Elgene Muscat is a retired nurse who moved to Kingwood in 1995 and experienced flooding during Hurricane Harvey. She recalls that her husband told her when they moved to Kingwood that their house was six inches above the level of the 1994 flood, and if their house flooded it would be because the entire neighborhood was underwater.
Muscat’s home flooded during the Memorial Day floods in 2016, and she had to park at a neighbor’s house and wade through knee-deep water to get to her house that day. She says that her kids kayaked in the floodwaters. During Harvey, Muscat’s daughter called her to share a warning about the possibility of flooding on the internet, but Muscat was not concerned and was sure that the area would not flood again. Her husband was watching the flood gauge near their house, and asked Muscat at the last minute if she wanted to leave, which she declined. Muscat and her husband moved items with sentimental value to the second story of their house and waited until the morning as the water rose around them. Muscat describes the chaos after they were evacuated, as they had told people they were going to one place but were taken to another and were unable to make phone calls. She says that her daughter, who was at school in Mississippi, was unable to find them for a long time. In her neighborhood, every house but one flooded, and it was three days before she was able to assess the damage to her house. They received help from their daughter’s high school dance team in removing damaged items from the house. Muscat admits that her initial refusal to leave during the flood was irrational, but she says that she had promised her daughter she wouldn’t leave the family cats behind, so she panicked. There was no shortage of volunteers to gut Muscat’s house. She describes the challenge of dealing with FEMA, who wanted detailed lists and proof of everything they had lost. Muscat quickly decided to sell her house after she realized that repairing the damage would be too taxing.
Interviewee: Elgene Muscat
Interview Date: October 27, 2018
Interview Location: Kingwood Community Center
Interviewer: Laura Bernal
INTERVIEWER: Hello, today is October 27, 2018. My name is Laura Bernal, and I’m here at the Kingwood Community Center with Elgene Muscat as part of the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. We will be talking today about her experience as a Hurricane Harvey survivor.
LB: Are you ready?
LB: Great. Please state your name and tell me a little bit about yourself.
EM: Elgene Muscat. I am a retired nurse, and I retired to teacher. I taught at nursing school until we moved here in 1995. And I have a son who’s autistic. And he was very — pretty high functioning. And so I kind of quit nursing to — I was very pregnant when I moved here — so quit nursing to take him into Houston to an intensive ABA program. And then lots of my time was consumed with him and then the second one. So I never ended up going back to work. I do lot of volunteer work, but that’s it [0:01:00].
LB: Where did you move from?
EM: We moved from San Antonio. My husband was a surgeon there, and he got finished with his residency. And he — we were looking at down by Baytown — not Baytown — down like NASA area and up here. And for some reason, up here just felt right even though his first interview was in ’95. I guess the interview was in ’94 whenever y’all had the last flood. The bridge was closed. They had to postpone his interview. So he postponed his trip here because of the — you know, the immobility that came from that particular flood. So it’s kind of ironic that that’s what brought us, you know, here at the same time. Then from ’95, we lived in — back in Woodstream, which they did not flood. And then we moved over to Kingwood Greens, which is a golf course community. We were on the — on the golf course on a lake. And over the years, we had watched the lake come up and come up on the golf course. And it was always kind of a [0:02:00] fun thing to do. You know, we kind of made jokes about it. At one point, it kind of got the yard just a little bit, but our house was built way, way up. I mean, our pool pretty much was halfway out of the ground. It had a big retaining wall at the back, and you know, even with the house — they had built the house 6 inches above the flood of ’95. I guess it was the flood of ’95, ’94, I don’t know. So he had said — and he’s right about everything all the time. He had said, “We won’t flood. We’ll never flood. If we flood, half of Kingwood will be underwater.” And half of Kingwood was under water, and we flooded.
LB: Prior to moving here, did you research about the floods?
EM: That really didn’t have an impact on us, because we knew it was an isolated kind of thing. At that time, it was something very unprecedented. So no, that really didn’t have an influence on us. We moved into Woodstream — didn’t have an influence of it — moved into Kingwood Greens. We were aware that there had been some flooding [0:03:00] in certain areas of Kingwood Greens. Like the year before, Memorial Day of — no, the flood of 2017 — I have to get this straight. It was Memorial Day of ’16. Our area was flooding, and I was working Project Graduation for a friend who had a child graduating. But yet, she had all of her family in town. I said, “Let me just go up and work your part of Project Grad.” And it was during the day when she was trying to entertain her family and stuff.
And I was up there working, and my daughter kept calling me. She said, “Mommy, you need to come home. The water’s getting really high.” And I’m rolling my eyes, and I’m thinking, “Okay, no big deal.” So then there happened to be someone else working Project Grad during the set-up during the day. It’s an all-night thing they do for the kids, so there’s a lot of activity up there during the day by the parents helping get ready for it and everything. And I happened to meet another couple that lived in Kingwood Greens. And they were leaving. And I said, “This is my cell number.” I said, “Just call me when you get back, and let me know how bad it really is.” And they called me [0:04:00], and they said, “It’s really bad.”
