuff was. Because I just assumed it was going to be, at worst, you know, maybe even two feet. I think I’d given it that. So — but a good amount of my stuff wasn’t, but it almost felt a little — I almost felt a little jaded to it — like, “I’ve got through this before and no use crying about it anyway.”
So we started — I stayed with the Vetranos [0:44:00] for a couple more days, because their bed was comfortable. And you know, I didn’t want to have to sleep on the couch or the floor at my grandpa’s house. So I figured I’d just stay with them a couple more days. But I would go — I helped Stevie’s house as well, because his house needed a lot of help as well. So I spent some time with — at his house, but also, I went to mine.
We got a lot of help from the community. I was so blown away. I should have brought my list, but we had — well, a lot of our — all of close family and friends came and helped. And my — I invited a lot of friends, and a lot of them came. We also had students from Emery/Weiner come. We had — we had Chabad send a group of volunteers there. We had another — and just other Jewish organizations that [0:45:00] helped us. And it was really amazing to see all these people coming to help. You know, it’s — normally when you host people, you like to, you know, host them in a slightly different way. But just having all these people come who didn’t flood but were just so ready to help and so — yeah, I guess, ready to help was just so touching, right?
This is hard work. It’s hot. I mean, it was — you know, it was September, right? So it’s — it was hot outside. And the — you know, it’s not comfortable to be in there. There’s no air conditioning in that house. Like it’s hard work — really just ripping out rugs. That’s the part that, I think, really sucks the most — is ripping out the rugs. And that takes a lot of work. And also just, you know, breaking things down and sorting them. It’s just a lot of work. So [0:46:00] we — it would have been so much more difficult emotionally and physically to have done that by ourselves. So we had an enormous amount of help. And so, because of that, we actually sent some of them to help out some of our neighbors who my parents had stayed with, who didn’t have as many friends and weren’t as — they weren’t Jewish, and they didn’t have sort of community structures that were really sent to help them. So we helped them out as well.
And yeah, I — yeah, so that took about two weeks of gutting the house before we brought in the professionals to just — to get that done. The day with Emery was actually very interesting. We had a lot of mostly middle schoolers but some high schoolers as well. And also, I think the head of the upper school was part of that group as well, right? I had just, you know, sent the Facebook group a — the person who runs the Emery Facebook a message the day before. And the next day, I had [0:47:00] like 15 volunteers at my house.
MG: What did you message?
DE: I just said, “Hey,” because they were asking people — they’re saying, “If you need help, we’re willing to help you.” So I just sent them a message saying that we needed help. I put my address and all that. And so I got, you know, a taste of my old school. And that was really — that was really touching to have them there. You know, I didn’t know any of — none of the kids knew me personally, but it didn’t matter. Because they were so unbelievably helpful.
MG: Your parents eventually had to make a call on what to do next with the house. Were you part of that conversation?
DE: You know, actually, I — wait, I remember — I tried to actually protest the house that we’re actually living in right now. I’ll get to that a little later, but they [0:48:00] — yeah, the choice whether to lift or rebuild there or sell it, I think it was just mostly an emotional decision. And I think it’s also very important, because you know, having to deal with that emotionally, it’s so difficult — you know, a house that’s flooded three times. And you almost don’t even want to go in that neighborhood anymore. Like that neighborhood just has so many — you know, it used to have a lot of great memories, but it ended up having a lot of bad memories. And you know, to build on that and to — and also, just the tearing down your own house and then building another one up, that — one, it costs so much money, which my parents weren’t about to shell out — even if it would have paid more dividends in the long term, we’re thinking very short term. And we just wanted to get rid of it. Like we just did not want to have to deal with it anymore.
We were thinking about raising it, but it’s a one-story house. And no one was really raising one-story houses [0:49:00]. It would have looked silly. And it was also old and had gone through three floods. So we didn’t want to have to live at my grandpa’s for like another few years — or an apartment, God forbid. We just hated that, right? So it was — it was just nice to get rid of it. So when we sold it, we were so relieved. I don’t care if it went for half the price that we bought it for. That’s — we were — we felt almost lucky that we even sold it, right? Because that’s some crap real estate right there. You’re living in Sea World or Thailand — some of those villages in Thailand on the — you know, that have all these houses on stilts. Like that’s — like beachfront living in the suburbs, right? You make these jokes, because they help you — they help you go through it. They help you — yeah, they kind of — it kind of helps [0:50:00] to deal with the kind of sadness and the trauma that flooding really gives you.
