Today, it wasn’t Republicans vs. Democrats. It was humans helping humans. And how refreshing it was!
86-Year Old, Mobility-Challenged Woman Gets New Home, New Life
Texas General Land Office (GLO) Commissioner Dawn Buckingham and her staff gathered to turn over the keys to the newly rebuilt home of Earnestine Henry. Ms. Henry is an 86-year old African-American great grandmother who relies on a wheelchair and walker to get around. Hurricane Harvey displaced her from the 79-year old home she owned for 50 years.
Neighbors, friends and family – the entire street – all joined in the festivities. It was the 1000th such home that the GLO built in Houston and Harris County in the last two years.
When Commissioner Buckingham gave Ms. Henry a bouquet of flowers as a housewarming gift, Ms. Henry began to cry tears of joy.
Then, the deeply religious Henry threw up her arm and went silent for a second.
Finally, she shouted “Thank you, Lord.”
She was so overcome with emotion that Commissioner Buckingham reached out to steady her in case she started to fall.
The room went silent as she sobbed and dried her tears. Everyone else dried theirs, too, including seasoned journalists. Yes, even I sniffled.
Then Ms. Henry flashed a beatific smile. The gracious and grateful octogenarian then took her guests on a tour of her new home as she thanked all the GLO staff in attendance.
Here’s what the home looked like before the rebuild.
And here’s what it looked like today, including the handicapped ramp. All homes built through the GLO’s Homeowner Assistance plan meet the needs of the residents with mobility challenges. Not only is the homeowner’s investment protected, their safety is as well.
Ms. Henry had originally applied to the City of Houston for help after Harvey, but reportedly never heard back. Her daughter and granddaughter helped her reapply to the GLO when the GLO took over the program in 2021.
JW Turner Construction built the new home, which is fully code compliant and energy efficient. The rebuild happened as part of the GLO’s Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP).
Property Values Increase, but Not Taxes
On average, homes rebuilt through the Homeowner Assistance Program increase the value of the property by more than $85,765. To address concerns about increased property taxes, in 2019 the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 812 to protect homeowners from drastic increases after the GLO reconstructs homes.
The GLO’s Homeowner Assistance Program reaches the hardest hit, low- and moderate-income, vulnerable families and individuals.
1000th Rebuild Part of a Continuing Effort
Of all approved applicants, nearly 90 percent identify as Black or Hispanic. 89 percent are considered low-to-moderate income. And 63 percent make less than 30 percent of the area median income.
The GLO currently has another 1000 homes under construction in the Houston area.
“No other state or territory has performed like Texas in the recovery from Harvey,” said Buckingham. “A large part of that credit goes to the GLO. In two years, GLO has rebuilt 18 times as many homes as Houston and Harris County combined.”
“Texas stands to lose billions of available federal disaster recovery dollars if we do not use them before they expire in August 2026,” she added.
“Programs administered by the GLO in assisting the poorest Texans have significantly outperformed the federal requirement,” said Buckingham. 80% of GLO disaster recovery funds help those most in need, even though the US Department of Housing and Urban Development only requires 70%.
Thank you, Lord, for people like Ms. Henry and all the others above. They remind us that we’re all in this together.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/16/2023
2025 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/20230316-RJR_1258.jpg?fit=1200%2C800&ssl=18001200adminadmin2023-03-16 20:45:152023-03-17 08:48:58“Thank You, Lord!” and “Thank You, GLO!”
Says Lindner, “Early on the 24th, surface low pressure developed over south-central Texas. It helped draw a warm front northward. It eventually formed a line from near Sealy to Downtown Houston to Chambers County. This warm front when combined with strong lift, impressive low level wind shear, and winds changing direction, resulted in the formation of supercell thunderstorms along a line from near Victoria to Sealy to Conroe.
They trained across northwest Harris County. Rainfall amounts southeast of US59 ranged from 1-2 inches, but 2-6 inches northwest of 59.
One of the storms along the front produced a tornado over southern Fort Bend County. Another formed over northern Brazoria county near Pearland. Rotation increased as it tracked through SE Houston, Pasadena, Deer Park and Baytown.
Duration and Rates
The heaviest rainfall occurred over portions of west, northwest, and northern Harris County in a 3 to 6 hr period. Several locations in northwest Harris County recorded 1.0-3.0 inches of rainfall in an hour during the late morning hours. Additionally, as the line of storms moved eastward, numerous locations recorded 1.0-2.0 inches of rainfall in 15-45 minutes. That resulted in rapid street flooding over many portions of Harris County during the early to mid afternoon hours.
Total 6-hr rainfall amounts ranged from 3.0-6.0 inches from north of Katy along west/north of FM 1960 into the Humble and Kingwood areas. The highest amount was at John Paul Landing Park in northwest Harris County where 5.48 inches was recorded in 3 hours. Unfortunately, most of this rain fell on grounds that were still wet from heavy rainfalls on January 8 and 9. This maximized runoff into area creeks.
Lindner points out that, “Heavy rainfall and flooding can occur every month of the year in Harris County and there have been other recent heavy rainfall events in January. Compare rainfall duration and intensity in the table below.”