So at that point in time, I was collecting money for t-shirts. And there was nobody else there that I knew. But I have a whole wad of money. If you know PTA and how all that works, you can’t just leave money anywhere, you know, with the [unclear, 0:04:16] t-shirts that I was handing out. So I had to find somebody there who was willing to take it over. And I had to really trust that person, because I’d never seen that person — that they were going to, you know, manage the money appropriately — wasn’t going to run off with all of our money and t-shirts, which wasn’t even mine. I was doing it for a friend, so that put double the burden on me.
But I did go home, and when I got home, it was flooded to the point to where we had to park across the golf course in a neighbor’s driveway. They happened to be at the lake that weekend, so I parked in their driveway. And then I waded through knee-deep water, the Memorial Day of ’16, to get to my house. So you know — so that was kind of a — and that particular flood lasted about three days. We had water up into the street, halfway up [0:05:00] in the yards. It was kind of fun. I mean, it had cleared up. The rain had stopped. And it was the dam — when they opened the dam kind of thing when we got all the water. The kids had the kayaks, and they were kayaking up and down the street. I mean, it was all just kind of this fun little neighborhood thing. I mean, we didn’t think a thing about it.
And then when the hurricane came — Harvey, I can’t believe I forgot the name for just a moment. My daughter had just gone back to Ole Miss. It was her senior year. And she had called me probably two or three days — two days before the flooding. And she said, “Mom, there’s this thing on Twitter. You need to hear it.” And so she read to me Twitter. I don’t tweet. Facebook I can do. Tweet I don’t do. And it was basically somebody who was a — I think the secretary to somebody important downtown, a law firm or something like that. And there had been a very closed meeting that the water was coming up a lot faster than they’d said it was — that it was going to be a lot worse than the news was advertising. But they didn’t want the panic that happened with Rita [0:06:00], which I don’t know how much you know about Rita. But Rita was right after Katrina. And people got on the freeways, and then everything just stopped. There was no contraflow lanes. They had not worked any of that stuff out. People ran out of gas. People were stranded on freeways. So they didn’t want that gridlock.
So anyway, this person was tweeting like, “If you have any close family or friends, you need to tell them to get out. Get out now.” Well, of course, I’m telling my daughter. I’m like, “It’s somebody looking for their moment in the spotlight. You know, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. It’s going to be a rain event. After what happened last year on ’16, there is no way they’re going to control the dams the same way. They’re definitely going to coordinate the release of water.” And so at that point, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried at all. I said, “Just go to school.” It was her first week back at school.
And then when it started raining, we watched the water come up. And then we saw it in the street. And we knew the last moment that we could drive out. My husband’s not stupid [0:07:00]. He’s a surgeon. And he also’s a weather geek, which makes it even worse. So he knows where all the little flood — the River Authority uses — he knows where all the gauges are. And there happened to be a gauge pretty close to our house. And he was watching incrementally as the rate those gauges are going up. And it was — it was still daylight outside. And he said, “This is the last moment we’re going to be able to drive out. Do you want out? Or do you want to stay?” And at that point, they weren’t forecasting the water to come in the house. They were forecasting about two feet short of our house, which — considering how far it had come up in ’16, it was going to be a few more feet. I mean — I said, “You know, let’s just — we’ve got three cats. You know, we’ve got two stories. Let’s just wait it out.”
So he packed a bag, and he said, “Well, how about I go up to the hospital? Because they’re going to need help up there, and the roads are going to be flooded. And nobody’s going to be able to get around.” So he was going to go up to the hospital. And at the last minute, for some reason, he didn’t go. And about midnight [0:08:00] — I don’t remember if it was that night or the next night, because the whole thing in my head — I kind of went kind of nuts during all this. The whole thing in my head was really cloudy, but after dark, on the night that it flooded, water started coming out into the house about midnight. And that’s when he came and told me a few hours before that. He goes, “We are going to flood. We’re too late. We can’t get out in our car. You know, we’re stupid to walk out right now, because it’s dark. And it’s deeper in some places already than it is in other places.” And so he — he said, “We’ll have to leave by boat in the morning.”
So we took all the kids’ pictures and stuff. And we took everything upstairs that was of sentimental kind of value. We rolled up the expensive rugs and put them on top of the couch — didn’t think a thing about it — and so — and went to bed about 1:00 A.M. that night with about this much water. And then I woke up in the morning, and it was about this much water. And then between that time — we couldn’t catch the third cat. He went under the bed [0:09:00], and we couldn’t get to him. And you know, I later learned he macerated my husband’s arm like crazy, because he was scared. We were trying to forcibly put him in a box. And I told my daughter I wasn’t going to leave the cats. She made me promise I’d never leave the cats. And the cats are her thing — you know, family. Pets mean a lot.
And so I went upstairs, and I took a nap on our couch and, you know, watched the water come up the stairs. I think it came up three or four stairs. And I watched the cats. They would go down two steps shy of the water. They would turn around and go back upstairs. So anyway, we were able to catch two cats. They were on top — in carriers on top of the pool table. And the water just was coming up really fast. And so I didn’t realize until later helicopters had tried to get us. My husband pictures of that. But he didn’t think I physically could get out to the middle of the golf course to get into the basket that the helicopter was dropping, because we have all the pine trees. So he shooed the helicopter off. He was on the phone with someone [0:10:00] from the sheriff’s department, who was coordinating with the civilians that saved us.
