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Gretchen Dunlap-Smith’s Flood Experience: “You Sunk Us”

To date, most of the press coverage about the May 7th flood has focused on Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest to the south of the new Woodridge Village development. However, the flood also affected many homes in Porter to the west of it. This is an interview with Gretchen Dunlap-Smith in Porter whose home was built in 1994. It flooded for the first time – after Woodridge Village started clearcutting and grading the land next to her, and wetlands disappeared.

USGS National Wetlands Inventory shows that government classified much of the northern section of Woodridge as wetlands (dark green overlays). Porter borders Woodridge Village to the west. Smith home located in white circle.

“This Area Never Flooded”

Rehak: Has this area ever flooded before?

Dunlap-Smith: This area never flooded.

Rehak: How far back does “never” go?

Dunlap-Smith: I grew up in the Kingwood area. My parents moved here in late 1976. We had 2.5 acres off of Hueni. My brother built this house in ‘94. So I’ve known this home since its inception. I saw it being built. One house at the end of the block did get water in it, but none of the other houses ever flooded. Ever!

Rehak: What do you think caused the flooding on May 7th?

Dunlap-Smith: (Pointing to bulldozers in the distance) The construction down there. That’s the only thing that’s changed. During Harvey, there was never any fear, threat, or worry in my mind that “I’m going to have water in my home.” Ever! During Harvey, during the Tax Day flood and all the stuff before that…never any concern. This (pointing to the construction again) changed the game.

We used to ride four wheelers on that property so I know there used to be a huge detention ditch and a huge pond. There used to be a natural creek down off of the end that went up to the wood line. From what I’ve been seeing and what I’ve been told, they backfilled all that in. The wetlands disappeared.

Note dirt pushed in ditch along western edge of Woodridge Village. Homes from the north end of this development in Porter all the way down to Mace and Joseph streets flooded, including Dunlap-Smith’s home on Flower Ridge.

Ditches No Longer Drain

Dunlap-Smith: Even now, the ditches don’t drain. Our ditches drained before. They never had standing water in them. You look at the ditches now and you will see green algae and moss growing in them. We never had that before. We could mow our ditches. They were dry, because the water drained. And now it doesn’t do that. 

Rehak: Where did the water go before? 

Dunlap-Smith: It went to the end of the road and flowed out.

Rehak: And now it’s getting to the end of the road and stopping?

Where drainage from Flower Ridge in Porter joins the new Woodridge Village in Porter.
Residents say water now stands so long in altered ditches that it grows algae.

Dunlap-Smith: Right. Now it’s backing up and flooding the street.

Rehak: Were you blocked in on May 7th?

Dunlap-Smith: We got out Tuesday night when the rain receded a little bit…for like 3 hours. The water went down enough to where I felt comfortable going through it with our Nissan Altima.

Ditches Became Invisible in Flood

Rehak: These ditches are kind of…deep.  If you didn’t know they were there…!!!

Dunlap-Smith: Yeah! You could really do some damage. Or worse, drown yourself in your car.

Photo by Gretchen Dunlap-Smith from May 7 of Flower Ridge in in Porter.

Rehak: How many homes in your subdivision were affected?

Dunlap-Smith: I don’t have a count. But I know that several homes flooded on our street and other streets in the subdivision.

Rehak: How high did the water get?

Dunlap-Smith: A couple inches in our house. Deeper in others.

Rehak: How much did you lose?

Saved by the Peaches!

Dunlap-Smith: Carpet. I was able to get some furniture up onto soup cans and big jars of peaches.

I put most of our furniture up on stuff like that. Hopefully, I may be able to salvage a couple rooms of carpet. Most of my house was tiled by my brother and sister. So the only rooms that had carpet were my living room and my three bedrooms.

Swamped utility room after the flood. Photo. by Gretchen Dunlap-Smith.

Rehak: Is there any concern that the water got under the tile?

Dunlap-Smith: I talked to a couple people about that. I have two dehumidifiers that have been going non-stop since the day after the flood. Those haven’t quit. I’m dumping them constantly. 

Cleaning Up the House Without Flood Insurance

Rehak: How long did it take the water to recede? When you came back the next day was it out?

Dunlap-Smith: It was out of the streets.

Rehak: How about the house?

Dunlap-Smith: No. The house…I had to pull every bit of carpet out. It had not receded.

Rehak: Did you have to squeegee it out?

Dunlap-Smith: That carpet was a soaking wet mess! You see that shop vac behind you? That’s a wet/dry shop vac.

Gretchen Dunlap-Smith tries to save her carpet by drying it on the bed of her truck.

You know, this isn’t a flood zone. When we bought the home, we weren’t required to have flood insurance. We called our agent after the flood and he said we weren’t covered, but we could get coverage for four or five hundred dollars per year. But it wouldn’t activate for 30 days.  

“You Sunk Us”

Dunlap-Smith: My neighbor told me that they were down there digging a ditch line, trying to open up the drainage again from the damage they had done. But you’ve already damaged natural drainage. You changed and affected how the flow goes. So I don’t care what you do now. You sunk us

Rehak: Their plan shows a huge detention pond up in the northwestern corner of this land that they clearcut. And then there’s a linear ditch running inside their property all the way down to the bottom.

