Tag Archive for: impact

$50 Million Rebuild After Harvey Makes Fifth Largest Country Club in America Better Than Ever

I recently had the honor of interviewing Blake Roberts, general manager of the Clubs of Kingwood. Roberts took the job just five days before Hurricane Harvey and has led the Clubs’ remarkable comeback. From golf courses buried under as much as eight feet of sand to the clubhouse that took on six feet of water, Roberts and his team resurrected an operation that many would have written off. They turned it into a shining centerpiece and selling point for the entire Kingwood community…even as they fed members whose homes had been destroyed.

Rehak: When you combine Deerwood and Kingwood, this must rank as one of the larger clubs in the country. Is it in the Top 10?

Roberts: It’s actually #5 now.

Rehak: What happened during Harvey?

Roberts: We ended up with almost 18 feet of water across the entire golf course. We also had sand. Some areas had just a few inches but others had up to eight feet.

Rehak: Amazing. 

Buried in Sand

Roberts: The big issue we had was, “What do you do with all the sand?” And, “How do you turn it back into a golf course and make it better than ever. We have a phenomenal maintenance group. They redid three out of the five holes near the river that had the most silt on them. They re-contoured them to actually use the silt and sand dumped by Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey deposited several feet of sand on Kingwood Country Club’s golf courses near the river. This shot was taken on 9/14/2017. You can see crews already re-contouring one of the holes.

Rehak: You couldn’t just push it back into the river.

Roberts:  Correct. We spread it out over other parts of the golf course and used that as padding for the soil that was already out there. We came in with backhoes and started moving the dirt and trying to smooth it all out. Then we put sod right back over the top of it.

Downed trees, of course, made some of the bigger differences. When people play the courses today, they say, “I don’t remember this hole being this way.” That’s because you used to have a tree here and a tree there. But that was part of the contouring that went along with it to make it flow and drain for playing golf again.

Eaglet in nest on Kingwood Country Club Island Course. Photo courtesy of Emily Murphy. Eagles returned after the flood.

One of the biggest concerns for the members was our eagles’ nests. We’re happy to say they’re safe and sound and we have a huge Facebook following of the baby eagles that hatched this year!

18 Feet of Water On Courses, 6 in Clubhouse

Rehak: You said you had 18 feet of water on the course. How much was in the clubhouse?

Roberts: Almost six feet.

Rehak: What did reconstruction entail?

Newly redecorated reception area at the Kingwood Country Club

Roberts: We took out everything. Took out ceiling tiles. We took out all the way up because the mold started growing so quickly. We took everything down to the studs and bricks, and tossed out anything that could hold moisture.

Rehak: You lost some other facilities here, too. Tell me about those.

Roberts: We lost the fitness center. That ended up with about twenty eight inches of water in it. Of course the pools and everything else. We lost all of our pump houses. We lost our maintenance building. We lost the Forest Course which has the Golf Advantage School and the driving range.

Deerwood Completely Updated

Rehak: And what about Deerwood?

Roberts: We lost the Deerwood Club House and maintenance building. Deerwood ended up with about 34 inches. The water wicked up through the walls. With the building being a little bit older and not having as many updates, we went back in and changed it completely.

Roberts: How?

Roberts: It now has a restaurant where their golf shop used to be. And then we redid the men’s locker room. We redid the dining area. We put in a new bar area, new wet areas, new showers, new everything. Members tell me it’s the best thing that we could have ever done.

Improvements to Other Facilities at Kingwood

Rehak: What about your Lazy River and pool at the Kingwood Club? How did those fare in the flood?

Roberts: Not well. All of the equipment – from the umbrellas to the chairs to the tables – was pushed around in the flood. They damaged  the interior of the pools. So we drained all the water, completely power washed everything, re- plastered and started all over from the very beginning.

We even rebuilt all the cabanas because the cabanas had metal poles. There was a concern that if they sat in water with level four contaminants and you didn’t get everything, what happens when somebody touches it and then touches food?

We had the same concerns with fitness equipment. Some of it was above water, but we worried about microbial growth. So we took everything out. All the way down the concrete slab which they bleached the tar out of. Then we started over with brand new equipment.

Rehak: Incredible.

Newly renovated Lakeside Terrace where members dined during reconstruction. It had been flooded to the roofline.

Roberts: The Lakeside Terrace flooded all the way up to the roofline because of where it sits. So they took it all the way down to the studs and the glass walls. We power washed and bleached it. Just started all over again, replaced the roof, replaced the ceiling, replaced the insulation. It’s beautiful. More beautiful than it was before. Absolutely. Members actually dined out there for a little more than a year. Our “kitchen” was a 38-foot trailer for 15 months.

Giving Back to Community in Its Darkest Hour

Rehak: That raises an interesting question. How did you keep your staff focused through all this?