Interestingly, all of the January flooding events listed above had identical contributing factors: a surface warm front, high moisture levels, and training movement over the same area.
Rainfall amounts for the 1- and 3-hour time periods ranged from 2- to 10-year rains on the Atlas 14 scale. For the most part, channels could accommodate the rainfall. No widespread house flooding occurred although streams came out of their banks at numerous locations and came dangerously close to homes. See below.
The tornados were a different story, though. As they swept across the southern part of the county at 40 to 60 mph, they produced significant damage.
Lindner said, “Video obtained from the City of Deer Park indicated a tornado heavily shrouded in heavy rainfall with very little if any visibility of a condensation funnel or lofted debris. Unlike tornadoes in the Great Plains, many of the tornados along the US Gulf coast are hidden within heavy rainfall and very difficult to observe.”
For a complete listing of rainfall intensities and damage assessments at different locations through the county, see Lindner’s report here. It contains an interesting history of tornados in Harris County.
The pictures below were taken by a retired Kingwood resident, John Knoerzer, who owned a business in one of the hardest hit areas. They illustrate damage in Pasadena at one of his former employee’s home and shop.
Never Bet Against Mother Nature
Lindner’s report and these images provide powerful reminders of why we should never take flood or wind risk for granted. And why we need to see flood-mitigation projects through to completion.
These were only 5-year storms. But remember. Those exceedance probabilities are like odds on a Las Vegas roulette wheel. I once saw the same number come up six consecutive times!
Don’t bet against Mother Nature. Insurance gives you much better odds.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/8/23 with thanks to John Knoerzer for his imagesand Jeff Lindner for his reporting
1989 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/20230130-DJI_0904.jpg?fit=1200%2C799&ssl=17991200adminadmin2023-02-08 11:53:382023-02-08 12:13:53HCFCD Issues Reports on Late January Flooding, Tornados
On October 28, Royal Pines flooded a neighbor on less than an inch of rain. Two months later, on December 29th, the same thing happened again. The video below provided by the homeowner shows the volume of water funneled across her property by the developer.
This video and the previous one from October demonstrate the dangers of clearcutting and redirecting drainage without first constructing sufficient stormwater detention capacity.
The homeowner who shot the video lives adjacent to the left border in the photo below. Royal Pines has apparently sloped its property toward that corner where contractors will eventually build a stormwater detention basin.
Land now slopes toward where video was filmed at left corner. But that area used to slope in the opposite direction. See details below from the USGS NATIONAL MAP and the developer’s plans.
There used to be an 8-foot drop east of the homeowner’s property. But now, instead of water flowing directly north to White Oak Creek, it flows northwest.
The general plan for Royal Pines (below) shows the same V-shape in the proposed detention basin (upper left). The line represents the edge of the floodplain and confirms that the developer A) knew about the slope and B) changed it.
Silt Fence, Trench Ineffective Against That Much Water
The video above and the photos below show that silt fence makes a terrible dam against even small rains funneling toward a point from such a large area.
Unfortunately, the developer plans to build homes there, not another detention basin.
The table below shows that that much rain in two hours constitutes less than a 1-year rainfall event.
That’s consistent with actual observed events and climate records. According to the National Weather Service, on average, we can expect rainfalls greater than 1 inch 14 times per year in Houston. That’s about once per month.
Woodridge Village Revisited
The Montgomery County Engineer’s Office has reportedly asked the developer’s engineering company to revise its plans. The homeowner says that according to the engineer’s office, not even a 6-7 foot tall berm around that portion of the property would be enough to stop all the water flowing in that direction.
So, what lessons can we learn from this example? As with Woodridge Village, don’t clear and grade this much land before constructing detention basins!
The first sentence of Section 11.086 of the Texas Water Code states that “No person may divert … the natural flow of surface waters in the state, or permit a diversion … to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another…”
Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/13/2023
1963 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Keyframe-Royal-Pines-Flood-2.jpg?fit=1200%2C675&ssl=16751200adminadmin2023-01-13 10:01:062023-01-13 10:38:08Royal Pines Floods Neighbor on Less Than 1″ of Rain … AGAIN
Five years after Harvey, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still haunts many of the victims. Readers have written me about how hard they find it to shake painful memories.
Some complain about periodic flashbacks, often related to a trigger event, such as looking at a photo of a cherished possession they lost in the flood.
Others still panic in thunderstorms or can’t sleep when it rains.
Many feel rising anxiety as they track each new storm crossing the Atlantic.
Dozens feel anger at or get depressed by the slow pace of mitigation.
Two even told me recently that they may move away. Recovery after Harvey was so traumatic that they “can no longer live with the risk of flooding again” as one succinctly phrased it.
Recurring, Unwanted, Intrusive Thoughts
These different reactions represent a spectrum that most likely reflects a blend of the individuals’ experiences and tolerance for risk. The thing they all have in common: recurring, unwanted, intrusive thoughts that they find disturbing or disruptive.
Even though PTSD symptoms may not be as strong or as frequent as they were immediately after the storm, some still find them hard to shake and difficult to handle.
The Professionals’ Perspective
So, I contacted two local, highly respected therapists, Janice Costa LPC, LMFT, and Joni Adams M.A., LPC-S, to learn more.
