Eric Dowding lives along Brays Bayou and has flooded three times, including during Hurricane Harvey. Dowding moved to Houston after he met his wife. The first flood he experienced was the Memorial Day flood in 2015. Before this, his house had never flooded in the nearly sixty years after its construction. During this flood, his house received twelve inches of water, and the house was completely renovated.
Dowding’s house flooded again during the 2016 Tax Day flood, which was not as severe but required another round of renovations. Dowding says it was easier to repair the damage the second time because he already knew who to call and what needed to be done. He and his wife decided if they flooded again, they would move. He recalls not being worried about Harvey, and that he moved items above what he expected the flood level to be to protect them. He received about two feet of water and the preparations did not work. Dowding explains that he was not scared by the water but his wife, who cannot swim, was terrified. He says it was not too difficult to lose items during Harvey, as so much had already been lost in previous floods. The water stayed in the house for about twenty-four hours, and during the storm, he was bombarded with news alerts on his phone. At one point, Dowding, his wife, and a couple neighbors moved onto the roof to escape rising waters. From the roof, Dowding remembers watching civilian rescuers, the Cajun Navy, ride up and down his street in boats, something he described as exciting. About a year after the flood, Dowding’s neighborhood remained half empty, as many residents decided not to return. Dowding’s wife’s family gave them a place to stay during the flood and provided emotional support during the recovery. Dowding strongly recommends that everyone, regardless of if they live in a flood plain or not, get flood insurance. At the end of the conversation, Dowding talks about how he is planning on raising his house onto pillars to protect it from floods, and that the prospect of taking on another mortgage, to pay for the construction, at age sixty is daunting.
Transcriber: Ellen Schuble
Interviewee: Eric Dowding
Interview Date: October 25, 2018
Interview Location: Houston History Office
Interviewer: Livia Garza, Debbie Harwell
LG: Can you please state your full name?
ED: Eric Dowding.
LG: And when and where were you born?
ED: Born in England on the 13th of June 1955.
LG: What was your life like growing up? And where did you go to school?
ED: Okay, my mother’s French. My father was British — so dual nationality. And we — I was born and raised — went to the French lyc�e in London until — and then left England when I was 20 and moved to Paris — and there stayed a good 25 years.
LG: Was there much cultural difference?
ED: Yeah, they’re like never-ending fighting cousins, the French and the British, but [0:01:00] — no, it was — yes, it was multicultural. My father was an airline pilot, so we’ve always had a sort of opening to the world. And so now, I have a French daughter. Her mother was French, so yes. And now, I have a Vietnamese wife. And she’s even more multicultural.
LG: Now, you work at the University of Houston. So when did you move to Houston and why?
ED: For the said wife. I met her on a flight from Paris to San Diego. My father lived in San Diego. When he retired, he moved to San Diego, and I was taking my daughter, who was six at the time. And we were flying over. And on the way back, we met — I met Trang coming in on the flight. And she was — I was helping her put her luggage up in the rack and went from there. 3,000 emails and three years later, I decided to move to Houston.
LG: How did you come to work for [0:02:00] University of Houston?
ED: She works for Houston. She works photography at the College of Architecture. And then there was an opening at the printing department and graphic design. I was freelancing in Paris in graphic design. And I’ve been here since — now nearly 12 years.
LG: How much experience had you had prior in graphic design?
ED: Graphic design? Probably about 15-odd years and then computer programming — it evolved from computer programming to graphic equipment to graphic using — using that equipment on graphic design. I’ve always been in that domain.
LG: Was there a particular reason that you were interested in it?
ED: I don’t know. I think like a lot of careers you sort of fall into it eventually. You do find your spot.
LG: Going into the storms [0:03:00], did you have any previous experience with storms or floods prior to the Memorial Day flood in 2015?
ED: No, Memorial Day was the first foray into flooding. We’d had storms. In fact, the first year I was here, there was — I think it was Hurricane Rita — was in — I can’t think of the names right. Rita was in New Orleans, and nearly at the same — oh, a week later, there was one in Houston. And that was the first hurricane I witnessed. It was interesting that it damaged all of the campus quite a bit, but we were okay.
LG: What was that like? Because I know growing up in Europe, a hurricane is not really a —
ED: No, no, no, no, when you’re in London or in Paris, there are no big weather events. Everything’s pretty — there are no fire ants. There are no rattlesnakes. Everything’s safe in Europe. What am I doing [0:04:00] in Texas?