No matter what Trump says, and I love Trump — very, very conservative. But I mean, without those civilians that helps us, there would have been a lot of people that didn’t make it. So they came to get us, and I still wouldn’t leave. And so he had them get our neighbors across the street. And then they came back in, and it was a little boat. I mean, it wasn’t a big boat. It was a little boat. So they came in, and they had got me. They got the two cats which were in the middle of the of front of the boat. And I was kind of laying over the top of them. And they got my son who was 24, 23 at the time. And they got my husband. Of course, I’d already dropped my cell phone. And I dropped my computer. I already dropped my iPads, so basically, the only communication that was happening was my husband held it together. I think, you know, his phone didn’t get wet.
And so then, I guess, [0:11:00] as we were leaving, they told us when to hold on. They told us about how rough the current was. They told us which way we were going to turn. And it — we thought we were going to Kings Harbor. And they were going to pick us up there, which would be a straight shot. And then he told us right before we got to that road — he’s like, “Okay, hold on. I have to make a really tight turn.” And I’m thinking in my head, “What is he talking about? We’re going that way.” And what he did is he turned left really fast and then turned right to get out of the current — to escape the current. And he went across the bridge to the other side — so over to the Atascocita side. Of course, we had people here at the middle school area waiting for us, but we never came. Because they took us to the other side.
So there was — you know, the communication was a problem, because lots of cell towers were just getting jammed, you know. And so there was a long time that people here — friends here looking for us couldn’t find us. And my daughter was at school. She couldn’t find us. And you know, it was a scary time for a lot of them [0:12:00]. And you know, I didn’t appreciate that at all for many weeks after. You know, all — I just remember myself. It was very traumatic. We hit three trees and a stop sign and a telephone pole. So anyway, we got across the water, and then we — they were going to take us, I think, somewhere — to Atascocita High School or something — or maybe a church over there. My husband’s office — he’s got an office in Summerwood. And he said, “Well, you’re going right in front of my office.” We got into a truck at that point. And so the guy took us to my husband’s office — and you know, didn’t have a shower there or anywhere, but we spent the night there. And then after that, we, you know, had friends on that side of the lake that could help us out, you know. So that was that part of it.
LB: So you had the experience with the flood in 2016. Had you dealt with any hurricanes or tropical storms?
EM: Oh, yeah. We were here during Ike. In Ike, it was [0:13:00] the wind event. It wasn’t the rain. I mean, there were trees, and we were all hunkered down. You know, we thought that was a Houston word. It turns out that’s a hurricane word that a lot of people use. But we were in the middle — a middle hallway and like interior of the garage but inside and away from any windows. And we heard trees hitting the house. And you know, we didn’t have much damage, but we referred to it as a hurrication. Because you know, we got three weeks off school. So I took the kids, and we went to Disneyland — or Disney World, Florida. No, so — no, we had had — and my husband’s grown up on the golf course, so we’ve had lots of experience with hurricanes. And during Floyd, sometime when my husband was in medical school, his apartment got hit by a tornado that came off Floyd. And he lost his apartment. So we’ve been through this kind of stuff before. So we’re just wondering what kind of natural disaster is next for us, because we’ve been through earthquakes — little ones [0:14:00] — baby ones, but I can say I’ve been through an earthquake. We’ve been through floods. We’ve been through hurricanes. We went through the tornados, so we’re just waiting to see what’s next.
LB: After being evacuated and trying to understand what was going on, when were you able to return to your home to assess the damage?
EM: It was about the third day. And on that day, I think, only big trucks could get in, because I think there was still a fair amount of — you know, a lot of debris and silt. Everything — that’s one thing that I kept — surprised me — was how much mud and gook there was inside my house. And the cars were just so congested you could hardly get by, because they were parked on both sides. Everybody was just trying to get in, because every house in our subdivision got flooded except for one. And they almost got flooded. They are kind of up on the cul-de-sac up high. But hundreds of houses, so there was a lot of people there [0:15:00]. So I kind of had an idea before.
My husband had called and told me the cat was okay, which, “Yay, the cat’s okay.” I thought everything would be great if the cat’s okay. Well, everything wasn’t great. So I — people had been working at the house for several hours before I got there, because we had to go to the AT&T store down in Clear Lake somewhere to get myself a new phone. I mean, because I was lost — you know, no communication at all. So yeah, so coming back in was about the third day, I think. And there were people that I knew, people I didn’t know in my house. You know, “Do you want to save this? Do you want to throw this away?” And there were differing opinions about if somebody’s been — if something’s been touched by flood water, can it be cleaned? Do we have to throw it away? And it’s like I didn’t know the answers to any of those. So we pretty much lost everything downstairs, which was everything but two bedrooms.
LB: How did those people go into your house? Who coordinated their efforts [0:16:00]?
EM: A lot of it was just friends of friends that were just sweeping. They were going from house to house to house. And my daughter was on the dance team out here. And so there were a bunch of — they call their dance team the Fillies. And so some of the people that came — they just hugged me, of course. And they just said, “Once a Filly parent, always a Filly parent.” And there were just this whole group of people, Fillies included, that came through. And then one girl found a turtle alive in our house. And she held it up. We have a picture of her letting it go outside in the water. And we had fish in our pool. And we had fish in the house. And there were snakes. I didn’t happen to see any, but I’ve heard that there were snakes. So it was — you know, it was hard. Everything — the wood floors had all buckled up, and the carpet had come loose. So it was really hard to walk without tripping, because there was so much mud. And it was just — in a state of shock. You know, so much [0:17:00] stuff had been done by the time I got there.