Both said that they rarely see clients with Harvey trauma as their main complaint these days. But Harvey does often come up when dealing with clients’ other concerns.
Said Costa, “Things pile up. It wasn’t just the flood. It often relates to dealing with the aftermath.”
That fits with what people have told me. One trauma piles on top of another. At first, it might have been throwing out treasured family heirlooms, such as a grand piano. Seeing belongings piled at the curb. Losing privacy as strangers gutted your home. Dealing with absentee contractors. Living in travel trailers for 18 months. Applying for financial aid. Waiting years for a check, then being denied. Depleting savings or cashing in their kids’ college funds to pay for repairs. Living with the consequences of that as kids apply to colleges. Losing a lifestyle once loved and friends cherished.
We’ve all heard similar stories.
The trauma caused by a storm like Harvey can have extensive and long-lasting consequences. Like a series of dominos, one thing leads to another, triggering recurrent and unwanted thoughts of the original event.
Said Costa, “They’re still trying to process one trauma, when something new happens. It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Without revealing any patient information, both Adams and Costa talked about things that trigger flashbacks.
Said Adams, “Many people find that anniversary dates of trauma events are triggers. So are stimuli similar to the client’s experience (such as heavy rain, street flooding, weather notifications, or storms in the Gulf).”
Costa mentioned that sometimes the traumas can be unrelated or only loosely related. For instance, one reader told me about the death of a parent. The parent had taken in her daughter’s family after the storm. At the parent’s funeral, the memories of Harvey, mixed with grief, became overpowering for the daughter.
Adams echoed Costa’s observations. “Although clients may not present with Harvey complaints as their primary reason for entering therapy today, it likely still affects some. Some already had a trauma history when Harvey hit. Then they experienced more trauma in the years following. Harvey gets blended into the client’s internal reality as opposed to being seen as an isolated trauma event that happened five years ago.”
“For some clients, the correlation between Harvey and current PTSD symptoms may be clearly identifiable,” said Adams. But in others it may be hard to link symptoms directly to Harvey alone.
The woman who owned the house above, for instance, was struggling with the aftermath of a divorce and her son’s medical issues when Harvey struck. She told me with a tear in her eye, “I can’t do this anymore.” Her parting gift to Houston was emotional testimony to the SJRA board about her experience. During her talk, she broke down crying; so did some in the audience. Shortly after that, she moved closer to family in another state.
Progression of PTSD
Said Costa, “After Harvey there were people who had symptoms of PTSD within a few weeks. Some took much longer to show symptoms. Not everyone who flooded got PTSD.
“With the flood many people dealt with multiple traumas. PTSD can often be dealt with within six months, but in some people it can become chronic and last for years. There definitely are people still suffering from PTSD caused by the flood.”
Costa also talked about how PTSD might manifest itself in people’s lives today. It varies from client to client. “Intrusive thoughts about what they went through, avoidance of external reminders, negative changes in thoughts and mood, and changes in reactivity are all recognized symptoms. People may still be having nightmares, sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts, inability to concentrate, and more anxiety than in the past.”
Costa also talked about children and people in their seventies. “Children who have PTSD,” she said, “may be emotionally numb for a period, or have depression and/or anxiety.”
“I also see people in their seventies with these negative flashbacks,” she added. “They can crop up after being dormant for years.” When I asked about why, she theorized that it might relate to the extra time that people in retirement have to ponder life. She observed, “They aren’t consumed by the obligations of work and raising kids.”
Many people who experience fears, anxiety, or sleep problems may not realize that therapy could help. Both Adams and Costa mentioned the success they have had with EMDR therapy. People continuing to struggle may wish to explore the EMDR International Association site. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
The Association says, “EMDR is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movement), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.”
Therapists use EMDR to help people recover primarily from trauma and PTSD symptoms. However, therapists also use it to treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, chronic pain, addictions, and other distressing life experiences.
Other therapies sometimes used include Trauma Resolution Therapy and Desensitization Therapy.
If you still experience PTSD symptoms, you may want to explore one of these alternatives. The memory of Harvey may never go away. So, it’s best to learn how to live with it. It could become burned into our collective consciousness under the heading of History. After all, we still talk about the Galveston hurricane of 1900!
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/27/22
1824 Days (Five Years) since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/IMG_3456.jpg?fit=640%2C480&ssl=1480640adminadmin2022-08-27 17:27:122022-08-27 18:58:40Some Still Deal with PTSD, Five Years after Harvey
Today, I discovered a fascinating 49-page document produced by the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center, NOAA and the National Climatic Data Center. It contains hurricane records going back to 1851. It covers the deadliest, costliest and most intense U.S. tropical cyclones and other frequently requested facts. Unfortunately, it only goes through 2010. But the wealth of information on the period it covers more than makes up for that.
Like the Baseball Encyclopedia for Weather Geeks
It’s like the Baseball Encyclopedia for tropical storms…a must read for weather geeks and anyone who wants to impress out-of-town friends. Texas plays a prominent role in this chronicle.