LG: Going into the Memorial Day flood, can you tell me about your experience during that?
ED: Yes, that was — that was our first flood. We bought a house that was built in 1956 that had never been flooded. That’s what everyone was telling us in the neighborhood. And so we were very confident — a little cocky about it obviously. And we’re right on the back of the bayou, so it’s behind our back fence. And so yeah, everything was going to be okay. It’s no problem. And then in the middle of the night, my wife gets up and wakes me up and says, “I think there’s water in the house.” And sure enough, put my foot down, and the rug goes down a couple of inches. And you think, “Okay, there’s something strange.” Yeah, and then it — but it was quick. It comes out and leaves within six to eight hours [0:05:00] and just does the damages and recedes. That was it.
LG: How bad was the damage?
ED: The first — the first flood we — went up to 12 inches in the house.
LG: Did you have to repair?
ED: Oh, god. We got a new house out of it. Let’s put it bluntly, yeah. 12 inches — basically, 4 inches, 12 inches, there were levels. If you’re below the sockets, it’s one thing. If you go above, then, of course, you have touched the whole electrical equipment as well. So we were below, but it damages all the walls, all the — we had the original wood floor. So that had to come up. So you take out all the sheetrock up to two or three feet above the line. And you have to redo all your walls, all your flooring. Then you have to repaint everything, because everything’s been messed up. Your kitchen, all your cabinets, so it’s a redo. And we actually got a new house out of it. Let’s put it bluntly [0:06:00].
LG: When you say got a new house out of it –?
ED: Everything was redone inside the house.
LG: Okay, so it was the same house just redone?
ED: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we were lucky, because our house is a brick house — not veneer. It was actually brick through and through — the walls, which is actually pretty rare in Houston. And so the outside walls were not damaged. It’s all the inside. And so, yeah, we got — nearly did everything. And there was money left over at the end to redo lighting. And we redid the kitchen. And so we actually did get a pretty good — I mean, shuffle things around to get what you want. And so we got, yeah, a new house.
LG: How long did that process take?
ED: We lived in a trailer. Yes, trailer trash, for 10 months on — in front of the house, because we wanted to — well, we had electricity. We could still go into the bathroom in the house. And it made it easier, because we didn’t have anywhere to go to. And some of the stuff leftover we had [0:07:00], we put in the garage, so we could sort of still camp. And so, yeah, we were there about 10, 11 months. It took about that long for the house to be finished. And that only lasted a year anyway until we had to redo it again.
LG: Going into that, were you concerned that your home might flood again?
ED: Actually, no. The first time — and I’m seeing that same thought process with the people that are flooded the first time after Harvey — is that the first time you flood, you think, “It was a one off.” And this had never had happened before, and everybody was just saying, “This is freak. It’s global warming or something. This is exceptional,” which is why we spent all that money — well, it’s insurance money, but we spent all that money [0:08:00] on redoing the house. Obviously, with hindsight if we’d known, we wouldn’t have rebuilt the house the first time. And we would have thought things differently. And including the second time as well, so we did not expect it to flood again. And then it did.
LG: So then tell me about your experience during the Tax Day flood, which was 2016.
ED: The Tax Day was actually not as severe. It only came in four inches, but it nearly did the same damage — because it’s not a couple of inches that makes the different. We had reinstalled wood floor. That had to come out again. So a brand-new white oak floor that was, let’s say, four months old was put in the trash. And it lasted more or less the same — maybe eight, nine months, because you still have to redo the — go through the same process [0:09:00]. Redo all your cabinets. Move everything out. Repaint everything. So it was about another — nearly another year.
LG: How would you compare it to your experience prior? Would you say it was easier?
ED: Yes, we had more experience. So yes, we had more experience, so we were a little bit more efficient. And choices were quicker, you know, with the contractor and everything. And we already — it was basically — then it was just replacement. There was no sort of thinking it through. But then we were starting to think, “This may happen again.” So we then decided to concrete the whole floor, because there were some technical complexities because of the slab and everything. But anyway, we tiled the house, thinking, “If it happens again, we’ll be able to stay in the house,” which is what has happened. We — you know, you just clean it, and then you can move back in. Whereas, with wood floors [0:10:00], you can’t, because it’s on screeds and all these — and you can’t walk on it. So as it turned out, at least we’re in the house now, because we put tile down. But we’re not — now, we’re not repairing anything.
