Margie Freeman, born in 1951 in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, moved to Houston thirty-two years ago for her husband’s job. Freeman recalls her first experience with a hurricane in 1972, with Hurricane Agnes in Pennsylvania.
Living in Kingwood, Texas, Freeman has experienced more hurricanes and tropical storms. However, she states that before Hurricane Harvey, no one thought about significant amounts of tragedy occurring from a storm. When she first heard about Harvey on the news, Freeman believed her neighborhood was safe since past events had proven so. Freeman realized Harvey was different when she received a call from her son informing her water had risen a few inches in his home. Looking outside her home, Freeman saw a river running down her street, encouraging her and her husband to spend the night moving things upstairs. By 10:30 the following day, their home had fourteen inches of water. After evacuating their home, the couple went to a middle school nearby for safety. Freeman accounts for social media and technological communication that occurred in conjunction with Hurricane Harvey. The Freeman home suffered substantial damages, but by a year later interview, their home had been rebuilt and repaired. During the process of reconstruction, Freeman mentions the community and familial support they received. They did not receive any help from FEMA given the criteria needed to qualify. Upon reflecting on Harvey, Freeman admits that she will not rebuild a home again in the event of another flood. She recalls the idea of Houston Strong and how the community came together to support each other as one. Freeman concludes by discussing the impact Harvey had on her husband and how they came out of the experience stronger and more grateful for what they have.
Interviewee: Margie Freeman
Interview Date: October 27, 2018
Interview Location: Kingwood Community Center
Interviewer: Livia Garza
INTERVIEWER: Hello, today is October 27, 2018. My name is Livia Garza, and I’m here today at the Kingwood Community Center with Margie Freeman as part of the University of Houston Center for Public History’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. And today we will be talking about Ms. Freeman’s experience as a Hurricane Harvey survivor.
LG: So are you ready?
MF: I’m as ready as I’m going to be.
LG: Alright, so if you could, go ahead and state your full name.
MF: Margie Freeman.
LG: When and where were you born?
MF: I was born in 1951 in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.
LG: So can you tell me a little bit about growing up and how you came to move to Kingwood?
MF: Well, I lived all of my early life in New Brighton and moved to [0:01:00] State College, Pennsylvania — worked at the university and married someone who was in oil and ended up coming down here for a maximum of two years. And that was, what, 32 years ago. So this is home.
LG: What made you stay after the two years?
MF: The company didn’t move us, and he retired. And the kids all graduated from high school — went to A&M and all settled back in the area.
LG: That’s nice. So did you have any prior experience to Hurricane Harvey with storms or natural disasters at all?
MF: Well, Hurricane Agnes in 1972 in Pennsylvania. I made my school money that summer Cloroxing people’s basements. So that was my first experience with a flood. And then we lived [0:02:00] here for 30 years, so we’ve had a couple hurricanes. And in ’94, that tropical storm that dumped all the rain, we did not have water in the house, but there was water in the streets. So that’s as close as it got.
LG: What was life like in Kingwood prior to Harvey — just living in the area?
MF: Well, it was normal. I mean, it was just — you know, you didn’t think about tragedy coming in those forms. I mean, we’d survived the hurricanes and all that stuff, so it was just normal, daily living.
LG: How did you first respond when you heard that Hurricane Harvey was approaching the Texas coast?
MF: Didn’t think much about it. It was going to go in so far south of us that it wasn’t going to [0:03:00] impact us. And then they started talking about the rain, but we had survived 1994. And so I figured we were safe. All the neighbors asked, and we assured them, “No, we were fine in ’94. We’ll be fine now.” So you didn’t think much about it. As a matter of fact, I rejoiced, because I didn’t have my grandkids. I was going to get a week off from babysitting. And I was going to just spend a week quilting and having a good time. And the next thing I know, life changed.
LG: How old are they?
MF: The ones we take care of are five and eleven.
LG: So there was no preparing?
MF: Well, we thought we were prepared. We have an all-house generator. And you know, it was just going to rain.
