Jennifer Parks Rental townhome

After Eighth Flood in Five Years, Forest Cove Townhome Renter Forced Out and Burned Out

Before Harvey, Jennifer Parks lived in the Forest Cove Townhomes with her husband, four kids and cat. They absolutely loved the river lifestyle and the friendships they built with neighbors. Harvey was the eighth of seven floods in five years. It destroyed their 4-story townhome, a close knit community and a life they loved despite the trouble. This is a story about how a flood changed the trajectory of six people’s lives forever. It’s the latest in a series of Impact stories.

2019 Fire Brings Back Memories of 2016

Rehak: You lived in the complex on Timberline at Marina Drive that burned on July 4th this year?

Parks: Yes. We were the four-story unit at the end, two doors down from where there was another fire in 2016.

Rehak: How many fires have there been there this year?

Parks: Three. Two during the week of July 4th and one earlier over by the pool. 

Rehak: The fire department came out in force for this one. They had 10 fire trucks plus two ambulances. It was impressive.

Ten fire trucks were called out to battle the blaze in Parks’ townhome complex on July 4.

Parks: When we had the fire back in 2016 there were 32 fire trucks. The whole street was lined all the way. On both sides. Every truck in Kingwood, plus Porter and Atascocita came in. It was craziness but people lived there, then. So lives were at stake. Now, the townhomes are abandoned.

“We Always Flooded on My Husband’s Birthday”

Rehak: How long did you live there?

Parks: Five years. We moved in at the end of March, 2013. We had our first flood on Memorial Day. My husband’s birthday was Memorial Day and we always flooded on his birthday.

Rehak: (Laughs)

Parks: Yeah (also laughing sarcastically) it was nice. At first, we would flood from the streets when the storm drains backed up.  The first time I ever saw the river come over the bank was Memorial Day of 2016. It filled the area up like a bowl. People would drive around to look at it and splash water into our garage. It ruined everything we had on the floor.

Eight Floods in Five Years

Parks: We had a total of eight floods including Harvey in the five years we lived there.

Rehak: (Incredulous) Eight floods in five years!

Parks: Yeah. We had to move our vehicles and water got into the first story. Usually it would just splash in, but for the Tax Day flooding, we had three feet of water. That was the first time we left our house in a canoe. Then that Memorial Day we had eight feet. That was the second time we left in a canoe. Then there was Harvey. We had 20 feet.

Rehak: How many?

Parks: 20 feet is what FEMA measured.

Parks’ second story living room went under water during Harvey. FEMA says water reached 20 feet.

Rehak: Oh geez!

Parks: It went over my TV in the second story. 

Man Cave on First Floor

Rehak: Were those apartments vacant on the ground floor?

Parks: They were all built with the garage on the first. We have a big truck that did not fit in there. So we had a bar, darts and lights. Ours was decked out. It was more of a man cave than a garage. We never managed to get a lava lamp. But it was pretty cool. We were the neighborhood hang-out. We were always told that we were the welcoming committee.

As Harvey’s floodwaters receded, Parks’ husband took this picture from a canoe while returning to save the family cat.

The kids would be playing board games in the front. They had a TV, a table, a microwave and a refrigerator. It was like a snack hangout area. People would walk by, see us out there, and be like, “Hey, how you doin’!” That’s how we’d meet all the new neighbors. We were just in a friend’s wedding who we met that way. He went by one day to get the mail at stopped in to say hi. It was a very tight knit neighborhood to say the least.

Structural damage made townhomes unlivable. City condemned them all shortly after the flood.

Sense of Community Lost

Rehak: What brought you together? 

Parks:  Just living close to each other. Plus, the backyards were large. The driveways were very long. And then there was a big beautiful field. We have four kids. So our kids were always back there playing and we were outside. We did a lot of landscaping and gardening and we helped other neighbors. I think just being outside all the time was a large part of it because it was such a beautiful area to be outside.

Collapsed first floor game room where kids and neighbors once gathered.

Rehak: It’s easy to see why you miss it.

Parks: That’s how we made friends. And then there was the canoe.

Rehak: Canoe?

Parks: A neighbor with a canoe kept rescuing my children. Needless to say, we became very close with him. His name is Bob. 