MG: So for you, it made sense to say goodbye to the house?
DE: Yeah, for sure.
MG: Okay. You started to talk about the new house. So the new house is not far from the old house.
MG: It’s near Westbury, which is a neighborhood that borders Meyerland, but it actually might be in Willow Meadows. So it’s, in a way, in greater Meyerland.
MG: But I don’t know. You were starting to mention something about the new house.
DE: Yeah, I didn’t even want to go — I didn’t want to live anywhere near that. I was thinking we were going to move to Pearland or Sugar Land — not Katy, but — or not — I don’t know. Katy is fine as long as it’s away from the reservoir. But [0:51:00] I didn’t want to live anywhere near that. I just felt — I was thinking maybe we could even move to a high rise. That’s where actually Stevie’s family is. He hasn’t sold the house yet, but they’re living in a high rise right now. And they’re probably never going to live on ground ever again. That’s — I can almost guarantee that. So I thought we would take that same route, but my parents really wanted to live in a house. And granted, this neighborhood is this new subdivision. I won’t talk too much about it, but it’s raised. Like the whole — there’s a ramp kind of to get in. But it’s only like maybe one or two feet high.
Like there’s still a chance that — I mean, Harvey didn’t flood it, but I don’t know. I felt that it was only going to get — like these storms are only going to get worse. Like they’ve — they started with Memorial Day and then worked its way up to Harvey. I feel like we’re going to have a — maybe I was just being a little too paranoid, but we would have double-Harvey in one- or two-years’ time, right? And there’s still time for that, right? We haven’t [0:52:00] had it yet, but I figure the storms are just going to get worse and worse. So I feel like we should have taken a very dramatic route and just gone up high to a high rise, but — and so I was really upset when my parents told me that we were going to move, essentially, back into Meyerland. Because I just — I figured just move — I figured I would never live there again. Like I just — I loved the neighborhood, but it just — it just wasn’t going to work out. I thought it just wasn’t going to work out anymore — like not habitable.
MG: Referring to the beginning of the interview, where you located the Jewish community in southwest Houston and showed through your story how active the community is an embedded in this place, but then the tension is the existence of the community but in a place that floods. So what [0:53:00] would it have been like? What do you think it would have been like to leave? Because you were suggesting leaving the community essentially, right?
MG: I don’t know. I guess, how did you reconcile growing up in this place that’s important to you for community reasons but then also placing importance on leaving this place because it floods?
DE: Yeah. I guess I don’t — I don’t know about the first thing you said about living there as part of a community. Just — I don’t think that resonates as much just because you can live anywhere and still be part of the community. I mean, it’s a little tougher if you live super far out. But you know, I just figured that the whole neighborhood was going — everyone was going to leave. I figured — or that a lot of people would at least. I also know a lot of Jews who live in Bellaire or a few in West U or in [0:54:00] Westbury. So — or even there’s Jewish neighborhoods in like Fondren Southwest and also near UOS. That’s also — that’s a different story on its own. They’ve had a rough couple years, too. So I guess I didn’t think that Meyerland was totally necessary in terms of its centrality.
I knew that it was — you know, had a lot of Jewish history. But there — there isn’t — I don’t know. I didn’t feel a problem with — I wouldn’t have wanted to. Like I would have preferred — like I like — I really like Meyerland, but I also had so much terrible experience there that I figured it was worth getting up and leaving. But I realize — this house has grown on me, and it’s kind of — you know, it’s close enough to the point where we have — you know, we still feel like we’re in the Jewish community. Like we have Jewish neighbors, and we’re very close to the JCC. But we’re also, you know, a little bit elevated. So I hope this one doesn’t flood. Cross your fingers [0:55:00] and just — but I don’t know. I’ve gone through a couple, so maybe I’ll — will be okay. We know — we know the routine at this point, so.
MG: One of the, I think, impactful parts of your story is how you associated what you called bad memories with this place, which you described as, just now, geographically important to the Jewish community.
DE: Floodville. That’s what Stevie and I were calling it.
MG: First, have you or do you continue to move through the area even though you don’t live there? And what is that like?