And then somebody showed up with a crowbar and a saw and wanted to know if I wanted them to start taking sheetrock off. And I’m like, “Gee, I don’t know.” So luckily, there were other men there that I could ask that like, “Yes,” you need to take it off at three-feet above, two-feet above the water line kind of thing. So we did. And then, of course, our front yard, you know, you just had piles and piles and piles of everything. The rugs that we put up on the counters didn’t make it. There was furniture from one part of the house that miraculously made it into a room on the other side of the house — like big pieces of furniture. And we had no broken windows, so that was really — and the house was lots of curves, lots of arches — how stuff made it into my bedroom from the family room, I have no idea — big pieces of furniture. So it was, you know, a pretty decent current that was going through there [0:18:00].
LB: When you went to the AT&T store, were there other people dealing situations like yours?
EM: No, because we were down in Clear Lake. And matter of fact, he had said that they were one of the few AT&T stores still open that day. Because I guess it was so widespread. And at that point, I really — I didn’t have a lot of media information for the first, I’d say, five to seven, 10 days maybe. I had no idea how many other people flooded. But at the time you flood, it’s just about you. And I feel really, really horrible that I put my family through what I put them through by refusing to leave and the way I acted — not very mature at all. I was very much in panic mode and not my — the only thing that kept coming through my head is I promised my daughter I wouldn’t leave a cat. And we took two cats. We just had to leave the third one. And so while we were evacuated, she was like, “Send me pictures of the cats.” And it’s like we sent her pictures [0:19:00] of one cat and the other cat. And it’s like, “The other cat’s hiding under the thing. We can’t get a good picture. You know, he’s way back in the back. He’s scared.” And plural, the cats were fine. We didn’t have to define that cats weren’t three cats. We just — “Cats were fine.” So luckily, the third cat was fine, too. So we have our family.
LB: Since you have pets and your daughter was away, did you take any preparations for the hurricane?
EM: No. Well, we do what we always do. You stock up on water, and you — you know, you get an ice chest. You freeze milk jugs. You know, come hurricane season, you freeze gallon jugs of milk — of water in old milk jugs, because they’ll keep a cooler really cool for a really long time. So you learn that through the years. So you know, we’d done that, and then, of course, when we knew the water was coming into the house, we took everything from the pantry that was, you know — you know, crackers, food cans, anything like that, we took all that upstairs, [0:20:00] thinking that we might be trapped upstairs for several days. So yeah, you’re prepared with the Pop-Tarts and that kind of stuff but not — we had no idea what was going to happen, I mean, until it was too late, so anyway.
LB: After the initial group of volunteers that were at your home, what kind of additional help did you receive?
EM: We received as much help as we needed actually. It was nothing more than a phone call away. Or a lot of us were consoling each other. We’d go to each other’s houses and kind of — you know, you bond over something like that, you know. One of the neighbors was really quick to get one of those pods — you know, those big metal things that they deliver to your house in the driveway. And he was really quick to be able to get one of those to start moving stuff out so that they could start repairs. I had a contractor that before the storm we were already joking about it. And I said, “I want to be first on your list. You remember who your most important client is [0:21:00].”
And you know, so he was with me during a lot of these first few days. And he saw some of the damage that was not flood related that was, you know, rain from previous — you know, the windows weren’t put in right. And he said, “You know, you’re looking at a $150,000 just fixing what was wrong before the storm — before you even start fixing –” And we had insurance. Thankfully, we had to because of our mortgage company, but we would have had it anyway. I will never go without insurance again. So it covered 250 structure. It covered 100,000 in contents.
So we got the full amount, and then this — I don’t even care who knows this. They — FEMA sent the person to come appraise everything. And then we had to do an inventory list. And they wanted everything down to how many tubes of toothpaste you had. How many bars of soap did you lose? How many towels did you have? And it’s like, “Are you serious?” And then on [0:22:00] some of the more expensive items, they wanted pictures of the labels. It’s like, “Dude, not only do I not have the picture of the label, that stuff was hauled off weeks ago.” And it’s like it was just this disconnect between the government and the agencies asking for certain proof of things that they had no idea that — you know, they — people needed to get sheetrock out of their house. They needed to get everything out in front of the house. And those — you know, as soon as it could get the roads clear, they were sending the trucks through with the cranes to pick everything up.
And then they would pick up within two feet of the curb. And then you had to — you and your friends had to move everything else closer to the curb. And it took four or five different pick-ups, because the debris was backed up almost to the front door of the house. So yeah, I had tons of help, you know, when we needed it — and just the shock, you know, still. It still kind of blows me away. I don’t get scared when it rains. I don’t think we’re going to flood in our next house. We’re two feet higher, but [0:23:00] have a house in Utah.