And then there was all the bonding during cleanups. After the bigger floods, the sand deposits were crazy. It got in your house. So there was a lot of pressure washing and a lot of cleaning.

The first story had Blowout walls. They are intended to blow out with a flood.

Repairs and Clean Up Brought People Together

Rehak: So you had to rebuild those.

Parks: Yes. The structural walls with cement and cinder blocks … there was a lot of rebuilding those, too, and sand removal and pressure washing. The whole neighborhood just kind of came together. We would go from one drive to the next. Someone would be shoveling sand out of one. Someone would be pressure washing the next. I think that brought us really close together. We helped each other out. Then the Memorial Day flood happened and it was like ten times worse.

We had the Red Cross truck here three times a day with food. It was amazing. My kids joked, “Heyyyyy! We’re getting snacks from the Red Cross today!”

Rehak: Red Cross Cuisine!

Some of the sand deposited by Harvey in front of Parks’ Townhome.

Parks: Yes. And you know, it wasn’t bad…considering you work all day, and then you come home and you’re going to pressure wash or shovel sand. Because with sand come roaches and to try to keep the roaches out of everybody’s house, we’re trying to move the sand as quickly as possible.

Rehak: I hadn’t even thought about that.

Parks: It was disgusting. You would shovel it to scoop up sand and roaches would just scurry. And we never had roaches before the Memorial Day flood. Never! It was baaaad.

Why They Stayed Despite Flooding

Rehak: If you flooded eight times in five years, why did you stay?”

Parks: The first few weren’t that bad. Then the next two were big and really rough. We contemplated what we were going to do. One big argument for staying put was that our kids went to Foster Elementary school. It was and is an amazing school. And we didn’t want to pull our kids out. Another big factor was finding another rental in the area that was within our $1400 budget. That was just not happening unless it was an apartment. And we really didn’t want to do an apartment. Finally, there was also the beauty. Every time we felt we couldn’t go through another flood, we’d take a look at how beautiful it is here. We’d say, “It’s worth it to stay. And we have our community here.” So we stayed.

“You Know We’re Not Coming Back This Time, Right Bubba?”

I have a video of my husband and Bob in a canoe. As Harvey was receding, they went back and got our cat. In the video, it’s like the most heart wrenching thing you will ever hear. Bob says to my husband, “You know we’re not coming back here this time, right Bubba?”

Every single time I watch that video it brings me to tears because it tells you how much that place meant to all of us. My husband and I actually got married there. It’ll be four years in October. We got married right on the river bank. We had party tents in our driveway and we had a big wedding. It meant so much to us.

I get a little defensive when people say, “Oh, you lived in the crackhead apartments? No, it was not crackhead apartments in any way, shape, or form! Sorry if I get a little defensive. 

Parks surveys the gang graffiti where her children once played.

Too Heartbreaking To Go Home Again

Rehak: When you go down to your old neighborhood today, what does it make you feel?

Parks: I don’t go down there. I can’t. It’s heartbreaking. It’s disgusting. It amazes me how in two years … how it got so bad. A friend who is a police officer was down there after the last fire. He took pictures and there’s graffiti all over my beautiful garage. Like disgusting graffiti. And it’s…it’s gang graffiti. It’s absolutely gang graffiti. There are gangs living in my beautiful home. 

As Parks gave me a tour of her former property, she discovered this looseleaf notebook that looters had thrown from her kitchen. It contained a lifetime of recipes. She tried to salvage her family cookbook.

Our house was completely redone after the 2016 fire. All the walls. All new appliances. Everything was brand new. Flooring and carpeting. It was beautiful. So that’s the other thing people don’t know because they hadn’t been inside the townhomes. A lot of them were gorgeous. 

Rehak: Did your kids end up in a different school? 

Learning Firsthand What It Means to Be Homeless

Parks: We actually were able to stay. Because our status was “homeless,” which is always interesting, our daughter was able to stay for fourth grade at Foster without any question. That was fantastic. But then for the fifth grade we would have had to transfer. Her guidance counselor told me to note, “mental stability of the child at stake due a natural disaster.” And so she got to stay for fifth grade and finish up at Foster.

Rehak: Tell me about the homeless aspect for a second. What did that mean in practical terms? 