LG: During those first two flooding events, was there much thought put into deciding whether or not to rebuild or to move? Or was it a clear cut, “This is what we’re going to do?”
ED: The first one we were thinking we would repair. The second one started that thought process of, “If it happens again, that’s it.” Because rebuilding is expensive. It’s more than the price of the repairs you’re putting in. And so we were about — a couple of years out of finishing the mortgage — you know, paying everything off and yay. And so this experience is obviously happening to our neighbor, and he’s — we were just talking about it and both deciding that that’s it. If it happens [0:11:00] again, call it a day. Don’t repair. It’s not worth it anymore, but — so yes, when it’s decided — when this Harvey came along, that’s it. So options are to elevate the house, because a lot of Houston in Bellaire area are elevating above flood level. But that ends up being nearly as expensive — well, it’s quite expensive — nearly as expensive as rebuilding a house. [Unclear, 0:11:32] second option, rebuilding. We told our architect, “Your budget is rock bottom.” And he — this weekend, he’s going to show us the plan, so we’re excited. Two days.
LG: You mentioned Bellaire. Do you live around Bellaire?
ED: It’s just past Bellaire. Yeah, it’s about — it’s the — couple of streets further on. It’s along Brays Bayou just past Bellaire.
LG: Going to [0:12:00] Harvey, what was your initial reaction when you heard that it was approaching Texas?
ED: We’ll keep the swear words off — out of the camera. Yes, well, there’s that sort of inevitable side of things. You just see it rolling in, and there’s no — it was a quick one, because it developed in the Gulf. And it didn’t start far away in the mid-Atlantic. So nobody really saw it coming. And then it just hung around Houston for a while. So it was a strange phenomenon, but there was this false impression that on Saturday — this happened on the weekend. On Saturday, we thought — everybody thought it was good. We’d pull through it. So we didn’t move up too many things off the floor. And then, of course, at night, it came down very, very heavily. It started coming in very early morning — 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. And then there was water up until Sunday afternoon. And yeah, there’s a sort of form of [0:13:00] resignation, you know. What can you do? When the water comes under your door, there’s not much you can do. You just look at it, put your boots on, and sit on the kitchen counter, yeah.
LG: Did you prepare much for the hurricane?
ED: Yeah, we had put stuff up. In our mind, the one foot was probably maybe a little bit more than — about as high as it would get, because as we’re close to the bayou, we flood from the street side. And then it would sort of go down into the bayou. So we were thinking that the height would be about a foot. And in fact, it turned out to be over two feet. So everything that we had prepared still got wet, because it’s not easy elevating everything in your house over two feet in the house. It’s a lot of work. And so there were things falling while we were sitting on our kitchen counter. You could [0:14:00] hear everything falling in the house. And all the clothes tubs were tipping over, because the bottom one starts floating on the file. And then the pile goes over, so everything that you put away you know then is lost. Crash, crash, crash, crash.
LG: How was that emotionally? Dealing with that as you’re there and seeing it happen around you?
ED: Well, again, there’s not much you can do. I have a — I tend to take things — as you can see in my tone maybe, I take things very differently to my wife, who is — she was afraid of — she doesn’t know how to swim. And of course, there’s a lot of current, too, outside. So there’s this fright of water, whereas I was — that was not frightening to me. And we could still wade in it and everything. You just don’t want to, because it’s cold. In mid-August, you’re still freezing. But you lose things, you lose things. There just things. Having gone through it twice before, we realized that [0:15:00] you can replace most of your things. And things that you thought you would keep forever, you’ve thrown away already — had a few photos that we had put on a shelf, but that’s about all you keep. So you know, nice objects — we had bought some nice furniture that we’d got on Craigslist — nice mid-century furniture, wood — one-off pieces. They were all swollen and broken, so you just throw things away. Just put up with it, you know. You’re still alive. There are worse catastrophes. You know, you just need to listen to the news at that period. And you realize that there are other countries that are flooding where families lose everything. Their houses are gone. And they have nothing to eat. And they’re in countries where nothing gets to them. We’re in America here. There’s FEMA. There’s insurance. There’s — how lucky are we?
