The Long Road to Recovery: Rick Alspaugh’s Harvey 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.

Rick Alspaugh (center), wife KellyAnnette (right) and manager Dallas Behman (left)

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.

Alspaugh’s during Harvey

We lost twenty-seven computers. They were all on desktops, but that wasn’t high enough.

The height of Harvey’s floodwaters meant Alspaugh lost 27 computers sitting on desktops – all but one in the paint department.

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.

Alspaugh tossed his entire inventory, fearing contamination from a sewage treatment plant just upstream.

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.

Bob: Wow.

Rick: In about eight weeks, we completely redid the store. But that was eight hours a day for 60 people.

Starting over from the ground up

$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.

Store interior after floodwater receded. Note water line on standing cardboard cartons.

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. 

Even the barbecues, his signature product line, went to the dump.

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

Family Trapped For Three Days As Floodwaters Ripped Through Sand Mine, Then Under Their Home

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.

The spot Arnold cleared for his home in 2011, east of the East Fork San Jacinto which runs through the woods to the left of the red box.

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’s home is partially surrounded by a sand mine (white box) on three sides. And the first two Colony Ridge subdivisions are dumping water into the East Fork upstream of him with fewer detention ponds than they likely should have to meet Liberty County regulations.
FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows that the sand mine’s dikes have constricted the East Fork floodway (cross-hatched area) about 90%. This puts tremendous pressure on the mine’s dikes as water tries to squeeze through a fraction of the space. That also increases erosion which further breaks down the dikes. The constrictions could be one reason why the river rose 10 feet in 24 hours at this location.

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.

And their flood woes will likely not change. Colony Ridge built the subdivisions north of them using dubious engineering reports that classified the soils as more permeable than the USDA did. That enabled the developer to avoid building detention ponds and maximize the amount of land he sold. But the runoff is likely greater than the developer promised the county engineer. And now the officials have stopped producing documents that might prove suspicions.

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.

Looking SE. Sand mine dikes have broken on the lower right and now water rushes out of the west fork, crosses the mine and goes under Arnolds’ house in the trees on the left.
Looking NW. Note how the pressure of the water has collapsed the swimming pool in their side yard.
Looking NW. The water then rushes back into the mine from the south side of the property.

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.

Rosemay Fain’s Harvey and Imelda Stories

Rosemary Fain and Archie Savage live on three acres in Magnolia Estates, in far northeast Harris County just a block from the Liberty County line, about halfway between Luce Bayou and the San Jacinto East Fork. They’re more than two miles from each and never flooded before the development of Colony Ridge, one mile north. Since then, during both Harvey and Imelda, East Fork floodwater rose so high that it came through their property and started flowing down toward Luce Bayou. The water damaged their home, barn, garage, workshop, pool, hot tub, well, septic system, chicken coop and more. But they were lucky compared to neighbors who had homes swept off foundations. This interview discusses their attempts to recover and their advice for others.

Rehak: How long have you all lived here?

Fain: Archie’s lived here since 1995. I joined him in 2015.

Never Flooded Before Harvey

Rehak: Did the property ever flood before Hurricane Harvey?

Fain: No, not at all.

Rehak: OK. How far are you from the East Fork of the San Jacinto?

Fain: More than two miles.

And Then Came Harvey

Rehak: What happened during Harvey?

Fain: Well, we knew that the hurricane was coming. And we did as much as we could to prepare for high winds. But how could we prepare for that much water? We never expected that much. It just…it looked like a river.

It looked like we were sitting in the middle of a river. 

Rosemary Fain

We had people calling from all over the country to make sure we were OK. Then we lost power. Power lines went down at Magnolia Boulevard and Plum Grove Road and there were kids riding four wheelers in the water!

I have video of the water. It was coming from the East Fork and running into that gully that goes to Luces Bayou. And it was just a torrent. It was just an absolute torrent.

Video of Hurricane Harvey in Magnolia Estates courtesy of Rosemary Fain

On FM1485, people were loading boats to go down Huffman/Cleveland Road and rescue people that had their homes washed completely off foundations. And the East Fork … Oh, my God, way up here. Way up here! 

After, on FM1485, people with tractors were pulling cows out of the ditches.

Rehak: You’re kidding.

Fain: No.

Rehak: Dead cows?

Fain: A lot … dead. They found an awful lot of carcasses down in the culvert. 

Imelda “Much, Much Worse”

Two years later, Imelda came along. And it was worse! Much, much worse. Kids were kayaking out on the street. That’s how bad it was.

Kayaking down the street in front of Fain’s house during Imelda

Rehak: Wow.

Fain: Archie had made it to work that morning and I called him and asked, “Do I need to start getting blankets and comforters to put in front of the door? And he says, “Honey, it’s water. Nothing’s going to stop it. If it’s coming in, it’s coming in.” And that’s when it came right up to the top step. It was within inches of coming in the house.

Video of Tropical Storm Imelda in Magnolia Estates courtesy of Rosemary Fain

Rehak: Did it undermine the corner of your house?

Fain: It messed up more than that.

Rehak: Catalog the losses for me. You lost some machinery in your wood shop.

Fain: We lost the jumper pump in our well house. Our septic system flooded. We had damage to the pier and beam foundation under our kitchen and dining room, where the foundation later collapsed – between Christmas and New Years of 2020. We had no idea how bad it was.

Part of damage caused by delayed collapse of one corner of house after Imelda
Corner of the house in kitchen that bore the brunt of Imelda’s floodwaters.

