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