LG: Previously [0:16:00] you said you were expecting maybe like a foot of water.
LG: Were there any other expectations you had for this storm?
ED: No, just that as long as the roof holds out, it comes up. So it ended up being two feet, but that was about as bad as it got. And it stayed longer this time, because it was — the flood was higher. Everywhere it took more time to drain, so this lasted until — it was nearly 24 hours of water.
LG: How fast was it rising? Was it pretty slow?
ED: No, no. Well, you — maybe — you can’t actually see it go up, but you can — if you look every two or three minutes, you see there’s a difference in level. So it’s actually pretty fast. And then the going down as well — once it starts receding, it’s pretty fast. Because they’ve been widening the bayou — the Brays Bayou, which is the one that comes past the university here, it actually flows way better. I have noticed that — but [0:17:00] still little consolation. No, but it’s a difference for the people who are near the reservoirs. Their houses were flooded, and they stayed flooded for two weeks. And then it soaks — really soaks into everything in your house. And then you lose — there, you lose everything in your house probably.
LG: Did you keep updated with the news during this storm?
LG: How did you keep updated?
ED: The main thing are the phones — iPhones. This time I’d cut the power. During Memorial, I had not cut the power. We were sitting in our living room with our rubber boots. And lights were on. And there was a floor lamp. I think it was on. And I said, “Okay, I’m not going to go touch that one.” The power stayed on all the time. This time, I cut the power, so we were dependent on the iPhones. And that’s pretty efficient. There are — you’re bombarded with messages every two, three seconds.
LG: When you say messages, do you mean [0:18:00] like from news apps?
ED: Everybody. You sign in for these different services, so FEMA, the City of Houston, the university, all the news channels, the BBC, so it ends up beeping nearly every two, three seconds. And then you realize you’re in overload — information overload. Because they’re always sending you the same map, but better too much news than not enough.
LG: You said you had to get on the kitchen counters at one point.
LG: Did you have to evacuate the house? Or did you stay?
ED: Well, at first, again, we didn’t know how high — that’s the thing. When you see it coming, you, of course, don’t know where it’s going to stop. So at first, we did remain relatively dry. We just got up onto the counters, but it kept on rising. And then two feet is about, you know, six inches below the top of the counters. So we spent the night on there. And sleeping on a kitchen counter is not great [0:19:00]. It’s a little cold. And it’s a little short. My legs were sticking out, but the expectation is that it’s going to keep on going. And then once it hits the counter, you really do have to go. And then you’re in water that’s high — quite — waist-high. And outside, the house is always a little higher than the outside, so if you go out, it’s going to be chest-level. So there’s a point where you’ve got to decide. Do you stay or not?
And as it turned out, it stopped at two feet. We were already moved up onto the roof. So we — I’d put the ladder already out there. And we would just walk out to the roof. And we brought some neighbors in that were elderly. And we went to get them — got them up onto the roof and spent our Sunday afternoon on the roof of the house.
LG: What was that like? Was it raining?
ED: No, it was a little bit of a lull in the rain. And it was — it was okay. There were boats driving around everywhere — airboats, probably the [0:20:00] — what’s this? The Navy? What’d they call the navy?
LG: The Cajun Navy.
ED: Cajun, yeah. And so there are a lot of airboats, which I had never seen in Houston, going up and down everywhere. It was quite exciting. My wife had her lifejacket on.
LG: How long were you up there for?
ED: We went up there around lunch time and came down at 6:00 or 7:00, when the water started receding. So yeah, six hours — luckily, it didn’t start pouring. And then it started raining after — as soon as we came down, so we were lucky if you can say that. And we have a relatively flat roof, too, because if you’re up on a pitch, that wouldn’t be fun.
LG: How was your neighborhood impacted overall from this storm? Because I know you said you got two feet. Was that common?
ED: Generally, all the — it’s a — we’re a — sort of a long street that ends in a U-turn [0:21:00] at the end. So all the bottom part, I would say probably about half a mile worth of houses on two streets were flooded. I think our house is one of the lowest, so it was between six inches, one foot, to two feet. But we were the worst probably. But it’s not that bad again, because in Bellaire, people were up to five feet — or four or five feet. But yeah, the neighborhood was impacted, and it’s still half-empty now.