Where N1 detention pond and drainage ditch should have been before flood. Excavation still had not started weeks after flood. This area used to be wetlands before the developer “improved” the drainage.

Dunlap-Smith: Right. But that ditch is not there. And if you look down Ivy Ridge, every home has trash in front because every one of them flooded.

Trash pile at end of Ivy Ridge. Looking east toward new development where drainage used to go.

“They Will Never Build on that Property”

The gentleman behind us, when he bought his house, told us there was an easement on that property. He was told they would never build on that property and not to worry. And here they are (pointing to construction).

Rehak: I’ve heard that same story from a dozen different people!

Dunlap-Smith: You get told something and you take it as gospel truth. And you run with it. You don’t check. You don’t research it. You just believe it because they’ve been honest up until now. Which is unfortunate.

Rehak: Do you have any idea what the financial loss is so far?

Counting Her Blessings, Minus the PTSD

Dunlap-Smith: Not really. Honestly, I counted my blessings. It could have been a lot worse. I saw what those people in Elm Grove were hit with. And my husband lost everything in the ’94 flood, including his whole family home. He lived right behind where Reeves furniture used to be on 59. It’s an antique store now. He lived on Treasure Lane. In ’89 there was a flood. They lost everything. But then the one in ’94 really did them in.

As far as the financial? I’m grateful. I know it could have been worse. But I know there’s been a huge emotional cost. It triggered PTSD in my husband.

Rehak: How?

Praying as the Water Rose

Dunlap-Smith: My husband is 6’4”. Not a little guy. He dwarfs me. Works for the Harris County Sherriff’s office. Takes down inmates every day. He’s not a timid guy.

When water was coming in the house, he sat down with his head in his hands and had tears. And I’ve never seen him cry.

We both were under stress. Water’s coming in our house. I have our dogs in a kennel. And I realized then…oh my gosh. The dogs are standing in water inside their kennels. So I moved them up. My husband and I were both getting a little snippy, which isn’t in our nature. There we were. Standing up to our ankles in water in the middle of our living room. He grabbed my hand and I grabbed his, and it’s like, “OK, right here. Right now. We’re praying. Stop. We have to see this for what it is not. It’s not as bad as it could be. And now he’s seeing that. 

That Sour Smell

Rehak: Are you going to have to pull out wallboard and electrical?

Dunlap-Smith: I don’t think so. That’s why I said, “I’m counting my blessings.”

Rehak: Floorboards?

Dunlap-Smith: (sighs heavily). Probably. After the first three or four days, I could smell the sour. There was a heavy sour smell. Not so much mildew, but sour.

May 15th was the deadline to dispute our taxes and ours went up like $10,000. So I’m disputing them. I fired off a letter. (She begins reciting complaints in the letter.) “Are we going to be in a flood plain now?” “Are we going to require flood insurance?” We’re not a high-income neighborhood. We don’t have money to throw at that stuff.

Rehak: What kind of assistance have you gotten from Montgomery County so far?

Dunlap-Smith: Nothing. (Pause) Absolutely nothing.

Too Poor to Repair, Too Proud to Ask for Help

Rehak: What would you like to get?

Dunlap-Smith: I would like to get those sticky floor tiles at cost or at a highly discounted rate. I don’t know. I would like to get a dehumidifier because they’re not doing squat about this or taking accountability. My husband and I don’t have credit cards that we can buy things with.

We bought two dehumidifiers out of our pocket. That was nearly 500 dollars. You’re living paycheck to paycheck and you want to fix your house back. My Aunt told me to call Red Cross. But I’m not going to take money out of somebody’s hands that I can see needs it more than I do.  I’m not going to do that.

Wants Developer to Restore Drainage

Rehak: Let me rephrase the question. In regard to your development, what would you like to see Montgomery County and the developer do?

Dunlap-Smith: For starters, come in and dig out the ditches. Maybe lower the streets to create more capacity for the water before it gets into our homes.

Rehak: And in regard to that new development going in over there?

Dunlap-Smith: I would love to see the County force the developer to create a true, correct drainage ditch.

Rehak: Do you think the county is even aware that you flooded?

Dunlap-Smith: No. They sent out a message on Twitter saying, “Contact us if you had any flooding.” I don’t think they have any clue. 

We had water backing up and leaking from our toilet. Our tub was filling up with this noxious looking water and a septic smell. It was brown. 

No, I don’t think the county knows that it happened in a place that it’s never happened before. The developer says they aren’t the culprit. But they changed the drainage. And they’ve gone too far to turn back.

Rehak: You can’t put back nature the way it was.

Dunlap-Smith: Agreed. I wish the county could force them to create drainage. This flooding will happen again if things stay as they are.

Reluctant to Water Plants

Rehak: How do you feel about your future here?

Note: As with other flood victims I have interviewed, curiously, Ms. Dunlap-Smith thinks in terms of tomorrow, not next year.

Dunlap-Smith: We have a little joke here. Every time I water my plants, it rains. For some people it’s washing their cars. But I told my husband this morning that, “I’m afraid to water my plants.” So … if that tells you anything.  (Laughing) I’d rather let the plants die.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/31/2019

640 Days since Hurricane Harvey