Quick Note for those who don’t follow me on social media: Lisa, myself, our house and pets are all safe. We were lucky and had no flooding in our home.
The flooding due to Harvey was unreal, like something from a disaster movie. Something so crazy that you don’t think it could happen in real life. For comparison, the Chesapeake Bay is estimated to hold 18 trillion gallons of water. Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of water onto Texas. That means one and a half Chesapeake Bays were poured onto Texas. That is an insane amount of water!
It’s been weeks and yet flood waters are still receding in our area. It seems almost every day new people get to return home to try and salvage what is left.
I’ve now gotten out to see some of the flooded homes and it’s horrible. I also won’t be posting photos, simply because people got wrecked (The arial photos accompanying this post were shot and published by the county). Their lives were violated and shredded and although legally there is nothing wrong with me taking photos from a public road, it feels wrong. Plus there are plenty of home owners posting their own photos, and as sad as it sounds, if you see one flooded house, you’ve seen them all. There is a weird consistency in how water destroys a house and the steps it takes to try and save it
I didn’t comprehend what it meant to get water into your home, until I started visiting houses that were flooded. Even as little as a half inch can wreck a house and lead to as much work as someone who had two feet of water in their homes. There is also a point where a house should just be scraped and demolished, but I don’t know what that point is.
The houses here are built on concrete slabs because the ground is clay. That means in most homes the floor is concrete, then a layer of plastic, and then either the carpet, hardwood, tiles, or fake wood tiles. If any water gets into a house the flooring has to be stripped down to the concrete.
In most cases, home owners start by pulling out all of their appliance and furniture because anything that touched the water must be scrapped. The flood water here was not rain water. It was a toxic disgusting sludge because by the time the flood reached us, it had overflowed all the septic tanks north of us. So anything with a porous surface that touched the water must be trashed. So unless you were able to some how lift you furniture off the floor before the flood waters hit, you lose EVERYTHING. Beds, dressers, tables, chests, shelves, refrigerator, washer, dryer, etc…
What people don’t’ talk much about is the smell. The flooded houses I have visited smell like a mix of a marsh, dead animals, and fecal matter. They smell like death and the stench clings to you. The disgusting poop/pee water is everywhere and no matter how careful you try to be you are going to get splashed. Then because the homes are like how they are its not like you can go to the bathroom and wash your hands, most of these houses don’t have running water yet which means no way to get clean and now way to go to the bathroom if you need to.
Once everything has been cleared, then you have to pull up the floors. Of all the stages, dealign with the flooring has consistently been the most disgusting. Although the flood waters have receded, the wood floors, carpet, and such all retain water and have held that water for days or weeks. Lifting a dry roll of carpet isn’t bad. Lifting toxic carpet, that reeks, and is ten times heavier from being filled with poop water is a brutal task. There is also the issue of nails, staples, and other sharp things that can pierce your gloves and boots, and if there is anything you do NOT want a cut from something that has been coated with poop water.
After throwing out almost or all of your furniture and clearing out the floors you then move to the walls. This is where it gets really bad for our area. The flood waters were here and have been here for weeks. That means even if there was only an inch of water in your home, mold has been growing for a long time. I saw a room that had less than an inch of water in it, but the mold had climbed five feet up the wall.
The only way to deal with mold is to scrap the walls. You rip out the molding, paneling, drywall, and any insulation till there is only the studs and support beams. Everything is soggy and everything is covered with green and black mold. The rule I was told to use is that walls should be demoed three fee forma the mold-line. So if you see photos online of houses with half walls, where the tops look normal but the bottoms, naked to the studs, that’s why.
After a house reaches the point where the floors and walls have been gutted, it then has to dry. That can take a long time. Because the flood waters lasted so long and because of our hot and humid climate officials around us recommend anyone who got flooded make sure they get their studs tested for mold and have a fungal prevention service treat the wood.
With a group of five to ten adults it seems to take about two days to gut the average size house. I have no idea how long its been taking those who don’t have help or are elderly or have health issues. What’s sad too is that as much work and as hard as it is to clean the house it’s only step one in the process.
Those with flooded homes that can be saved will then wait weeks, months, and maybe even years before they can start rebuilding. In that time they are filing with FEMA, insurance companies, working with contractors, and just dealing with all the tedious paperwork and there is no way to fast track any of it. To make matters worse, THOUSANDS if not hundreds of thousands of people got flooded by Harvey. That means the queue to get an inspector, contractor, or insurance agent to visit your house is ridiculous.
In the months or years that it takes to rebuild, the lucky families are living with friends, extended families, or in portable campers. The unlucky families are living in shelters and some of those have no resources when it comes to rebuilding and trying to start over. Sure there are a lot of church groups or organizations that are trying to help people, but there isn’t enough help and some of those wrecked by the flooding will fall through the cracks.
It’s been brutal watching families, especially people we know, go through all of this. I’ve seen so much crying and people just caught in shock at seeing everything they ever owned, destroyed. The journey to recovery will be long for them. six months, to a year from now, they will still be trying to get back to having a normal life, and those are the lucky ones.