ED: Yeah, a year later.
LG: So those people decided to leave instead of rebuild?
ED: I don’t know. You see, because our neighborhood has flooded two or three times, I think people are now interpreting it very differently. And I think a lot of — well, a lot of people move out, because you have to leave. The house is a mess. And a lot of people have not come back yet or have sold or just are leaving it as is — and figure it out later or something. It’s [0:22:00] pretty deserted now even a year later.
LG: How is work and family life impacted after and during Harvey?
ED: We don’t have any children or pets, because pets are very important for people — more important than children sometimes. [Unclear, 0:22:22]. And no, so we were — from the moment — we found an apartment. Someone lent us an apartment in the Montrose area for about a month. So we moved all our — everything that was dry and that we needed immediately. And we kept on coming to work and everything, so that didn’t change anything. And then, around Christmastime, we were back into the house, because we just realized that we could actually clean the floor once all the sheetrock had been pulled out. We did that in the first few days. And the house was actually livable. I tried the AC, the water heater, and I got it to work. All the [0:23:00] appliances — other appliances were higher up, so we were actually back in the house — just — we could see from one end to the other through the walls. That’s all. And the air conditioning is noisy. You hear it everywhere. It used to be locked in the laundry room — not anymore. Yeah, it’s interesting.
LG: How was your place of work? The printing office, was that okay during Harvey?
ED: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They have a couple of little drips from the ceiling, but no, it — the university — I don’t know how badly the university was impacted. I don’t think there were that many buildings that were really damaged. I think Allison flooded much more. So no, we kept on working.
LG: How soon did you return back to work?
ED: I probably took a couple of weeks off, because you’ve got to smash everything in the house and take all your stuff out — you know, a big pile on the sidewalk [0:24:00]. So that’s a good 10 days of work. But no, a couple weeks later, we were back to work. And it was in August, so we luckily got over the big amount of work. And so it turned out okay schedule-wise.
LG: Did you or your wife reach out to any different communities for support? Emotional or construction-wise?
ED: The — it turned out it was the family that — her side of the family. I don’t have any family here, so — but her family — her family kicked in quite a bit. So there was a cousin that was living three or four streets away. He’s the one that came to pick us up in his — with his kayak. And then the apartment that we borrowed was from the family as well — and so the family network. We didn’t [0:25:00] — for Harvey, we didn’t appeal to anybody else but the family.
During Memorial, the Jewish Community Center that’s just across the bayou from the Bellaire area was extremely helpful. That was — they turned out to be — they were there. They were there happily helping everybody. And they were very, very great help, but we didn’t need them as much, seeing that we knew what to do. It’s very different the second time around. You know exactly what to do. You become very efficient. Yeah, yeah, you know what kind of gloves to buy. And you plan your thing with Home Depot. And yeah, it’s an experience.
LG: So you said your wife’s cousin came with a kayak?
ED: Yes. They were living —
LG: What was that like?
ED: Well, when the water started receding — and the thing is, with flood water [0:26:00], you’ve got to be careful with the current. Because there really — and manhole covers and everything. You don’t want to be drawn down into — because the bayou is really flowing fast. But as soon as the water started receding, he offered to drive up as close as he could. And he had a kayak. I had a kayak in the garage as well, which I could bring down. And we evacuated. He came over, and we evacuated in two kayaks, which is quite an experience going up your street in a kayak and looking at the houses. It’s actually quite fun. But again, my wife was not enjoying it at all. She was scared shitless. She really did not enjoy the water. But yeah, it’s an experience.
LG: Immediately after the storm, this saying started popping up [0:27:00], Houston Strong.
LG: So I’m wondering what that means to you if it has a meaning.
ED: I think it’s like a marketing thing. I mean, you hear that all the time for a lot of — and again, different culture. It’s a very American thing to play the strong, you know. But we — with the experience, we realized the city itself is not extremely helpful as they — over these three floods, they have not made many changes. They have not reached out that much. That’s why I brought up the community center that was next door that was much more efficient. Now, Harvey is special, because it impacted a very great part of the city. So they could only do so much. And then they have limited resources, because no one wants to pay taxes. So they’re not going to get the return on their taxes obviously. So the city can only do so much.