A look at the lists reveals striking facts. For instance:
Fourteen out of the fifteen deadliest hurricanes ranked Category 3 or higher intensity
Large death tolls resulted largely from storm surge 10 feet or higher
A large portion of the damage in some of the costliest storms resulted from inland floods caused by torrential rains
One third of the 30 deadliest hurricanes ranked category 4 or higher
Only seven of the 30 deadliest hurricanes occurred between 1985 and 2010 while more than two thirds of the costliest hurricanes occurred during the same period.
A Look Behind the Facts
All costs are adjusted for inflation, so that’s not the major issue. Migration is. 1990 Census data showed that 85% of U.S. coastal residents from Texas to Maine had never experienced a direct hit by a major hurricane. But we have more risk now because more than 50 million people have moved to coastal areas since then.
The study warns, “If warnings are heeded and preparedness plans developed, the death toll can be minimized. However, large property losses are inevitable in the absence of a significant change of attitude, policy, or laws governing building practices (codes and location) near the ocean.”
Filled with Tables, Maps and Insight
One of the most interesting features: maps that show the tracks of record setting storms during the entire period and during each decade.
Amaze your friends with trivia, such as:
Average number of tropical cyclones per year AND how it has varied in different periods.
Years with the most and least hurricanes and landfalls.
Earliest and latest hurricane formations (hint: March 7 and December 31).
Longest- and shortest-lived hurricanes.
Lowest pressure in the Atlantic basin.
Most hurricanes occurring in Atlantic basin at one time.
Number of hurricanes in each month.
Hurricane strikes of various categories by state.
When hurricanes are most likely to strike different areas.
Average return periods for hurricanes in different areas.
Hurricane landfall CYCLES.
That last one really caught my eye.
Biggest Lesson Learned
The study concludes with another warning. “The largest loss of life can occur in the storm surge, so coastal residents should prepare to move away from the water until the hurricane has passed! Unless this message is clearly understood by coastal residents through a thorough and continuing preparedness effort, a future disastrous loss of life is inevitable.”
This is a genuine work of scholarship dished up in a way that makes it accessible to the general public. That takes some talent! Credits go to Eric Blake and Christopher Landsea of the NHC, and Ethan Gibney of the National Climatic Data Center.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/8/22based on a study by NOAA, NWS and NCDC
1774 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/20220708-Screen-Shot-2022-07-08-at-7.11.56-PM.jpg?fit=1200%2C753&ssl=17531200adminadmin2022-07-08 19:27:262022-07-08 19:32:28Hurricane Records
Between those two dates, Jennifer Coulter, the victim, contacted the City 17 times to ask if she could file an application.
In every call, no HCDD employee ever told her that she was eligible to apply. In fact, they told her the opposite – that they hadn’t gotten to her “Priority Group” yet. After misleading her, when New Year’s Eve came and went last year, the Harvey Reimbursement Program expired, and Coulter was out. Despite multiple requests to clarify her status and two appeals , HCDD denied aid to Coulter for not communicating with them.
I would say Coulter’s case is one of the saddest stories to come out of Harvey…if so many others hadn’t been denied aid for similar reasons.
A 2019 HUD audit of HCDD found in part that “Staff members worked independently and did not communicate with each other re: applications.” Coulter’s call log vividly brings to life the chaos that flood victims were forced to deal with as they struggled to find assistance from the City.
Audits 2 Years Apart Show Similar Organizational Problems
After Harvey, the City of Houston lobbied the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for approximately $1.3 billion to aid Harvey victims, such as Coulter. But a subsequent 2019 HUD audit showed HCDD was unprepared to manage the money, the caseload or the approval process.
Despite assistance and training by the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which manages disaster relief for HUD in Texas, Houston never got its disaster relief programs in gear. A second audit by GLO released last Wednesday arrived at conclusions similar to HUD’s.
City’s Needlessly Complex Two-Step Application Dooms Program
Among the problems: HCDD set up a needlessly complex application process involving two steps. Victims had to “apply to apply” by filling out an online survey. Based on survey answers, HCDD placed victims in one of six “priority groups.” Group 1 represented highest priority flood victims and 6 the lowest.
HUD and the GLO warned Houston about the two-step application process even before it started. They told Houston it was too complex and would cause delays. They recommended that the City have everyone submit full applications and then sort through them to find enough qualified applicants to match the amount of aid available.
That way, everyone would have had a fair chance to meet the deadlines involved. Delays and miscommunication would not have been a factor. HCDD’s repair program expired last December 31st at 5PM with only a small fraction of the aid distributed.
HCDD initially told Coulter that she was in Group 6, the lowest priority. But on May 14, 2020, HCDD sent her an invitation to submit a full application. The invitation got lost in her email. And Coulter continued to call the City for the remainder of the year. Each time she would ask if she could submit an application and each time she was told, “Not yet,” despite already having been invited.
Even though Coulter called HCDD dozens of times to clarify her status, in 15 months, nobody at HCDD ever told her over the phone to check her email or that she could apply. That’s how bad HCDD’s record-keeping, database systems, and internal communications were!
Sadly, we’ve come to expect and accept stories like this from the City of Houston. HUD and GLO audits repeatedly showed problems in HCDD.
