During the afternoon and evening of May 7, 2019, the sky opened up and streets filled up. I counted one hundred and ninety-six homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest that flooded. This was by far the largest concentration anywhere in the Kingwood area. This is the story of one home among them.
I first met Keith Stewart online. He messaged me on FaceBook the night of May 3. He was offshore. His wife was panicking. He said, “A lot of flooding for the brief period of heavy rain in Elm Grove. Was almost as bad as Harvey on my block. What’s going on?”
“Something is Wrong!”
On May 7, he messaged me again. “Didn’t flood for 3 days of Harvey. Something is wrong…something has changed.” He sent this image that his wife had sent him.
This had to terrify Keith. His family was in danger and he was unable to help. He contacted me when he got onshore and we made arrangements to meet in person.
Stewart lives at the north end of Shady Maple Drive on the corner of Creek Manor. I interviewed him to get his impressions of why he flooded and where the water came from. Neighbors’ accounts confirm physical evidence.
The Wrong-Way Flood
Even though his lot backs up to Taylor Gulley, his home did not flood from there. Instead it flooded from the front. Water rushed down the street TOWARD the gulley and its force knocked over a street-facing fence anchored in concrete.
As we talked, we stood on the east bank of Taylor Gulley looking toward the 260+ clear-cut acres to the north that comprise the soon-to-be Woodridge Village. We can see where constrictions in the flow of the gulley likely split runoff and forced it out of the creek.
No More Wetlands
Rehak: Tell me what this property to the north looked like before it was clear cut.
Stewart: All that acreage that has been clearcut… When we moved here two years ago, I bought four wheelers for me and my son. That’s where we rode four wheelers. And no matter how dry, or how much of a drought, or how hot it was in the middle of the summers, back there, you could always find water. It was low. It was always swampy and stagnant water back there.
If we wanted to get wet and a little muddy, no matter how dry it was, we could ride the four wheelers back there.
Rehak: Now when you say back there, there are two sections: the northern and southern. Are you talking about one or both?
Stewart: There were four wheeler trails on both sides: the north AND the one closest to Elm Grove. But a lot of woods were torn down and there’s no standing water back there any more. So they’ve built everything up apparently. There are no swampy areas anymore.
Flood Did Not Come from Taylor Gully
Rehak: How high did the water in this ditch get relative to the top of the bank?
Stewart: I was offshore, but pictures show that it got to the top of the bank. I was comparing it to Harvey. My neighbors who have lived here for 30 years say the water has never even gotten Taylor Gulley three-quarters full. It was three-quarters full during Harvey at its peak…after three days of solid non-stop rain. My neighbor said that Taylor Gulley has never come close to overflowing in his experience. He said, “That’s not the direction water will come from if we get it.” He said, “It will come from a different direction.”
Never Flooded Before Despite Living Next to Taylor Gulley
Rehak: Was your wife home during the May 7 flood when you were offshore?
Stewart: She was at jury duty downtown. And when she got back to Kingwood, she had to pick up my high school kid. We had two dogs and two cats in the house. She thought, “As long as I can make it home, we’ll be OK. We don’t flood here. Never have. Never will … uh … until now. During Harvey, we watched it for three days and it never got close.”
Rehak: How are the dogs and cats?
Stewart: They’re physically OK, but a little distraught. We’re looking for a place to live and it’s hard to find someone that will take four animals. We don’t want to put them in kennels.
Rehak: Where are you living now? You mentioned something about going house to house. Staying with friends?
Stewart: Family members.
Rehak: What do you see as your future here? (Note: I’m thinking 5-10 years out. His answer surprises me. He’s still in shock and dealing with the crisis moment to moment.)
Stewart: I have ten days to see what I can get done here before I have to go back to work offshore. So I have to try to get everything set up for my family before I leave. And my high school kid is going through finals right now.
Rehak: Finals! What a rough ride for him!
Stewart: He’s in ROTC and his uniform got flooded. I just took that to the cleaners. But hopefully that will get straightened out for him.
We walk toward his house from Taylor Gulley and I ask him about the furniture he has piled on his side deck. Pointing to the sinks and countertops, he says…
Stewart: We don’t know what the insurance numbers are going to be yet, so I’m keeping some damaged stuff in case we’re forced to salvage it.
Rehak: How much water did you get in the house?
Stewart: Nine inches. And the Friday rain before that … remember I messaged you and said somethings wrong … it came up higher than Harvey!
The satellite image below shows the direction of flow described by Stewart. A neighbor told him the water flowed out of River Rose Drive and down Creek Manor toward his house. He did NOT flood from an overflow of the gulley.
As we were talking, two workers from City of Houston Public Works were checking street drains for blockages. They invited us to see what they saw on their camera. Mounted on the bottom of the pole, it sent a wireless image back up to the iPad that the woman was holding. Stewart is on the left.
Crowdsourcing Some Detective Work
Stewart always thought that if he flooded, it would be from Taylor Gulley. But something changed. The flood came from the wrong direction. The same thing happened on the opposite side of the gulley. You can see Abel Vera’s home on Village Springs from Stewart’s back yard.
Vera found flood debris plastered to the inside of his fence, but none on the gulley side. Like Stewart, Vera flooded from the street.
Video on Village Springs shows water rushing out of the clearcut area to the north down the street. But I am not yet aware of comparable video or still images from North Kingwood Forest showing whether water came from the clear cut area.
Did floodwater come from BEHIND the homes on Right Way and make its way down to River Rose? Please help fill in the gaps in our collective knowledge of this event. If you have any images or video that shed light on this subject one way or the other, please contact me through this web site. I will post the material and credit you.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2019
631 Days since Hurricane Harvey