But our neighbor’s [0:28:00] rebuilding. And they’ve put a lot of lot of roadblocks in permitting. And it seems like they’re not making any effort in that respect. Or they’re being very administrative in any of the rebuilding. So that’s not good. It doesn’t sound like it’s helpful — mixed feelings on the city. The state or rather, you know, FEMA’s been really good. Again, limited resources, but it sort of — from someone who comes from a country where social is a bit more important, you hear people mumbling about the government. But then they’re the first ones to ask FEMA to give them money — federal — it’s very interesting to see how people react to this.
But my land is rather affluent. And we’re on the Facebook feed [0:29:00]. Basically, we call it the whiner feed, because they’re whining nonstop about how things are not being given to them free. And “Where do we get discounts?” These are half-million to million-dollar homes. And they — you know, there are neighborhoods that have nothing. It’s frustrating.
LG: In what ways do you think the city could have responded better?
ED: It seems that the only visible side of the city that you see is them — the policing side or the imposing new regulations. And you don’t see help. But again, you can’t ask for — the Red Cross also intervened quite a bit. But you can’t ask the city to give you everything, so [0:30:00] I think, you know, they did what they could. But they’re not — there doesn’t seem to be an overall plan and a study overall and then neighborhood by neighborhood — and then down to street by street of what they can do to improve the situation for the next time. We have seen certain water flows in our neighborhood. And so we know from which side we flood, where the water comes from, how we could improve drainage. There’s not improvement on that side. I don’t know if it’s — again, it all becomes very political. So I think you have to look after yourself.
LG: Is there anything else we’ve not discussed that you would like to talk about?
ED: I hope you [unclear, [0:30:47] this. No, it changes your outlook on natural catastrophes around the world, you know. When another country has a mudslide or a flood [0:31:00], you see it differently. It’s quite interesting. I’m, again, rather relaxed about it. My wife is stressed every time it starts raining. There is a clear symptom of PTSD in the area. I don’t know if she qualifies for that, but I’ve seen it in a lot of people. They really start panicking every time it rains. And Houston, it rains all the time, you know, so it’s only one rain a year that will do this. But then all the other 99% of the time, people are stressed. And so there is — it has impacted the whole area quite a bit. We’ll pull out of it, but I don’t — it will flood again clearly. It’s not because they’ve widened one bayou that it will change.
So my advice? Get flood insurance. No, seriously, everyone — every house in Houston should have flood insurance. It’s cheap when you don’t — you’re not in the flood zone [0:32:00] or in the floodplain. But you could flood from your intersection. And that’s one of the problems. A lot of people did not have insurance. So I don’t know how you install — how your houses are and if an apartment is different. But if you’re close to a street — there you go.
LG: Alright. Thank you.
ED: Yeah. No, we’ve been — honestly, we’ve been telling — [unclear, 0:32:34] at the office, he — I don’t know.
LG: Yeah, she’s telling our class, “Get flood insurance.”
DH: We talk about it all the time.
ED: And he just got it before the summer, you know. I talked about it a few times. I said, “You know, you’re in an area that doesn’t flood, sure. But the streets are designed in Houston to be the first –“
DH: Where the water goes.
ED: Yes. And so you can be flooded from your intersection in an area that has [0:33:00] not been on the floodplain, but it’s a very localized puddle. But if it comes into your house, that’s it. Once it’s in, it’s in. And you have — and if you declare it to your insurance or anything, you’re on the list for FEMA. Your house has flooded. And it should be recorded. And the next owner will know about it and everything. So be smart. Get this insurance. I mean, it’s — I think it’s only 400 bucks a year if you don’t have any risk. And ours is going —
DH: Mine’s $450.
ED: Yeah, it’s about that. But ours is now — it was about $2,000, because we’re repetitive flooders — repetitive loss. We are now switched over to FEMA directly. And they’re going to bump it up to — it’s already gone to $4,000. And it can — people are saying it can go up to about $15,000.
DH: Are you a buyout candidate?
ED: We applied, but we didn’t get it. There aren’t that many. And from what I’ve heard recently — well, a few months back is that the city is [0:34:00] — and FEMA, they’re doing some — they are buying out some houses. But they’re concentrating on areas that are higher risk — i.e., around the reservoirs. Because those — every big flood, they will get flooded. And they will stay flooded for two weeks, so I think they’re concentrating more on that. Because the other thing is they’re doing work on our bayou, so you should be okay. But you can’t say anything, because that’s the thing also. The improvement to the bayou, you’ll never be able to prove that it works on — because you prove by the absence of. So if one day it rains and it didn’t flood, they’ll say, “Well, it worked.” But you know, how can you prove it?