The pier-and-beam foundation and kitchen floor have to be completely replaced, as well as the bottom kitchen cabinets. We lost the motor and the heater to the hot tub, and the hot tub footings shifted, causing the hot tub to crack. We lost the motor to the pool. Our chicken and pigeon coops had to be demolished.

The neighbors behind us lost their sheep pens, but there were no sheep there at the time.

Neighbors sheep pens destroyed by Imelda.

And there’s now black mold in the well house and the garage shop.

Black mold in well house.

And, you know, by law we can’t sell this place with the black mold issues. So, what do we do? 

We can’t afford to fix it and we can’t afford to move. This house is paid for. It’s our investment for retirement. But we can’t afford to fix what needs to be fixed and sell it.

Insurance doesn’t cover black mold. 

Who would have thought we’d need flood insurance this far from the river? We have it now. But we didn’t when the floods hit.

Poorly Drained Soils Now Much Worse

Rehak: What can you tell me about the soils around here? Were they a factor?

Fain: It’s all clay-based.

Rehak: How does it drain?

Savage: Not well. These properties, if there’s a lot of water, they’ll hold it a good while to where it should percolate down. But it doesn’t. It cannot go through clay. Harvey deposited a lot of silt. Since Harvey, it just seems like the ground is constantly saturated even during the summer. And, if you dig down two … two and a half feet, it gets really, really messy.

Clay-based soil throughout area drains poorly.

Rehak: When you first moved here, did you go up Plum Grove Road and explore?

Savage: You could tell that it was a low-lying area.

Rehak: A lot of palmettos up there? 

Savage: Yeah. 

Loss of Thousands of Acres of Forest, Wetlands with Colony Ridge

Fain: The first time I came out here, it was a very pleasant, beautiful little drive. I was really impressed with the canopy of the trees and this whole area. And I’m telling you, it just is such a shame what it’s come to. It was all woods and all trees, and now it’s just nothing but tore up roads and mud.

Rehak: How did the changes coincide with development of Colony Ridge? 

Fain: We never flooded before Colony Ridge. All the problems came after they started clearing trees. I remember all the logging trucks coming up and down Plum Grove Road. And then in 2017, Harvey hit and it was just horrendous. 

Rehak: Do you feel that if the development hadn’t happened you would have been safer?

Fain: Definitely. It was scary. I mean, I wish we had taken our little flat bottom boat and tied it to that tree.

Slow Recovery and Then More Disaster

Rehak: How has the recovery been? 

Fain: FEMA came out and they cut us a check for $357.

Rehak: $357!

Fain: And there is nothing available for Imelda. Project Recovery … I’ve called them twice, emailed them, and they haven’t responded at all. 

Rehak: Are you in the City of Houston?

Fain: No, this is New Caney. But we’re in Harris County. The Liberty County line is about a block east.

Rehak: Tell me more about the damage to the corner of your house?

Fain: We just didn’t know the extent of the damage under our house after Imelda. We were just thankful that it didn’t get in. Then all of a sudden the whole corner of the house collapsed more than a year after the storm.

One day between Christmas and New Years of 2020, I walked into the kitchen to get dog food and I saw the whole corner of the house had collapsed. I went, “Oh, my God, oh, my God, Archie! There’s something going on in the kitchen.” 

Close up of corner of the house that collapsed suddenly 15 months after Imelda.

We started pulling the flooring and floorboards away. I marked the wall and it’s gotten much worse since. We just had no idea what the extent of the damage was. 

And now it looks like the window has closed for any assistance. So we’re having to repair this essentially on our own. Insurance will cover some of it, but they’re not going to cover all of it.

Refrigerator resides in front entry hall until repairs to kitchen can be made.

Disabled and Trying to Recover With One Income

Rehak: You’re disabled now? 

Fain: Yes, I can’t work anymore.

Rehak: How has the COVID situation affected Archie’s job? 

Fain: He’s been lucky. They cut him back to forty hours. There’s no overtime, but he’s been very fortunate to keep his job through all this.

Rehak: He’s the sole breadwinner. That has to make doing all these repairs tougher.

Fain: Oh yeah! 

Rehak: Is there anything else around here, besides Colony Ridge, that may have affected flooding?

Fain: Not in our neighborhood. There are no new homes going in at all. It’s been built out for a long time.

Doesn’t Want to Move, But Can’t Afford to Fix

Rehak: If you could sell this house right now without taking too much of a loss on it, what would you do? Would you find another place in the country?

Fain: We’re so close to retirement, we don’t really want to move. But if we did, it would definitely be to a place in the country. And away from anywhere with a hurricane, tropical storm or any of that.

Rehak: Until you’ve gone through a few of them, it’s hard to imagine the destruction.

Fain: Well, I’ve been through two in five years now, Harvey and Imelda. I’d never been through one before.

Rehak: Did this place flood during Tropical Storm Allison?

Fain: No. Archie told me that he could see the trees leaning, leaning, leaning in front. And then he went to the back and he’d see them lean in the other direction. But it didn’t flood.

Rehak: What about during Ike?

Fain: Same thing. Wind, but no water near the house.

Advice to Others

Rehak: If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?

Fain: If you see development going on around you or your neighborhood … get involved. Make sure they understand they’re being watched. If they don’t do things right with their drainage, it could ruin your neighborhood and ruin your home and ruin your life.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/17/2021 based on an Interview with Rosemary Fain and Archie Savage

1237 Days since Hurricane Harvey