And I suggested to my husband — it’s like my son is 25. My daughter was 22, graduating. I said, “Why don’t we just get you an apartment here. And I’ll move to Utah, and we’ll just split the time. You can come to Utah some. I’ll come here some.” There was taxes if we have an apartment and everything. And he’s — he wasn’t ready to let go of the whole family-home kind of idea. So even though we have the house in Utah, this is still his home. It’s still our home and where his job is. And financially, he can make a lot more money here than he can in Utah. And he’s got a really nice set-up with the way that his practice has worked out. So we ended up buying a smaller home — probably a little bit nicer quality than the one that we had. I think we were more into looking at quality than we were when we bought the house that had flooded — just because we knew, you know, that — what’s — what you could see to the eye isn’t always — you know, so we went and looked at other houses they were building to see how [0:24:00] they were — you know, how they were building them all, how they were installing windows, and stuff. And we felt pretty decent about that we were getting a good quality house.
LB: As you were fixing your home, did you struggle to find materials and basic goods for your house?
EM: Well, we decided to sell probably about three weeks in. On the day that we were first allowed in, there was a guy going door to door asking people if they wanted to sell their house. So he was a professional flipper, I guess — is what you would call him. And he gave us a really, really low offer. And I told my husband — I was like, “No way.” And then the more we thought about it, the more — it took, you know, a week or two before we really was like — I was standing alone in that house. And that’s when it hit me.
And my contractor and his wife were in my driveway. They had just happened to drop by at the moment I was there. And everything had kind of quieted down. And [0:25:00] I just went out crying. And he hugged me, and I said, “I can’t do this.” And he goes, “You’re right.” He said, “This is too much.” He said, “This is — this is big.” And that’s when I decided that we weren’t going to stay.
So when we went to the new house, it wasn’t decorated the way I wanted it. We had just finished a remodel. We had actually not finished completely. We were like 99.9% finished. So we put in wood floors, dark walls, wooden doors, I mean, everything. So we go into this house. It’s got white floors, white counter tops, white cabinets, light gray walls. It was like — I’m like, “I can do this, but I’m going to do it my way.” So if we move, then I’m going to make the changes that I want to make. So my husband and I talked about it, and he’s like, “White cabinets are fine.” And I’m like, “No, white cabinets are not fine.” So eventually, I inched my way along.
And at the beginning, it was really easy, because nobody else was putting floors in, so I got my hardwood floors put in right away [0:26:00] and got my house painted right away and everything. But then — and I got some of the faux painting done right away. Like we knew what we wanted in the ceilings. We had some tray ceilings and stuff. So a lot of stuff got done right away, but then as a year’s gone by, I’m putting the final touches. And it seems like every little thing I do it’s like, “Would this look really great if this was painted this color?” And so now, I’m having trouble finding people to come in, because everybody else is at that finish stage also.
But no, we — I unpacked the last of our boxes a few days ago — no, probably two weeks ago. And the very bottom of that box — it was a box of my daughter’s old t-shirts from — I was going to make a quilt out of them or, you know, have somebody — I’m not handy at all — have somebody else make a quilt. So it was all of her old t-shirts. Some of them I kept the whole shirt. Some of them I just cut the emblem out and whatever. But at the bottom of that box was a sequin Santa purse, like a little girl would carry [0:27:00] — you know, you take to church on Christmas Eve. And we had gone to church with my husband’s parents to Catholic church. We’re not Catholic, but they were. And we had gone with them. And she took money out of the offering plate and put it in that purse. And so she told me the story, “You were so mad at me.” And it’s like I have no memory of that story at all.
So it’s just kind of fun. It was like memory lane, because we had to — you know, we had to go through everything. And our attic was full at the other house. And it was undamaged. So I managed to get a pod. It just so happened I called on the right day and somebody had dropped it off. And my contractor had four guys that he said needed babysitting. And he didn’t really have anything for them to do, because they weren’t real skilled. So I’m like, “Can I have them for the afternoon? I’ll pay them,” and they emptied my attic. And that sounds really great, and it was great. But I’d probably say 75 percent of the stuff in my attic I could have, you know, gotten rid of. So then there was the whole idea once the pod was unloaded [0:28:00] — it was unloaded in the garage. And nothing went in the house that wasn’t going to stay in the house. So we had a garage full of stuff for a long time — old Christmas trees that didn’t have stands, clothes, toys, just keepsakes that maybe they were important at the time.
And one of them was a desk my husband had built as a child with his dad. And so he used it. And my son used it. And my daughter used it. But when my daughter used it, we had painted it purple. We painted her name on it. It was very girly looking. And it happened — one of the men that was working that day, he had a young daughter. And so I asked my husband — I said, “We’re never going to use this.” I said, “What do you think if we just offer it to this guy?” And this guy was very, very grateful. So we had a lot of people that came and worked that we let them have things that we no longer were going to use. And so that felt kind of good, being able to do that. But so anyway, no, we didn’t have trouble finding materials at all, because we didn’t do anything.
LB: What kind of changes [0:29:00] did you witness in the community after Hurricane Harvey?
EM: Everybody knew somebody who’d flooded. Everybody knew many people who flooded. The place where I got my nails done, which — I look at my nails right now, and they haven’t been done in a month. They’re killing me right now. They hurt. If you’ve ever had nails, you know that when they get really long, they start to hurt. I met women in there that they had two houses, one from their empty nest that they were selling and one they had moved into Barrington, which is another area of Kingwood, which — everybody flooded in Barrington also. It’s closer up to the front of Kingwood — and nice houses up there, too. And neither of their houses had insurance. And I’m thinking, “Oh, my god. I cannot imagine having double the loss with no insurance.” I just — I can’t even wrap my head around that, but there were a lot of people here that were not in a flood zone that did not have insurance. So that was tough. So yes, there is a bond that — you know, “Did you flood [0:30:00]?” You ask, “Did you flood?” But then if you don’t know someone well, you don’t ask, “Did you have insurance?” Because you know, so many people did not, and that’s very unfortunate.