DH: What’s the height requirement you have to build up?
ED: So we are, I think, one foot below BFE, base flood elevation.
DH: Yeah, uh-huh.
ED: Which means that we would have — if we built a house on grade, we’d have to be [0:35:00] — I think now it’s two feet over BFE. So we’d have to be three feet up. But the design that I talked to with the architect is completely different. I think I’ve told you about this. It’s on piers — a complete story up. So I’ll park the cars underneath. Of course, we’d lose our cars every time.
DH: That’s better than losing your house.
ED: It’s only a car, you know.
DH: It’s not like losing your house.
ED: Yes, exactly. And the insurance has been very good, but every time you still lose like a thousand bucks on each car or something, you know. So we were trying to be a bit smarter about it. But this lull on Saturday, we thought we’d be okay. So we left them in the driveway, so they were flooded. But this, with the house one floor up with a staircase going up and very modern-looking, so I wanted to be able to just hose downstairs and back to normal. And I can invite a few neighbors if they need it — watching a flood with a glass of champagne [0:36:00] on your terrace is — that’s — so yeah, we probably have to go up at least four feet anyway. So why not do eight or ten? And they you’ve — and then your house is floodproof. And then you can go back to your insurance company and say, “Well, it’s never going to flood, so please bring it back down to $450,” or whatever. Because 15,000 bucks is — that’s probably what it will end up being. And they’re bumping it up every year a little bit.
DH: That’s like another house payment.
ED: Yeah, yeah, who knew when I moved here? But we didn’t get any fire ants coming into the house — or snakes or anything, which was a little bit of a concern. I’m not very good with snakes. There are water moccasins just across the fence. They could have come in.
DH: Are you on the same side of the bayou as [0:37:00] the Jewish Community Center? Or you’re on the other side?
ED: No, we’re on the north. We’re on Braeswood North. You know this thing called Seven Acres? It’s a retirement home that’s on the bayou.
DH: Tell me cross streets or what major intersection.
ED: Okay, you leave 610. I’ll do it this way around. You leave 610 and go around the bayou north.
DH: On the north Braeswood side?
ED: Yes, North Braeswood. There is a point where the road goes over to the south. And then there’s no more road on the north. But it’s just passed Hillcroft.
ED: So the Jewish Community area — the community center’s on the south. And then there’s this Jewish retirement home — old-age facility.
DH: And I know where you’re talking about where it goes to —
ED: Well, we’re just passed that.
ED: So we don’t have a road on our side. Our back fence is onto the bayou, and there’s no road, which is great — which means we don’t have any traffic on that side. But we could see from the kitchen window all [0:38:00] the way across the bayou to the school. It was one big lake. There, the water had gone up high enough to flood the whole neighborhood.
DH: So in Harvey, your water was coming from the bayou, not from the street?
ED: Well, it originally — it always starts from coming down the street from away — from Sharpstown area or whatever it is up there, Bissonet. And then it comes down, because the bayou has still not reached that level. And then, in this case, everything went up. But it always comes from the street first. And I think that there’s — they could do something for that. Because the bayou is not — is still draining water away. But there’s a — I think we’re in a — there’s an overflow higher up. And then it comes — starts coming down the street and not down the ditches. So it’s — it can be very local. They could do something locally. When it goes to Harvey-level, where everything is flooded, then everyone’s flooded. But it’s the smaller floods. I think it’s a question of drainage [0:39:00], not of actual flooding. But the city is going down anyway.
ED: So it can only get worse.
DH: Yeah, when you said you were a foot below, I wondered if you used to be a foot below.
ED: Well, I don’t know. When they built the house, I don’t know.
DH: If there’s been subsidence.
ED: Probably. Since it was built, probably. Because I have heard that it’s a few inches a year, but maybe —
LG: You can tell by the fire hydrants how —
ED: Yeah. So I think that probably when they built the house it was originally maybe okay. But the whole of Houston is sinking a little bit, because they’re drawing water from the aquifer and everything. And then, of course, they’re building in the suburbs, which is more surface water.