Parks: We were fortunate. I’m involved in Cub and Boy Scouts. One of my Cub Scout friends, she actually lived here her whole life. She knew that in the ’94 floods, a couple of the townhomes collapsed. So after Harvey she was, “Get out, get out, get out, right now.” She said, “Come stay with me.” I only knew the family for two years from Monday night Scout meetings. But we ended up living with them for months while we bought our current house. 

We were actually renting the townhome in Forest Cove, but wound up having to buy a house because we were “homeless.” It took time. While we were looking, we were considered “displaced due to natural disaster.” They condemned the townhomes pretty quickly. We couldn’t even think about going back because of structural damage. What else?

School Restores Sense of Normalcy for Kids

Parks: So the kids got free lunch at school. 

Foster Elementary was one of the highest impacted elementary schools between teachers and students because of where it is and because it services Forest Cove. 

Many of the teachers were impacted, too, and the school did amazing things, incredible things really … like blankets were donated to the kids. Something so simple. But my daughter didn’t have the blanket that she grew up with anymore. So you know having a new blanket was something really special. 

They gave all the kids year books that year. 

When the book fair came around, they gave the kids gift certificates.  

They were just a lot of little things that happened even after we bought our house. 

We moved in the day before Thanksgiving so we were pretty quick. Others were displaced for so much longer and still are. We were fortunate that we had friends and family that helped financially. We were able to furnish our new home. We have all this stuff and a beautiful house. But getting there was not fun.

Friends Now Farther But Not Forgotten

Rehak: I certainly understand that. What has happened to your old circle of friends? Are you still in touch?

Parks: We are. Except for one who moved pretty far away … out to Crosby. We see Bob at least on a weekly basis. That was a hard transition from seeing him every day to now only once a week or so. He bought a house in Porter. His daughter … I see her at least two or three times a week still.

And Jane and Rob. It’s gone from seeing them every day to once a month now.

Rehak: On balance, are you happier now?

Learning to Live with Moderate Neighborhood-Ness

Parks: I don’t know if you can compare. Everything in our lives is pre-Harvey or post-Harvey. Which kind of sucks. I would say that the happiness is different because we’ve made friends with our neighbors in Woodland Hills. We just don’t see as many people as often. But we still have moderate “neighborhood-ness.” I would say we’re equally happy.

I can tell you that the six to twelve months after Harvey was very, very difficult. Probably the most trying time in my life and my husband’s. And my kids! My kids were thoroughly traumatized, to say the least.

Rehak: Your lives were turned upside down.

Parks: It’s hard when the kids say, “Hey Mom, do you have X? And I have to say, “I’m sorry. No, we won’t have that anymore.” 

The tree under which Parks got married with all their neighborhood friends. San Jacinto West Fork and US59 Bridge are in the background.

It’s little stuff like my daughter’s Build-a-Bear. And all their school supplies that were sitting on our kitchen table. We had to get new school supplies all over again; I had just bought them the week before Harvey. That was fun. (Rolling eyes.)

Rehak: Not easy on a young family’s salary.

Husband Forced into New Job That Takes Him Farther from Family

Parks: And my husband did private construction. All of his tools were in our living room. Before Harvey, we moved them up from the garage so they wouldn’t get flooded or stolen. Then our living room flooded. We didn’t just lose our house. My husband lost his job, too, because we couldn’t just go out and replace thousands of dollars in tools. So he ended up going back to the oil fields and travelling. It’s not so bad on me, but…it’s hard on the kids.

Rehak: When you saw those townhomes burn, did you still have an emotional attachment to them? 

July 4 Fire Triggered PTSD

Parks: I’m so ready for them to just be gone. I don’t even care how they go. I’m tired of the community badmouthing them; they were not bad places. But at the same time there’s some PTSD. Because of the 2016 fire, all that trauma comes back really fast when we see fire. 

We had so much fun there for so many years. Ironically, we had a big fire pit out front and we would burn whatever was laying around. It was right on the river. We had crawfish boils over there and now we’re like, “Oh my gosh! This place is gone.” In a not-so-comfortable way.

Parks: Adding insult to injury?

Parks: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. “Insult to injury.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 30, 2019

699 Days after Hurricane Harvey