DE: It’s a wasteland. Oh, my god. The — I mean, just walking through my old streets now, it’s just — it looks terrible. I mean, during the day, it’s full. It’s like a big construction zone. There’s so many trucks and vehicles [0:56:00] there. And at night, you just drive through it, and it — you know, so many of the — including my old house, right, because the dude who sold — dude who bought it, he’s just flipping it for profit. So he doesn’t mow the lawn. There are lots of lawns that aren’t mowed. There’s so many empty lots. Man, this place, it just looks terrible. I have a feeling, you know, in five years, this place is going to look awesome, because it’s going to be a lot of built-up houses who bought the land for cheap. And instead of one-story houses, they’re probably going to be new two-story ones. But right now, it just looks absolutely awful.
And yeah, it really — it’s — because I also used to go on lots of walks. So I liked having the walkability factor, too, so I kind of know the streets pretty well. And I used to go biking as a kid there all the time — go on either walks with myself or with my mom, so I knew [0:57:00] the area really well. And I knew a good amount of my neighbors, so just walking through it now is just — it’s a neighbor — I can’t say it’s like I don’t recognize it anymore. But, man, it’s just not what I lived — it’s not what it was a year ago at all. It’s still kind of in ruins.
MG: Well, you know, I really appreciate you telling your story and reliving this hard time or really hard time. Before I wrap up though, is there anything you want to add? Is there anything we didn’t get to?
DE: My suggestion for any future flood or any city, because flooding is not a new phenomenon. But I felt that there should be sort of — the city should better prepare their citizens for floods. I understand they’re doing projects to try to curtail flooding. You know, [0:58:00] in the bayou, they’re widening it obviously. But people need to know what to do when water is coming into their house, because that night, I had no — the Memorial Day flood, I had no idea what to do. I could hardly even fathom that it was happening. It was 3:00 in the morning, but still, I just did not know what to do.
And so things like, you know, lifting everything up and unplugging your — unplugging your — or I guess, turning off your electricity. You know, that’s things that people should know to do. You know, put away your food, right? Or finish — I don’t know. People should know what to do when a flood hits. And also, people should know to — and you know, Mayor Turner was telling people not to evacuate, because of what’s happened with Hurricane Rita and all the — you know, the packed highways. But people should know to evacuate internally — to any friend they have who lives on a second [0:59:00] floor or above — should open up their doors. People should be parking their cars on — in a parking garage. I fortunately parked my car in a garage — a high garage, so that didn’t get flooded.
But people should know how to prepare for floods, because so much money was lost on things that — you know, people, say, leaving their cars in the street, or — I don’t know. So much damage could have been mitigated by just simple preventative things that everyone can do. People should have been preparing for floods, but people don’t know how to do it. And I mean, there’s nothing you can do when it happens. I mean, you can’t stop — it’s harder to stop flooding. But you can save so many — people — maybe even lives, too, if people knew how to prepare for floods. And also, we know now it’s not safe to sit through a flood. You can’t assume that it’ll be done by the morning, right? Like what I did, I thought it was going to be over in the morning [1:00:00]. I thought it was going to be just like the Memorial Day flood. How bad could it be? But everyone should know.
And I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of that happen now. I don’t think a lot of people know exactly what to do, let’s say, if they haven’t flooded before. I don’t know if they know exactly what to do if it’s happening — and what they can do. So I think we need to make sure that all — that people should know. Maybe they should incorporate this into the schooling as well — just how to prevent your house — prevent your life from being destroyed — okay, that’s too dramatic — but how to save things and to limit the damage of these, you know, catastrophic floods, which probably aren’t going anywhere. They’re probably going to have a couple more — maybe not as often as these last four years, but we’re probably going to get more. And people who have never flooded are, you know, probably going to get flooded for the first time. So we should [1:01:00] do what we can do limit the amount of damage that people — that happens to people’s homes and livelihoods.
MG: That’s a really great point. I personally am not sure I know or I’m fully prepared and know exactly what to do. And one of the elements of this project is to create this archive where decision makers who would have the ability to disseminate that knowledge could listen to. And hopefully, someone will, because that’s a really great point. Well, David, thank you again. I really appreciate you sharing your story.
DE: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
MG: And that will end the interview.
MG: Thank you so much. [1:01:48]