LB: What about the businesses in the area?
EM: It took — the grocery stores up front were okay. The Kroger was okay. Our Randalls flooded. The HEB was underwater. I mean, if you’ve driven by there, which you had to have driven by there to get here [unclear, 0:30:29]. But the Whataburger, if you look at the big V on the top of the Whataburger, the water was over the front top of the door. And that was an apartment complex up until a few years ago. Then they dozed it, and they put up the grocery store and the gas station and all those restaurants and stuff. And so everything in there had just opened, and it all flooded. And that was really wild to see some of those pictures and just to see some of the streets and see some of the pictures of streets that we drive on every day that were not streets. They were water [0:31:00]. And it was just the water.
The high school shut down. We had to — we had to share — I don’t know. Do you even know this? Our high school had to share campus with another high school. So our high school kids went to school — their high school kids went to school in the morning. Our high school kids went to school in the afternoon. So that mean that the kids doing the extracurricular stuff were — you know, from one school doing it in the morning, one school in the afternoon. And it was — you know, kids had rode busses. Some of them weren’t getting home until 7:00, 7:30 at night, because you had the bus routes. It just — it messed up everything, but the whole bottom — the high school was closed for almost a year — almost a whole school year. I think they opened up after spring break. But I mean, that was a big adjustment to them.
And my daughter was in college, so it didn’t really affect us. But you know, that was — to think of the impact of that was just — you know, it was — it was big. Everybody knew somebody, and there’s still businesses that haven’t come back. The McDonald’s is under construction. They ended up tearing it down [0:32:00] after they did nothing to it, so I can’t imagine what a cesspool that was inside by the time they dozed it. I’m sure they had to doze it and get rid of the stuff really quick, because I’m not sure what was growing in there. Because they didn’t do anything to it. So anyway, it took a long time, so.
LB: What are your long-term plans now that it’s been a year after Harvey?
EM: Pick up life where we left off. And we missed a year of vacations because of the house. We missed — we have Disney Vacation Points. And we missed all of our Disney vacations we usually go on. And you know, so now, we’re trying to — you know, my daughter graduated early in December. The flood happened in August. So when she graduated, we kind of gave her that first six months. She did an internship down at the Houston Zoo. She thought she wanted to do behavioral training with — you know, behavioral [0:33:00] analysis with animals, like zoology kind of stuff. That didn’t work out so good for her. She just — I don’t think she had ever had a real job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning and getting back at 5:00 in the evening was — and the commute and stuff was — and she shoveled a lot of gorilla poop. So I don’t think it was quite the experience that she thought it was going to be.
And so we gave her some time to get settled into the new house. And of course, she was disappointed, because you know, the house she grew up with was taken away. And at one point before we had it empty, she was home for a weekend. And she wanted to go see it. And I just told her, “I don’t think you really want to see it. I don’t think you want to remember it like that.” And she — I said, “I’m going to leave it up to you.” And in the end, she decided not to see it. And now, she can’t even drive down our street. She doesn’t want to see it. She wouldn’t look at it on MLS when it was listed for sale. I did. Of course, I wanted to see what they’d done with it, but yeah, it was [0:34:00] tough.
So no — caught up on a few vacations, and we’re going on a cruise in — Thanksgiving, which to me, Thanksgiving feels like it’s a million years away. And it’s three weeks away. I realized that the other day. I was like, “Holy crap. I got to start thinking about what fits me right now.” And if you’ve ever packed for a cruise, you know you got to have your dinner clothes and your day clothes. And luggage, you know, is an issue, so anyway.
LB: How did you feel when you saw your home listed?
EM: Horrible. I mean, in shock — I think shock most of the time. And I had some friends — of course, we all were friends together. And so we all knew someone, so there were friends that were driving from house to house. And one friend in particular — you have to make jokes. If you can’t make jokes, you can’t — you know, you can’t function. But I found my daughter’s collection of Mickey Mouse ears, so we were all running around with Mickey Mouse ears. And so [unclear, 0:34:58] came over. And air conditioning was quite valuable at that time [0:35:00], so she parked her car, turned on the engine with the air conditioning, and she pulled out paper cups. And we all drank wine in her car for an hour and a half in front of my crapped-out house, because — you know, just some time to decompress — you know, just — and it’s just good memories for me even though it was bad.
You know, it’s — like the Bed, Bath & Beyond up here, when they finally reopened, they have a whole wall dedicated to Harvey. And they have the big stick up on the wall, “This is how high the water got.” And they had aerial pictures of it and stuff. And you know, I think it reminded the community what we’ve been through. But I can tell you that if this community floods again, it won’t come back — not if it floods like it did before. People are just going to just — it’ll be just — people will just move away, so anyway.
LB: How did you acknowledge Harvey’s first anniversary?