LG: Walk me through what it was like as the storm was [0:04:00] happening.
MF: Well, the hard part — our son, who lives on the other side of Houston, had gotten some water. And you know, so our heart went out to him and his — the water came in a just a couple inches. And it went out, and it came back in again. And when we knew they were okay and it wasn’t going to get any worse for them, we thought we were going to be able to just relax and not worry about it. And the newscaster that night said, “If you have water in your street, you better not go to bed.” And I kind of laughed, because we’d been out two hours before, and there was nothing. And when I looked out the front window, there was a river going down the street. So that’s when, you know, we realized something was going on.
LG: Did the water get into your house?
MF: Yeah, [0:05:00] my husband spent the night moving stuff upstairs. And the next morning, we were blessed by neighbors who kind of just busted in and had a bunch of teenage kids and said, “Do what you can for them.” And they got most of everything else that really meant something upstairs. Then we just kind of went upstairs and sat and watched as the water rose. By 10:30 that morning, the water was up about 14 inches. And we said, “Okay, it’s time to go.”
LG: How did you leave the house? Were you evacuated?
MF: Yeah, they had been around earlier. And we weren’t ready to leave. And the guys just said, “When you’re ready, throw a white sheet out.” And you could hear the helicopters. And that was probably the eeriest sound that there was. And just — it was very surreal sitting and looking out from the second floor [0:06:00] — that, you know, the five-foot mailbox posts were completely covered, and it was an interesting array of things that were just floating down, you know, the street, including huge logs, and you know, buckets, and things like that.
LG: So when you were evacuated from your house, where were you taken?
MF: We were taken to the middle school close to us. And we were very blessed, because somebody that I had known for a long time just happened to be standing there — was coming to volunteer. And when she saw, she just took us. She said, “Come on, you’re coming home with me,” because our kids couldn’t get across the river to get to us, so.
LG: It must have been nice to see a familiar face.
MF: I mean, it was just — what a blessing that —
MF: And she was willing to take us with our dog and take her. So we stayed with them a couple days.
LG: That’s really nice. [0:07:00] Throughout the storm, were you able to communication with friends and family or keep up with the news?
MF: Fortunately, my cell phone had been packed in my backpack that they put in a dry place. My husband’s went out in his pocket, so it didn’t make it. But yeah, we were in touch with everybody. And we knew — you know, we never had a feeling of fear for, you know, not knowing where anybody was or what was happening.
LG: Did you keep up with the news throughout the storm?
MF: Oh, yeah, yeah.
LG: Was it through social media or just word of mouth?
MF: It was all the — I mean, all the media areas. I mean, you just kind of — you just kind of gravitate toward that, including, you know, walking to the areas that had been flooded and just, you know, looking and seeing.
LG: [0:08:00] After the storm, how long before you went back to see your house?
MF: We evacuated Monday morning, and we were back in starting to work on the house by Thursday. So we were fortunate. It went in quickly and came out quickly.
LG: Was the extent of damage not terrible?
MF: Oh, it’s the whole first floor, because you know, they suggest you go up four feet. And then, of course, because it’s an older home, you can’t match anything. So you kind of just — you take it down to the, you know, bare studs. And everything else, start all over.
LG: For the process of that, it’s obviously very difficult, right? When you were coming back to it, was there the thought [0:09:00] process of whether or not to rebuild or to think about moving?
MF: We — no, we didn’t hesitate. We knew that we wanted our family home back, because that’s where all the kids and family all come. And we were blessed. Because of being here in ’94, we had flood insurance. So you know, we knew we wanted to go through the process of rebuilding.
LG: And are you still in that process?
MF: We’re done. We’re done enough that it’s now starting to — you know, normal stuff is breaking. You know, the garbage disposal’s had to be replaced. And we have a door that is now — you know, needs to be repaired that, you know, expanded the wrong way. And it’s just — but that feels normal. You know, that’s that normal, everyday living that we’re used to having.
LG: How long ago did you finish?