After Reimbursement Program Expired, Mayor Claims Commitment to Improvement
The mayor’s response, after the latest audit and after the program expired, was in essence, “We’ll look into it and fix it if we find problems.” His press release about the latest audit concluded, “The City is committed, as it always has been, to transparency and improving its Housing processes.”
Admittedly, the Reimbursement Program that Coulter applied to is just one of many HCDD programs.
But for the Jennifer Coulters of the world, it’s too late. The HUD money will likely go unused and return to Washington for future grants that may give other victims false hope.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/27/2021
1551 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Cart-in-Living-Room.jpg?fit=1200%2C900&ssl=19001200adminadmin2021-11-27 15:48:092021-11-27 16:44:07Harvey Victim Denied Aid for Not Communicating After Contacting City 17 Times
I first interviewed Tammy Gunnels and her husband Ronnie almost three years ago. They had flooded ten times at that point even though they weren’t in a flood zone. The Gunnels are devout people and prayed for a buyout. Friday, their prayers were answered. Here is the story of how their faith and persistence paid off in the long run. This interview also included Morgan Lumbley, the Disaster Recovery Manager for Montgomery County who guided the Gunnels through the application process.Ironically, the skies unleashed torrential rains just before the closing. But this time, everyone was smiling instead of worrying.
Bob: You flooded 13 times in 11 years. Tell me how you finally got the buyout offer.
Tammy: After Harvey, one of my cleaning clients who’s an attorney vowed to find a way to get us a buyout. She put me in touch with the Office of Emergency Management for Montgomery County. Initially, they told me there were no open programs available.
Tammy: That was in 2017. Then in May of 2019, we flooded twice – on May 3rd and again on May 7th. Once more, I contacted their office and went to commissioners meetings, begging for a buyout. But nothing happened. After we flooded a third time that year during Imelda, I called their office just to scream and holler and cry into the phone. But this time, Morgan answered. I told her our story and by the end of the conversation, she was crying and promising that she was going to do everything she could.
Patience Finally Pays Off
Bob: And she wrote a beautiful note.
Tammy: She put it on her computer where it stayed until today. It says, “No one before Miss Tammy. Number one priority.” Later, she called back and said, “Look, I’ve found a couple programs. Which do you want to go with?” I said, “I don’t care. The quickest. Just get us out of this house.”
Initially, we thought the buyout was going to be done in early 2020. But it kept dragging out. Red tape. Then COVID hit. That changed everything. I would email Morgan nights, weekends, whenever it rained, asking “When?” But never once did she get irritated or say, “I’m doing the best I can.”
All throughout biblical scripture, it says we do not understand His ways or His timing or His plans. If we had been bought out before now, no way would we have gotten the offer we got.
We got full current market value. We hoped the county would pay off the mortgage, which was about $60,000 but FEMA covered full market value…$250,000.
Bob: How did you find these programs, Morgan?
FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program
Morgan: There are a couple funding programs for buyouts. The one we got the Gunnels in is FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program. It is a “cycle funding” opportunity – available every year. But it’s a competitive grant. So, we have to fill out an application that names the homes you want to buy out – and their values – on the front end. The county collected data for “severe repetitive loss” homes. And when we won the grant, those were the people who got offers.
But buyouts are probably the slowest of all the mitigation processes. So, sometimes people drop out before deals close. And when they do, that opens up room for others.
Bob: Is that how Tammy and Ronnie got in?
Morgan: Yes. Tammy and Ronnie could also have qualified through a HUD program, but we focused on FEMA’s, because they had a current National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy. It was also based on their flood losses. They were considered a “severe repetitive loss.”
Active Flood Insurance Key to Buyout
Not counting our own personal funds, NFIP spent three quarters of a million on that property. They could have bought us out five times.
Tammy: People said we should just walk away. But we literally had no place to go. When you flood, yeah, you get insurance. But the lien holder on your home gets the money. The lien holder releases it in increments so that you make the repairs. And they inspect the repairs before releasing the next payment. There IS no walking away. Most people don’t understand that. You don’t have money to go anywhere.
We had already drained Ronnie’s 401K and every bit of savings we had. We’re at the age that we’re supposed to be looking forward to retirement. But we don’t. I have nothing left from my kids from when they were growing up. The childhood memories – all those silly little pictures they make for you in birthday cards – I have none of that left. The floods took everything. This has aged us physically and mentally by years.
Ronnie: When we first got insurance, it was fairly cheap and then once we flooded, it skyrocketed. We were just going to handle the losses ourselves. But our neighbor said, “If you’re not insured, you can’t be on any buyout list. That woke us up. We said, “We’ve got to get back on insurance.”
The 13th Time is the Charm
Bob: So Morgan, put this in perspective for me. Flooding 13 times. Where does that rank?
Morgan: 13 is a lot.
Bob: Is it a record?
Morgan: Of those that have come across my desk, it definitely is! Five or six is pretty common, maybe even seven. But 13 is a lot. I think that’s what got me the most. To hear that someone has flooded that many times!
Tammy: Morgan says she’s the low person on the totem pole, but she’s on a throne in my heart forever.
Home Will Be Demolished and Lot Turned to Green Space
Bob: What will Montgomery County do with the home you just bought?
Morgan: Demolish it. The land will be regraded and then it becomes green space to restore the natural flood function. Nothing else. Another residential structure cannot be built on that land.
