Three generations of the Giles family live together under the same roof in Elm Grove. Jerry Happ, Catrina Giles father, and Evonne Happ, plus Catrina’s children CJ, Dallas and Maverick. They had never flooded, not even in Harvey, until Perry Homes clear-cut 268 acres a block north of them without installing promised detention ponds. Then on May 7th and September 19th of 2019, they flooded twice. This is the story of how those floods affected a family and tore a neighborhood apart. As I drive up to their home on Shady Garden Drive for the interview, the first thing I noticed is that the foundation of their home is raised well above street level. In fact, it appears to be level with the top of my Chevy Tahoe. This is not an isolated case of a low-lying home.
Water Flows Down Street from Direction of Woodridge Village
Rehak: You said you wanted to make sure that Perry Homes knew about the damage that they inflicted on your community. Tell me what happened on May 7. Let’s start there. Where was the water coming from?
CJ (Catrina’s Oldest Son): It started off in the garage and my grandparents’ bedroom, which are on the north side of the house. Then it came in the back door and under the kitchen cabinets. And then it was just everywhere.
Rehak: It came in from the north? (The direction of Perry Homes’ development)
Rehak: How high did it eventually get?
C. Giles: (Pointing to an electrical plug) Just under the outlets.
Gasoline, Paint, Paint Thinner Mixed with Floodwaters
Rehak: Tell me about the damage it caused.
CJ: We had a lot of personal items in boxes in the garage. It completely destroyed everything under two feet. All our tools got really messed up. There were a lot of things floating around in the garage. Paint. Gasoline. Paint thinner was mixed in with the water. So, it was a pretty big mess.
J. Happ: It came in, like CJ said, from the north. We had a bedroom set downstairs here…
E. Happ: My sister gave it to us before she passed away. Now it’s gone.
Current Felt Inside the House
J. Happ: The water was so powerful! The pressure of the water was so intense that it caused boxes underneath the bed to move around.
E. Happ: It broke my grandmother’s dishes that we stored under there!
CJ: We had an entire tote filled with family pictures. The lid popped off from hitting the sides so hard. The pictures are all gone now.
Family Heirlooms Destroyed
Rehak: You talked about your grandmother’s china. How old would that have been?
E. Happ: I’m 62. (pausing to calculate then giving up) It was old. They don’t make that kind of crystal anymore.
J. Happ: It was very old. Maybe late 1800’s.
E. Happ: And my bedroom furniture. I mean, no amount of money could ever replace that.
J. Happ: So, it was very devastating. A lot of personal items were in that room, and in the garage being stored at the time. They’re all gone now.
Rehak: I’m curious. You say the water pressure moved things around. It almost sounds like there was a current.
J. Happ: Oh, absolutely. Yes.
C. Giles: Everything in the lower cabinets was all destroyed.
It wasn’t, you know, water just coming in and oozing up. There was a current. Stuff was moving, even inside the cabinets.Catrina Giles
Swing Set Picked Up by Flood and Moved
E. Happ: See that swing set back there by the big tree? The current picked it up and moved it against the shed.
J. Happ: When that water started coming in, we did the best we could. But we couldn’t move things fast enough. All of the furniture and appliances downstairs got damaged and had to be thrown out.
Refuse to Evacuate to Save Seven Animals
C. Giles: They asked us if we wanted to evacuate. Thank God we had the upstairs. Because they would only allow us to take one animal. And at the time we had seven.
We all have post traumatic stress now.Evonne Happ
C. Giles: Yeah, It even affected our animals. They all lost weight. And two of them have died. One died shortly after the first flood from a snake bite. And the other just died from the stress. She had undergone her annual checkup, but her body just gave up at Christmas. We had to put her to sleep.
E. Happ: My dog’s scared to go out when it’s raining, even on the front porch. He used to sit on the front porch all the time with me. He won’t do it now if it’s raining, even if it’s just drizzling. He hides under the table. He’s scared of the rain because he KNOWS we’ll flood again. We. Could. Not. Control. Anything. And we got double the water the second time.
Second Flood Twice as Worse as First
J. Happ: Twenty-seven inches in the garage.
Rehak: You got about a foot of water in the May flood and double that in the second?
CJ: Twenty-two inches IN the house.
Rehak: Tell me about life BETWEEN the two floods.
C. Giles: It was very stressful because my husband was working in Pittsburgh for the first flood and Finland for the second. We are just trying to manage. Although we did have insurance for the house, we didn’t have it for the contents.
CJ: And we’re one of the few here with flood insurance to begin with.
“Just Not Comfortable Living Here Anymore”
C. Giles: Eventually we are going to hopefully try to sell. We’re just not comfortable living here anymore.
Rehak: And you had to pull out tile, cabinets?
J. Happ: Yes. We had to get two new sets of the cabinets, appliances, furniture, everythng. We were still paying on the first ones that were in the trash. When “Oh my God.” Yeah. “The second ones are apparently flooding.”
Effects on Family
Rehak: How did the rebuild affect you as a family?
