Seven months after Hurricane Harvey flooded her home in the middle of the night, Jennifer Trimble still cannot hear the sound of a helicopter or rain beating on her windows without choking back tears.
Trimble, a single mother of an 11 year old son, lost her job before Hurricane Harvey dumped 40 inches of rain on the Lake Houston area. Like most of her neighbors, she had no flood insurance. “Everyone said that it never flooded here, that we were safe.” Trimble lives more than a mile from the San Jacinto River, two blocks north of Kingwood Drive in an area that had escaped previous “500 year” rains in 1994, 2001, 2015, and 2016. But her luck ran out with Harvey.
“With some warning…I could have saved myself from most of this terrible experience.”
Now, while picking at some enchiladas in a TexMex restaurant (that had also flooded), she tells the story of the night when she stepped out of bed at 4:30 a.m. into muddy water and reached for a light switch. Reliving those moments of panic, her story careens from desperate attempts to escape to the kindness of strangers, her faith in God, contractor woes, the search for a new job, and the politics of flood mitigation.
Flying Into the Eye of the Storm
The week before Harvey, Trimble had gone to Illinois to visit her mother who had been hospitalized. She recalls reading about Harvey, then a tropical storm, while flying back to Houston on August 23rd.
“By the time we got back, the forecast had changed to a hurricane,” she said. When the storm made landfall on Friday, August 25, she still wasn’t very worried. After all, she had lived and worked through Katrina in Louisiana more than decade earlier.
Back then, she worked in personnel for an oil company and helped hundreds of employees who had lost their homes. “But I didn’t think anything like that could ever happen here,” she continued. “We are too far inland. I went to the grocery store and stocked up on food and batteries just in case, but I wasn’t worried.”
Worries Rise with the Water
“Each night through the hurricane, I woke up from the rain. By the 28th, water was coming up everywhere. The drainage ditch was overflowing onto Kingwood Drive. Water was coming up from the greenbelt. That night, we made plans to evacuate in the morning even though I still didn’t think we would flood,” said Trimble.
“I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and stepped out of bed into floodwater. I was kind of groggy and didn’t realize what was happening at first. I turned on a lamp that was plugged into a power strip on the floor. The power was still on. I was lucky we weren’t electrocuted.”
“I froze. For a full minute. Then I called the next door neighbor to let them know that their house would be flooding, too. I posted on the NextDoor app that I was flooding.”
Neighbors and Social Media to the Rescue
Trimble continued. “Two people I didn’t even know offered to come to my house and help. One person made it to the house, but couldn’t get in because of water already chest deep in the street. My car in the garage had water over the tires. We were trapped.”
“My neighbor and another person from social media came at 5:00 a.m. They helped move small items like electronics, an end table – anything we could salvage – upstairs. Through all of this, I’ll never forget seeing my cat in the office, sitting on top of my desk as the water was rising.”
Temporary Escape to Neighbor’s House
“We finally escaped out of the front door to my neighbor’s house in hip-deep water. While moving things upstairs, I was in ‘go mode.’
It wasn’t until I was in my neighbor’s house looking back at my house that it hit me. There was so much water. My whole house was sitting in the middle of a lake – and I didn’t have flood insurance.”
“Then my neighbor’s house started to take on water, too. At 9 a.m., another Kingwood resident rescued us by boat. I was so grateful.”
Search for Safety and Stability
As word of Trimble’s plight spread to friends, offers of help started coming in. Several offered her places to stay until she could recover. She and her son stayed with a friend in Mills Branch through the middle of October. “Then, we moved on to another friend.
My son has asthma and allergies, so we couldn’t get back into our house right away. We had to get rid of all the mold and mildew. The house had to dry out thoroughly and be disinfected. We also had to make sure the walls were up and textured. It took a long time. Sometimes I can talk about it, but other times I get emotional,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Rebuilding a Home and her Life
“After the water receded, I had many people helping with demo work,” said Trimble. “Friends, friends of friends, strangers, people from my church. By Saturday noon, we were done. In two and a half days, everything was knocked out and gone.”
“When the San Antonio crews came to haul the trash away, I was happy, but cried my heart out. It’s so emotional to see your life being carried away. Our house is close to livable again. The master bath is the last major piece, though there are still lots of little details. Some things will just have to wait. Like the deck on the back of the house. We lost it altogether.“
“The hardest part for me is dealing with my contractors. Sometimes, I want to scream. I’m so frustrated. It seems like we always get up-charged. The cost never goes down if we substitute something cheaper. And then there are mistakes. For instance, we ordered a new door, but they trimmed excess height off the bottom instead of the top. So we had to order another. Seven months after the flood, we’re still waiting on the replacement. I’m tired of dealing with it,” said Trimble.
Making Do Until Making More
In rebuilding her home, Trimble received help from many unexpected sources.
“A Facebook page, Flooding Kingwood with Kindness, has been my source of sanity,” she says. There, people who have items to donate find people who need donations.
“My sister also started a ‘Go-Fund-Me’ page where friends and family could make donations to my recovery effort.”
“FEMA was very good to me. They gave me the maximum amount. My family and friends also kicked in. And I created an Amazon wish list to help offset expenses.”
“Still, I’m glad that I was a diligent saver. Without a job and without savings, we would have been sunk.”
“I’m frugal. With the exception of new bedroom furniture, I bought used things to replace furniture we lost. I just won’t buy everything for a while, until I build savings back up.”
Trimble recently started a new job. “It was a blessing that I wasn’t working during the recovery. There were so many things that went wrong. If I wasn’t there to address them right away, it would have been a disaster. As it was, I got my son off to school at 8 a.m. then worked all day on the house until 8, 9, or 10 at night for a long stretch.”
Trimble has been a single mother for nine years. “Rebuilding was overwhelming at times,” she said. “I lived through Katrina, Gustav and two surgeries, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I look back now and think everything that came before was God’s way of preparing me.”
Natural disasters bring out the best in people
Much of Trimble’s interview focuses on the generosity of people around her. “Total strangers rescued us. Friends opened their hearts and homes. Neighbors washed laundry that had been flooded. Others helped tear out sheet rock and tile. My church started a support group. FEMA gave us help. Ted Poe broke through red tape. It’s all been amazing.”
Still, the trauma of Harvey makes sleeping difficult. How does she cope? “My experience as a single parent helped me get through this…and my faith in God. I don’t know how I would have made it without my faith!”
“I can’t do this again.”
Said Trimble, “I want to do what I can so that this never happens again.”
Trimble has participated in the Lake Houston Chamber’s Plea for 3 and Plea to See initiatives. She has also participated in the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative and demonstrated outside the community center when Governor Abbott visited the area.
“When we got those flood warnings in February and March,” she said, “I felt horrible. I’m scared. I have angst about what will happen every time it rains.”
“We need to dredge. We need better communication. Clearly, we got no warnings. With some warning, I could have moved everything upstairs. I could have moved my car. My son and I could have gotten out. I could have saved myself from having most of this terrible experience,” she says, choking back tears.
“Clearly, there needs to be a better plan with permitting. They need to get to a place where they can lower the lake level. They’re fumbling right now; figuring everything out as they go. We need more coordinated flood control; all these entities don’t work well together.”
“Everybody underestimated the impact that this was going to have and how long it would last. The emotional and mental toll is draining. A disaster like this impacts daily life, the ability of people to hold a job, to parent their children, and to navigate through life in general.”
Interviewed by Bob Rehak,
Posted April 26, 240 Days After Hurricane Harvey