“I just want to be a normal person again!”
Bob: Tammy, where do you go with your life from here?
Tammy: I don’t think we’ve even thought about it. For the last 13 years, we haven’t been able to plan anything.
Ronnie: We’re just hoping we don’t freak out every time it rains.
Tammy: I just want to go to sleep at night without pacing the floor, wondering when the next flood will hit, and whether the water will come in through the front door, the back door or the patio. I just want to be a normal person again.
Advice for Home Buyers: Research, Ask Right Questions
Bob: What advice would you give people looking for a home to buy?
Morgan: Research! Research is the biggest thing. Diligent research. Too many people take information at face value. They look at the seller’s disclosure. And it asks, “Has the home flooded?” But it doesn’t say when. And it doesn’t say how many times. And no one has to tell you that. Also, the damage amount is not indicated anywhere. And no one has to disclose that either.
If you’re looking at a house, go over to the neighbors. Knock on doors and ask, “Did you flood? Do you know if that house flooded? How high did the water get in your yard? Those are questions that you want to ask.
Ronnie: I’m guilty. I didn’t ask the right questions.
Morgan: A lot of people, when they go looking for their forever home, they’re looking at granite countertops. Is the backyard big enough for the kids? But the questions they really need to ask are, “Am I near a flood plain? Has this house been flooded? How many times? How high? Those kinds of things.”
Tammy: She is exactly right. EXACTLY.
Posted by Bob Rehak on October 1, 2021, based on an interview with Tammy and Ronnie Gunnels, and Morgan Lumbley
1494 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/20211001-RJR_8842.jpg?fit=1200%2C741&ssl=17411200adminadmin2021-10-01 20:39:192021-10-02 10:02:38MoCo Couple That Flooded 13 Times in 11 Years Finally Gets a Buyout
In August 2017, Sally Geis and her husband JG watched as Harvey’s floodwaters crept over the San Jacinto West Fork river bank. They thought they would be safe. But soon rising water turned to raging water. As they moved upstairs, they took a hatchet. JG said it was to kill snakes that got in the house. But Sally wondered if it was to chop a hole in their roof in case they needed an escape hatch.
Sally’s rediscovered cache of photos creates a valuable addition to our understanding of how Harvey’s floodwaters rose and spread in the Kingwood area.
Before Waters Rose
Waters Begin to Rise
River Fully Out of its Banks
Soon a boat was the only way out…a boat which snatched them from the second story of their home.
Said Sally, “The current was very fierce — he really knew what he was doing!! We could touch the tree tops and the street name signs overhead!”
The picture above was taken north of Kingwood Drive almost two miles from the main channel of the West Fork. Yet look at that turbulence in the water. Normally, a point this far from a river would be designated as “floodplain storage.” Normally, that would mean placid waters, the opposite of what you see.
Eventually, the rescue boat dropped Sally and JG off at Wendy’s on West Lake Houston Parkway at Rustic Woods, several blocks north of where the photo above was taken. From there to the water’s edge on the south side of the West Fork is approximately 2 miles…wider than the widest part of Lake Houston itself – just upstream from the spillway – during normal times.
From Wendy’s, a car ferried Sally and JG to a volunteer’s home where they slept the next night.
Day After Explorations
The following day, they explored the area on foot, still in shock, surveying all the damage. Water remained high in many places. Rescue operations continued.
Revisiting the Escape Route Days Later
“We went OVER this bridge in the boat!!” said Sally Geis.
According to Geis, on the way out, rescue-boat propellers kept striking submerged cars, nearly capsizing boats on more than one occasion.
“A lot of boats were hitting submerged signs, cars, heavy things — they had no idea what was underwater. One boat hit a car, began to sink and nearly capsized. Thankfully it didn’t. A lady onboard could not swim. The water was over our heads and the current was scary and swift, plus contaminated. I heard there were 500 rescue boats in all — including the Cajun Navy, helicopters, jet skis,” said Geis.
Sally and JG lost their vehicles in the flood. And like so many others, they lost all the belongings on the lower floor of their home. Here is a short video of a scene they filmed on a walkabout after Harvey’s floodwater’s receded.
Sally’s brother later picked the couple up when the water receded and took them to a friend’s home. The friend was on vacation, so they got to rest up for five days before facing the destruction.
Says Sally, “Those images of every street lined with trash – of complete households hauled to the curb – for months on end added to the depression and PTSD.”
Geis and her husband spent the next two years restoring their home.
After fighting developers who wanted to build in the floodway of the West Fork, they finally sold their home earlier this year. They now live in a high rise downtown.
Sally says, “People who have never been through an experience like this have no idea how real the PTSD can be. It can take over your life.”
Posted by Bob Rehak on September 16, 2021, based on the photos and memories of Sally Geis
1479 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/20170829-IMG_9819.jpg?fit=1200%2C900&ssl=19001200adminadmin2021-09-16 19:52:032021-09-17 08:24:39Day of Terror Relived: Sally Geis’ Harvey Evacuation Story
Four years after Harvey, the storm’s effects are still visible at Alspaugh’s Hardware Store in Kingwood’s Town Center. To this day, Rick Alspaugh struggles to balance inventory with service, the thing that made his business formula unique. This is the story of how Harvey affected him, his business, his customers and 60 employees.