MF: We moved back downstairs in May [0:10:00], but it probably wasn’t totally finished until August.
LG: That’s nice.
LG: After the storm, did you reach out or receive any help from the community around you?
MF: Yes. Yeah, it was amazing. And you know, I made sure to document — take pictures of all the people that were there. And I made them all sign a guestbook. And two weeks ago, we had an open house/thank you party, which helped give a sense of closure to some of this stuff — just totally grateful through our church. And both of my girls are teachers, so they called in crews from their schools. And I had a group from my Bible study, and it was just amazing — amazing.
LG: [0:11:00] Did you receive any help from FEMA?
MF: No. No. No, because it was interesting. Their criteria fascinated me. There was to be at least a single bed for every person, a coffee pot — I mean, it was — a radio or a television, some source of connection. And I forget. There was just a couple things. And I thought it was interesting, their list of things that they felt were necessary to function. And we — we’re blessed and had all those on the second floor.
LG: That’s good. Coming out of Harvey, do you feel more prepared for facing another storm? What have you learned [0:12:00] from it?
MF: Well, I learned I won’t rebuild again. I’m done. You know, I would — I’ll remediate and put the insurance claim in. And then somebody else can have the home. But as far as — you know, we redid the generator and just, you know, put the house back as it is. I mean, I’m not expecting a severity of storm that way again. I really believe that that was not the norm. I’m not going to live in fear.
LG: That’s good. Recently, we had Harvey’s first anniversary. How did that feel coming back to it a year later?
MF: Well, you never — [0:13:00] I don’t know that it’s — I don’t know how long it’s going to take. It really never went away. And the time wasn’t that great of an impact. I think I look more at what got finished during the year and the milestones that way than the anniversary of the storm. Plus, there were so many other people across the country that were just being inundated with horrific — and I focused more on, you know, the people that were struggling in North Carolina and the other parts of the country from the other tragedies.
LG: After the storm, a term came into use called Houston Strong. So I am wondering if you have an impression on what that means?
MF: I thought they stole it from Boston. [0:14:00] Because I have a Boston Strong t-shirt. You know, but I think it’s true. I mean, I think — I think that was the really sweet thing. And that’s the thing I think that hurts the most — seeing that that was so strong and so wonderfully there. And it’s pretty much gone. You know, everybody was working as one. And now, everybody’s kind of gone back to just living their lives. And I’m working hard to stay connected to the people in my neighborhood that I wasn’t connected to that I am now because of the storm. But yeah, Houston Strong — yeah, that was my first thought. We’re copycats.
LG: Is there anything else we haven’t discussed that you want to talk about?
MF: Well, my sweet husband, he struggled [0:15:00] tremendously with all of this. And he would get very frustrated, because people would go, “It’s just stuff.” And he goes, “Granted, it’s just stuff, but it’s my stuff.” And it doesn’t make it any easier that it’s stuff. I don’t know. I think I’ve come out on the other side of it, myself, stronger and have a greater compassion for those — for those who are suffering. It’s probably what my biggest take away is — is my heart just breaks for anybody that’s going through any kind of tragic suffering.
LG: Great. That’s it.
MF: Thank you.
LG: Alright, thank you so much.
UNKNOWN: Thank you.
MF: You’re welcome. So were either of you flooded?
LG: I was not flooded. My grandmother was. And so her home was kind of where I grew up [0:16:00]. So it feels like — but she had to move out. Her house is gone.
MF: It is? Okay. Yeah, oh, that’s hard. Well, and see, part of the reason we did rebuild is we take care of those grandkids.
MF: And we took care of them all through the time we lived upstairs. We didn’t change anything. We just kept living. You know, and we were the only one of like two people on our street. So it was kind of strange, yeah. How about you? Did you survive the storm?
UNKNOWN: We survived this storm, although the vast majority of our neighbors did not. I live in Fosters Mill.
UNKNOWN: At the corner of Pleasant Creek and Golden Pond. [0:16:36]