EM: I thought it was going to be hard. It wasn’t hard [0:36:00]. It wasn’t hard at all, because the days around Harvey were so clouded in my head, I can’t really remember what time something happened and, in particular, what day. And I can remember three or four weeks after Harvey, my husband and I were having dinner. And he started telling me about some of the things that I did the morning with all the water in the house. And it’s like I don’t remember any of it. And I was not drinking. I was not on drugs. I just thoroughly freaked out, I guess — panic attacks, and I had lots and lots of panic attacks afterwards — under control with medication. I found this perfect medication that I can’t even feel anything when I take it, but I have not had a single panic attack since I started taking that medication. But I can’t say it was Harvey-related. It would come out of nowhere. It would happen in the weirdest places. And so no, there was no trigger that I could put my finger on. It just was just a generalized anxiety, so anyway [0:37:00].
LB: One of the ways people describe Harvey is being Houston Strong. How do you think Kingwood exemplifies that?
EM: I say probably Kingwood Strong. And there was — at one point, they were selling a t-shirt that said — let’s get a little — of course, they’re doing elections out there, so it gets political. Trump’s saying of Make America Great Again — one of the t-shirts was Make Kingwood Great Again. And I thought, “Yikes, I don’t know how well that’s going to go over.” And I didn’t see many of those t-shirts, you know, but you’re just playing off that whole thing. But no, yeah, we all — it was a very helpful community. Everybody was helping other people. People were staying with people they’d never met before just right after it all happened. I mean, because it was just — my daughter, she wrote some in college. She’s got a degree in psychology, but she managed a — for Ole Miss, she was the — I guess the writer for [0:38:00] the Odyssey.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Odyssey. It’s a blog kind of thing. So she kind of handled the people that were writing Ole Miss. And she wrote a blog about her experience about — and it’s — it was so powerful, and I just kill her, because I think she should be a writer. But she — you know, anything mom thinks, “No, we’re not going to do that, but she wrote it. And basically, it said, you know, it was my family’s day one of having no home, day one of having no cars. We lost three cars. Day one of having no clothes, day one of having no food, day one of — and then she said, “And then I looked back, and I think about it. And it was day one of realizing that we had everything we really needed, which was each other.” And so I thought when she wrote that, it was like — crying. It was just sweet — you know, powerful paragraph.
And I — she was going to come talk to you guys, but she thought she would get too emotional. Because she went through — I can’t imagine what she went through, you know. Of course [0:39:00], they have that thing on Twitter that it was going to be so bad. It turned out that it really was as bad as they said that it was going to be. And it kind of — they had all these evacuations. She said it was really difficult watching television, hearing about, “Okay, this area needs to evacuate now. This are needs to evacuate now.” Nobody ever told Kingwood to evacuate.
And it’s like — and by the time we realized what was happening — like I said, my husband’s kind of a real weather geek. I mean, he was watching those gauges. And he — after the water had come up where we couldn’t drive out, he was watching the water. He said, “It’s going to come up a lot higher than what they’re saying.” And that was when the news media was still calling — you know, of course, they were saying whatever they were being told to say, I guess, or whatever. But you know, I can understand the city not wanting the panic, but you know, the fact that they knew this was going to happen to us, and they didn’t tell us.
And I left the house twice that morning determined to walk to Town Center [0:40:00], which is this area right in here. It would have been about a mile from the house, but it’s like the current was so strong, I couldn’t have — I couldn’t have stood up. Like I couldn’t stand up when we went to get into the boat. I had to be carried, because the water — the current was so strong. And you know, if it wasn’t for my husband, I probably wouldn’t be here. Because I wasn’t thinking right. I just wasn’t thinking straight.
So — and if I had had that third cat and if I had had him in a blanket in my arms when that boat hit the trees and hit the stop sign and hit the telephone pole, that cat would have gone flying. And we wouldn’t have had a cat anymore. So I mean, God has a way of looking out, you know. It was — that was the way it was meant to be.
And it was hard for her at first, because I had to tell her that we were — we’d sold the house. Because she kept asking questions like, “Well, when is the mold going to–?” I said, “Jay — Jenna, it has to dry out. You know, we haven’t got the clearance to go ahead with the renovation [0:41:00] yet, because it has to dry out.” We’d already decided to sell the house, but I wasn’t going to tell her that over the phone. Because it was — you know, it’s a face-to-face kind of thing. And she’d come home. My husband picked her up, and I thought, “Of course, he told her in the car on the way home from the airport.” Well, he had not told her. And it’s like — and then it was kind of awkward. It’s like, “Do we tell her together, you know?”
And she ended up snooping on my iPad, which is not unusual for her. And she found information — you know, correspondence that I had with other people about, “How do we tell Jenna?” And she came to me in the middle of the night, and she goes, “So what’s up?” And I’m like, “I know better than this.” It’s like — she goes, “When were you going to tell me?” And I said, “I don’t have to tell you. Do I?” And she goes, “No.” And she was okay with it. But I don’t know if she would have been okay if I would have just told her. I think she found my iPad, and I think she had 30 minutes to really think about it before she came to me. And I guess she needed that 30 minutes [0:42:00], because I can guarantee you, just knowing her, it would have been, you know, a fight, so anyway.
LB: Now, going through Harvey and those other experiences that you’ve mentioned, when the next hurricane comes, how will you prepare for that one?