Bob: Your family’s first hardware store in Kingwood was up near the front. When did you move to Town Center?
Rick: We bought our property from Friendswood in 1993 and opened our store in ‘94.
27 Years of Success Based on Unique Formula
Bob: You’ve been there 27 years! Did the entry of Lowe’s into the market affect your business?
Rick: Not really. They don’t do what we do.
Bob: How would you characterize that?
Rick: They have great inventories. But we have people who can walk you through a project. We were the go-to place for service. People don’t come here for lumber, tile, sinks and carpet. They come for parts, paint, smaller things. And we have this amazing boutique with unique things that nobody else carries. With goods at all price levels. Plus free gift-wrapping. You can’t get that anywhere else in the city.
Back before Harvey, we also had a huge selection of barbecue equipment. We’re struggling right now, but God’s going to get us through it.
Bob: Let’s go back to Hurricane Harvey.
3.5 Feet of Water in 16,000 SF Store, But No Flood Insurance
Rick: August 28th 2017. I’ll never forget it. Everything went underwater. Deep under water – three and a half feet.
We lost twenty-seven computers. They were all on desktops, but that wasn’t high enough.
Bob: Were you insured for that?
Rick: Not a bit.
Bob: (shocked) You didn’t have flood insurance?!
Rick: About a month before Harvey, my insurance agent came in. We talked about how we had grown and increased my coverage. Then Harvey hit. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
60 Employees Help Jumpstart Business
Rick: At the time, I had about 60 employees. The day after Harvey, everyone showed up and started cleaning. It was amazing, Bob. They rebuilt the store. It was unreal. It was just… We came together!
Within three days, we were able to open by working out of trailers and a cargo container outside with one surviving computer from the paint department. We ran wires out there. And we re-opened out of that container.
I ordered about $400,000 worth of stuff that people would need for cleanup.
“I Just Assumed I Had Flood Insurance”
Rick: In the flood, we also lost three trucks. A generator. And our forklifts. I used up all my cash reserves to get going again and keep people working. So, I called my agent to make some insurance claims and he says, “For what?”
“We flooded in Harvey! This was a total loss,” I said.
He goes, “You’re not covered for rising water. You don’t have flood insurance.”
My agent never once asked me if I wanted flood insurance. And I never asked if I had it. I just…assumed. I assumed I had it.
Luckily, the three trucks were covered under our automotive policy. So, I got money for them. But it was not enough to replace them.
Bob: How long did it take to reopen?
Doing Business Outside While Rebuilding Inside
Rick: By September 1st, we were selling outside. But for all of September and October, and most of November, we were rebuilding the inside.
At lunch, our barbecue vendor came in to cook for us. We would pressure wash the tables, turn a bunch of buckets upside down, sit, pray, and eat. That really brought us together.
Before the store was even cleaned out, I targeted reopening inside for the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Everyone just looked at me with giant eyes. But by God, we got to work. And we made it happen.
Bob: Were there any setbacks?
Rick: We received three 18 wheelers of shelving…in the wrong order. We needed uprights first. But they came on the last truck…a week late. So, we literally lost a week of assembly. But we were back in the store by Monday before Thanksgiving.
Rick: In about eight weeks, we completely redid the store. But that was eight hours a day for 60 people.
$3.2 Million in Flood Losses
Bob: How much did you lose in Harvey?
Rick: $3.2 million dollars. We lost the entire inventory. We trashed it all because I was concerned about contamination. It was nasty. We’re less than a quarter of a mile downriver from Kingwood’s main sewage treatment plant. We just had to trash everything.
But when we reopened, everything was 100 percent clean. Brand new. We threw out everything touched by Harvey. Four trailer loads of barbecue pits were crushed and hauled straight to the scrap yard.
Bob: I had no idea. Did any of the newspapers write that story?
Rick: No. I never felt I was special to where I needed to talk about it. All the people around me suffered similar losses. The jewelry store. The photofinisher. The barbershop. The cupcake guy. Everybody in Town Center lost everything.
Bob: Did you ever think the water would get this high?
Rick: I knew it could reach Town Center because of the 1994 flood. So, during Harvey, we tried to raise everything up about a foot. But I never thought three and a half feet!
If you had three and a half feet of snow, it would melt by next week and it would be business as usual. But when you have three and a half feet of water in your store…well, here I am talking about the recovery four years later.
Plagued by PTSD
Bob: How has this affected you personally?
Rick: People don’t realize how real PTSD is. I have my eye on the Weather Channel all the time now.
Bob: Do you have flood insurance now?
Rick: Yes, sir. And I’ve got a different insurance agent, too.
Business Since Harvey
Bob: So, you lost $3.2 million worth of inventory and computers. You had to start over. Without help from insurance. How has Harvey affected your business since then?
Rick: Harvey not only destroyed our store, it wiped out 3000 homes within a nine-iron shot of here. This entire neighborhood…gone. Customers didn’t need most of what I had at that point. They needed major remodel stuff: carpet, tile, wallboard, like that. They needed contractors, not light switches. Plus, they didn’t have flood insurance and had to bear the cost of recovery out of pocket.