DH: Right, so there’s nothing draining to fill up all that — you know, the water’s not soaking down into the land to fill up the space.
ED: In Katy, water — it used to be rice patties, too [0:40:00].
DH: Well, so did Meyerland.
ED: Well, there you go. So it’s a swampy area anyway. And the water doesn’t soak in quickly, because it’s clay underneath.
ED: Because they’ve already done the core samples in our plot as we’re hopefully going to rebuild. So we’ve done the study of the — and I think that three, four feet down — all the way down to 20 is clay. So the water does not soak down. It just sits there. It soaks. It seeps in very gently.
DH: I remember that when I was growing up in Westbury. And every time Dad would want to plant a tree or something, it was like —
ED: You hit clay very quickly.
DH: He called it black gumbo. I don’t know if that’s a correct term or whatever.
ED: It sticks to your shovel. It won’t come off. It’s horrible.
ED: But it’s good solid for building. That’s what we found. The guys told us, “You don’t even need –” We’re going to, obviously, build piers, because we have to support the house [0:41:00]. But I think we only need to go down nine feet, which is not very much. So you know, it’s better than nothing. Interesting. So we should have a floodproof house in maybe a couple years. Because the building process — the banking process is not very quick. So we’re going to suffer through that. It’s probably worse than the flood. You haven’t flooded. You have? You have?
DH: Twice in the 80’s in Beaumont.
ED: You know the feeling, yeah?
DH: I do.
ED: But it’s not — it’s not as bad as your house burning.
DH: No, I agree. I had a friend whose house burned down. And I would say it’s not nearly as bad as that.
ED: Because you can put things on top shelves. But if it’s a fire, you lose everything.
DH: And you can’t save some things if it — yeah.
ED: Yeah, you lose everything. Where, with a flood, you can —
DH: I mean, unless the water goes all the way up to your ceiling.
ED: But look at us. Three floods, and we’re still in the house. So it’s not ideal [0:42:00], but it —
DH: My neighbor across the street from me in Beaumont — Harvey, I think, was flood number six for her. And we went through our first flood together. In fact, one of her kids was over at my house.
ED: When you flooded the first time?
DH: Yeah, but — yeah, six for her. But she can’t get rid of that house, you know.
ED: You can’t sell it anymore. How could you sell it?
DH: Now, she’s retired. She retired last year. So where else is she going to go? Now, she’s on a fixed income. And nobody’s going to buy her house.
ED: Well, that’s one of our choices. We’re about finishing — we have — no, I think our mortgage would be ready in January or February [unclear, 0:42:44] finished — paid off. So now, if we’re building a new house, we’re opening up a new mortgage.
DH: Uh-huh, all over again.
ED: And Trang has a few years of working here at the college. She’s a younger wife. But you know, I’ll be [0:43:00] still paying off when I’m 90. So those are big questions, you know.
ED: Do we get a 30-year mortgage when I’m over 60 years old? Really? But what else can we do? We can’t sell the house. The property is now less than half. All the money we put into it — we’re paying off a mortgage on a house that doesn’t — that’s not worth anything. But hey, we’ll get it.
DH: Well, it might be if you get a buyout. Or if you raise it, and then you’re floodproof.
ED: The actual raising was not worth it, because it’s a [unclear, 0:43:36]-style house.
DH: Well, whatever — what you’re talking about doing.
ED: But the rebuild, that’s the only gamble we’re taking. It’s that if we give — we gave the architect a budget of two-fifty. And everyone’s saying in Houston —
DH: Because that’s all you get.
ED: Yeah. Well, that’s what we can afford, but you know, [unclear, 0:43:50] Houston. But you can’t build — everyone’s saying you can’t build a house for two-fifty in that area. It’s impossible. He said he’d take it on, so we’re good [0:44:00]. The only thing is — give it a few years and the population increase in Houston and a floodproof house, the location? Even if it floods once a year and you hose it down, your house is intact. Maybe — we’re banking on the fact that the property — that will get a value again. And we’ll, you know, be able to one day sell it and get our money — our investment back. That’s the only — that’s the only, you know, overriding idea. I think the location is good. That’s why we want to stay. Because, if not, the other is to move out to some far away suburb and end up driving in every day — and out. There’s no real solution. Good?
DH: Thank you. [0:44:56]