J. Happ: We all lived upstairs in cramped quarters for the better part of a year. All our appliances were gone. We had no way to cook. So, we either had to eat out or bring it in.
We struggled as a family. It was a real hardship.Jerry Happ, Catrina Giles father
All day long you have to listen to them hammer and saw. We had to go through all kinds of inspections for mildew. And before we could even get that, we had to get the driers, dehumidifiers and fans in here. We had that loud noise for, well, a month, before we could finally shut them down. There were a lot of different things going on at the time that caused a lot of real hardship.
C. Giles: That said, we basically have a brand-new home. We even have a new roof.
Rehak: How did the roof get involved?
C. Giles: In May, we had hail damage.
Rehak: Was Imelda just a repeat in September? Were you all still living upstairs and going through all the noise, construction and havoc?
Group: Yeah. Uh-huh.
Finished First Rebuild Two Weeks Before Second Flood
C. Giles: We had just finished our rebuild two weeks before Imelda.
Rehak: And you’re done now with the second rebuild?
C. Giles: We have the windows and doors that need to be replaced. The front door and the sliding glass doors must be taken out. And these windows, because the muddy water came through them.
Rehak: You’re considering selling the house?
Impact of Floods on Neighborhood
C. Giles: We know it’s NOT going to be a fast turnaround. Realtors said that we have to have several big storms and NOT flood for people to have confidence that this is going to be a safe neighborhood again. Meanwhile, the majority of our neighbors have already left.
Rehak: How many people on the block?
C. Giles: On our corner, we’ve lost all four families. It’s like a ghost town here. In the cul de sac, they’re all gone, too.
E. Happ: At least 20 families here are gone. I sit on the porch all day because I smoke, so I see things and keep count.
Rehak: How far down the block did homes flood?
C. Giles: On our street, only two or three houses didn’t get affected by the first flood, but everybody got affected in the second. It was more…devastating.
Home Values Under Water
J. Happ: The house across the street, around the corner, they finished remodeling the whole inside just before the May flood. And they were getting ready to sell it. The day before the flood, their realtor was going to put up a sign, but he decided to hold off. Then we had the flood. Well, they had the house up for $220,000. They only sold it for $115,000. They lost $100,000.
E. Happ: People in here had to just walk away from their homes.
Group: Yeah. Yes.
E. Happ: Houses are still sitting there.
CJ: There’s a house…they never gutted it from the first flood. They just up and left.
Rehak: How is that affecting you? Are there squatters or animals moving in?
C. Giles: Well, crime has picked up. We have all kinds of homes being broken into now. I mean, people are still living in campers and stuff and their houses are getting broken into. It’s just sad.
E. Happ: Contractors have left their vehicles in the neighborhood overnight. They’ve got broken into and all their equipment stolen. Luckily, that has not happened to our contractors.
C. Giles: The thieves don’t realize or care that people still live here. They think we’re all gone.
Rehak: Where do you go from here?
Post Traumatic Stress and Spinning in Circles
C. Giles: We are just taking it one day at a time and finally finding some normalcy. But then, the other night when it rained, I just sat there, you know, praying, “Please watch over my house.” Even my little autistic one, Maverick, who drew the picture of the house crying, could not go to sleep till like midnight.
CJ: None of us sleep.
E. Happ: Maverick was so nervous. All he could do when he came in the house was spin in circles.
That’s how Maverick dealt with the house being all topsy-turvy. He’d just spin in circles.Evonne Happ
C. Giles: It would be hard to move now. People are losing money on their houses and we’re just not in a place where we can afford that. So, we’re just trying to hang in there.
E. Happ: We’ve been living here for the past five years. We’re gonna be leaving in the summertime, probably by August. I’ll go back to South Carolina. I can deal with those damn hurricanes; you can get out of their way. This! It just happened so fast. Each time.
Rehak (to Catrina): What does your husband do?
C. Giles: He’s a quality manager working on a large project in Finland now.
Rehak: So, you’re restoring all this by yourself without your husband’s help?
C. Giles: He helped coordinate the insurance, inspections and contractors, but for the rip-out and rebuilding of our home…he hasn’t been able to be a part of that because of his work.
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
Rehak: What do you feel about Perry Homes at this point?
C. Giles: Well…there’s anger. They just really need to be held accountable for what happened.
J. Happ: These houses were built more than 35 years ago. They’ve gone through hurricanes. You know, large rainstorms, whatever. NEVER been flooded. All of this happened since they started building that development.
C. Giles: Right. Our street flooded during Harvey. But the water never came up in the yard even. Perry just needs to know that they not only affected adults. They affected animals. They affected children.
Some children have a Ziploc bag of their clothes right beside their bed. That’s so if they flood again, they have a change of clothes.Catrina Giles
Rehak: If you had Kathy Perry Britton sitting right here across the table from you, what would you say to her?
C. Giles: Well. (long pause) I’d be nice. Two wrongs don’t make a right. So, we would pray for her and hope that she made the right decision and fixed that (pointing to development). Because too many people have been affected by this. Our community has been tarnished.