EM: The same way that we always did — lot of Pop-Tarts, crackers, tuna, water. We now have a generator, which at my old house, the neighbor had a generator. And his was floating away, so if it floods, that generator won’t do us any good. But you know, we just have to hope that now they’re taking the whole flooding issue seriously — that they’re — you’ve got two different river authorities. And I really don’t know, but they weren’t really cooperating. They’ll release Conroe, but Lake Houston, their dams are much smaller. So when they release their dams, they can’t release it to capacity that can keep up with Conroe. So basically what needs to happen is before a storm, Conroe needs to lower their water. Then Houston [0:43:00] needs to lower their water. It needs to be done, you know, so that Conroe’s really low when the storm comes through. And that way, we don’t have this flooding like we did this time.
And then with each flood that we had, you had more and more debris that was trapped at the bottom — you know, the silt, the logs. Everything that’s carried downstream was trapped. And seeing them to — the dredging going on now, you can see the barges filled up with tree trunks and debris and stuff. And it’s like that gives less space — carrying capacity. You know, my daughter was an environmental science minor, so she told me about carrying capacity. You know, the lake can’t hold that much water anymore. So of course, you know, the old flood tables are going to be different than they are right now. So I hope it doesn’t happen again. I hope that they really have learned their lesson.
LB: What about with your cars?
EM: That was easy. That was — it didn’t take any time at all to get the cars replaced. I mean, basically, any car that flooded was considered totaled [0:44:00]. I had a few things in my car that I kind of would have liked to have had, but I didn’t go to my car and get them. It was — I had heard that the smell was just awful — not just in my car, in everybody’s cars. So we had them towed, and I never saw them again. But that was nice. Three new cars at one time was very nice. Three new car payments at one time, because they were all paid off. But you know, it comes — it comes back around. But with the FEMA guy that came, everyone — I think each FEMA guy had like five or six houses that they would, I guess, do. And the paperwork that they had to fill out was just ridiculous. We got a copy of the report afterwards, and it was just absolutely government red tape — depreciation value, replacement value, all this other kind of stuff, you know.
And he made us write all that up, and he kept telling us when he was looking at our house — he was like, “I can tell you’re from a very nice neighborhood. And you had very nice things even though they’ve been hauled off. And make sure that [0:45:00] you document everything, so that you get the maximum.” Basically, he was telling us, “Make your value higher.” So he said, “If you want the full hundred –” He said, “Put your inventory list at at least one-fifty.” So I went through and honestly did my inventory list. I came up with about eighty. And I’m like, “No way. After all this, I deserve to get everything.” And so you know, it’s hard to remember what you paid for this or what you paid for that, but we ended up getting the full amount. It was fine.
And structural was no problem at all. I mean, that was — that was a no-brainer. I mean, that wasn’t our problem, but then my neighbor across the street, their adjuster told them they didn’t even need to do an inventory. He said, “I can tell that you’ve lost more than your max.” He goes, “Don’t worry about doing an inventory.” So that really killed me that we had to do all that. And they didn’t have to do it at all, so that — you know, but in the FEMA report, they valued our house at a much, much higher number than we could have gotten if we had sold it.”
So we got to take the tax loss, and if they come back and say [0:46:00], “What do you mean your house was valued at X?” You know, we can say, “Right here, it’s a government document. You said it was this.” So we got to take the tax deduction. Between the money we got from the sale of the house, the money that we got from insurance, and the money that saved us on taxes, we actually came out ahead. I wouldn’t look at it as being ahead because, you know, of everything that we’ve gone through to get here, but you know, just kind of God’s plan, you know. It was time for us to move on, time for us to simplify, time for us to, you know, get smaller. And that’s what we did — so just had to get a little push — a little holy push there, so.
LB: Do you have anything else that you would like to share about your experience?
EM: No, I mean, not really. I mean, it was awful. I’m sitting here smiling about. And talking about it is not hard, but I tell you, talking [0:47:00] about it was kind of the glue that kind of held our community together. Because even the ones that weren’t affected knew somebody that was. And then I’ve been told that the first responders are having a lot more problems than the victims. Because the first responders saw us at our worst, dropped us off, but they don’t know what happened after that. And I had an open wound on my foot. Luckily, nothing happened to it. My husband had a completed macerated arm thanks to the cat. And he didn’t get infected. I mean, but the waters that we were walking in — I mean, it was disgusting. It was just disgusting.
So yeah, I think we’re a stronger community because of it. I think we all have a more better appreciation for mother nature. And I feel really bad for the people in central Texas. I feel really, again, bad for the Carolinas, because even though they didn’t get as much rain as we got, they had the mountains inland. So anything on the mountains drained back down. So [0:48:00] I feel really bad for them. I mean, what we’re going through now is — a year ago is what they’re going through now. And the people that are in — what’s that beach? Whatever that name is, Mexico Beach, where — in Florida — I guess it was in Florida that the last hurricane – I don’t even remember the name – came through. I mean, those people — devasted just like Bolivar after Ike being — but that was a wind event. That wasn’t really a rain event — and very different, so anyway. That’s it.
LB: Yes. Well, thank you for sharing your story. And I hope everything keeps working out well with you.
EM: Yeah, we’re good. Good.
LB: Thank you. [0:48:43]