We have problems. But not like most people. We’re not on the way to M.D. Anderson. Having burned through my own savings, I just don’t have enough money to offer the kind of service people came to expect.
Government Grants Slow in Coming
Bob: What comes next?
Rick: We’re poised to recover. I just need inventory. We filed for some Harvey help.
I got some tax relief, which was very nice. An SBA loan which we’re paying back. The Humble Chamber helped us, which was a huge blessing.
Congress appropriated $100 million to small businesses for Harvey grants. But they take forever. Worse, they had $250 million worth of need.
Luckily, friends in the community stepped up to help fill that gap. That’s why we are here today. I’m not begging friends anymore. I’m just not. But I would like to get some of this Harvey aid. I certainly qualify.
Banking on Community Spirit
Bob: So where do you go from here?
Rick: We’re here every day. The lights are on. And we still have stuff to sell. Just not as much as we used to.
Bob: You know, I can’t imagine cooking barbeque without your store.
Rick: Thank you.
Bob: I see Alspaugh’s as a central location for community spirit.
Rick: It used to be. And it can be again. There’s not a whole lot that we can’t do as a community.
Posted by Bob Rehak on September 15, 2021 based on an interview with Rick Alspaugh
1478 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/20170830-IMG_1542.jpg?fit=1200%2C895&ssl=18951200adminadmin2021-09-15 17:36:212021-09-15 21:19:59The Long Road to Recovery: Rick Alspaugh’s Harvey Story
Yesterday, I wrote how the San Jacinto East Fork seemed to have re-routed itself through an abandoned sand mine. This morning I got a call from a couple who live near the mine. The woman and her husband had been trapped in their home for three days by the river which is now – incredibly – running right beneath their home. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, floodwaters subsided enough for them to boat to safety. But their story is a gripping lesson in how quickly life can change.
Dream Turned into Nightmare
Jack Arnold bought 25 acres in the country back in 2002 to have a retreat from the noise of the city. He works in structural steel and quiet Plum Grove in Liberty County seemed like the perfect place to unwind. He and his sons built a home in 2011 on steel poles 21 feet in the air about 400 feet east of the San Jacinto East Fork.
Then three things happened.
In 2012, a sand mine started up about 1100 feet south of him.
Later that year, Colony Ridge started building northeast of him.
His ex-wife sold 16.5 acres of their property to the sand mine, which then expanded around him.
It didn’t take long for Arnold’s flooding woes to start.
Sand Mine and Colony Ridge Permanently Alter Hydrology of Area
Here’s what the surrounding area looks like today.
Arnold says his property never flooded in the first five years he lived there. Then in 2015, as Colony Ridge and the sand mine expanded around him, he started flooding regularly. Last Sunday, the water started rising again. This time, it was from an 8-inch rain that areas upstream received. Plum Grove itself received only a little more than 3 inches. Harris County’s meteorologist characterized the 8-inch rain, which fell over a two-day period, as a ten-year rain.
Near Death Experience, Not to Mention…
As floodwater rose around the Arnolds last Sunday morning, they had a hard time understanding why. But it kept coming up and up. Three days later, it’s still four-feet deep (waist high) under their house and moving so fast it could knock strong men over.
Arnold nearly died in a previous flood event when he was swept away. He clung to a tree for two hours until his second wife and stepdaughter rescued him. Then all three had to be rescued by the game warden three days later. Now, Arnold takes no chances. He and his wife have been holed up alone for three days waiting for the water to go down. They each have missed two days of work so far this week, because they couldn’t reach their cars which they parked on higher ground.
Altogether, they have lost nine vehicles, two campers, and a boat since the flooding started. Another reason they were reluctant to leave their home despite being trapped: looters stole all their valuables after they evacuated during a previous flood.
Begging For a Buyout that Hasn’t Yet Come As Flooding Gets Worse
The Arnolds don’t want to move; after all, Arnold built the home with his own hands. But he and his wife just can’t take any more flooding. Now, they just want out. They’re begging for a buyout that hasn’t yet come.
Perhaps worse, the sand mine has been sold to a company that wants to turn it into an RV park. Which means there’s no one to fix the dikes which ruptured during the latest flood. In a phenomenon that geologists call pit capture (or river capture), the East Fork rerouted itself through the sand mine and then filled the mine up like a water balloon. The water balloon then broke more dikes on the southern end of the mine in a location that is not aligned with the bridge openings over the East Fork.
The main current of the river has been running through the mine and under the Arnolds’ home for days now.
House Built in the New River Bed?
Now the Arnolds worry they may have a house built in the river. Of course, they won’t know until the flood water goes down. And even though the water level has lessened slightly since yesterday, it is still too high and too dangerous to venture out. See images below.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/4/2021 based on personal observations and interviews with Michael Shrader, and Jack and Pamela Arnold
1344 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 593 since Imelda
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/20210504-DJI_0704.jpg?fit=1200%2C900&ssl=19001200adminadmin2021-05-04 16:04:052021-05-04 21:35:32Family Trapped For Three Days As Floodwaters Ripped Through Sand Mine, Then Under Their Home