Roberts: The team actually bonded together, much like the community as a whole. We took more than 25,000 sandwiches and wraps to homeowners around the community right after Harvey. All of our clubs in the area sent food our way. We dispersed it throughout the entire community. That’s incredible. As soon as we could get a food truck here, we actually fed all of our members from the food truck. From the 8th of September all the way through the 8th of December. Every single day, members could come up and dine for free.

When the staff wasn’t working here, folks went into neighborhoods and helped random people moving  stuff out of their homes or ripping sheetrock out. There were so many random acts of kindness!

Rehak: That’s quite amazing.

Roberts: And the employees all bound together. They had a plan. Our goal was to get these golf courses back and a dining space before the end of the year, which we accomplished. Golf courses finished up on December 26, with the last trucks of sand going into the bunkers. And we had the Lakeside Terrace for members to dine. And April 9th, 2018, we opened up the fitness center. And then the pools opened on Memorial Day weekend that year like they were always scheduled to do. 

Membership Back Up But Still Room For Growth

Rehak: And how did the membership levels fare through all this. Did you take a hit?

Members teeing up on the driving range and working on the putting green.

Roberts: Oh yes. And we anticipated that would happen. We had more than 300 members whose homes flooded. So we allowed them to go to a “Hold” Category while they rebuilt their homes. They had plenty of time to complete fixes before coming back to full membership. 

$50 Million Investment In Community

Roberts: How much did it cost to restore all this?

We’re over $50 million currently. That includes Deerwood and Kingwood Clubs. It also includes a large fleet of golf carts and maintenance equipment that nobody really ever thinks about. But those carts aren’t cheap and neither are those big tractors that mow.

Ironically, we had taken precautions with all that equipment before the flood. We moved everything to the parking lot because the parking lot had never flooded before.

Rehak: So fifty million dollars! That’s a huge commitment. Was that a hard sell to your corporate office?

Roberts: Not really. They came back and said, “You know what? This has always been the heart of Kingwood. This is the heart of the community and we want to get it back to being bigger and better than ever.”

Part of the Kingwood Country Clubs gorgeous Lake Course

Manager Started Job 5 Days Before Harvey…and Stayed

Rehak: You started this job not long before Hurricane Harvey.

Roberts: Five days. When I tell people that, everyone asks, “Why did you stay?” I saw it as an opportunity. Can you imagine putting this on your resume? A 50 million dollar rebuild project on top of managing 90 holes of golf, a fitness center, tennis and all the other.

Rehak: It’s gorgeous. It looks like you’ve completely redesigned the clubhouse.

Roberts: Not completely redesigned, but completely refreshed. We kept most of the walls in the same spots, but the ones that we needed to move, we did. The new board room is an example.

Rehak: What did you do and how did you make it different?

Roberts: Well, we had a storage room behind the board room. We removed that wall and gained six extra feet. So we were able to put a very large table in there and make it the boardroom that it always should have been.

“We’re Still Discovering Little Things”

With other changes like that, we soft-opened this building (Kingwood CC clubhouse) in February, 2019. And we’re still considering ourselves under soft opening because we’re still discovering things.

Rehak: For instance?

Roberts: Little things. You originally go into re-building thinking, “I have all this covered.” And then you’re like, “I don’t have all this.” For instance, I’m still waiting on my coffee credenza to where I have member coffee available all of the time. It’s just little things like that. We built the building back and we’re  ninety-eight percent of the way…complete.

Rehak: Are you going to have an official grand reopening?

18th Hole of Kingwood Country Club’s Island Course.

Official Grand Re-Opening Coming Soon

Roberts: We ARE. But there are three projects we’re still trying to complete. The member porte-cochère entrance by the golf shop, the back patio, and our private-event entrance. Then we will consider the rebuild complete.

Rehak: Would you call this the opportunity to rebuild the club your dreams? It really does look pretty spectacular here.

Roberts: Yes, we were able to put all the little things back together that we wished for over the years, but never were able to do.

Rehak: Do any stories from the flood or the recovery really stand out in your mind? 

Roberts: 25,000+ sandwiches. Feeding members for months. Long days. Some of our crews did this by day. And by night, they were actually going to people’s houses and helping them rip out sheet rock and drywall and everything else. I was amazed to hear how many people were doing this and you know some of them are 50-60 years old.

Rehak: Is the membership level back up to where it was or it needs to be?

Roberts: We’re close. Very close to being back where we were before Harvey. But two other floods in 2015 and 2016 hurt us as well. So we still have room to grow.

Outside of newly renovated dining room.

Rehak: How are the courses? Are there spots you don’t want to hit your ball into?

Getting Even Better Every Single Day

Roberts: Not really. The best part about this was the golf courses getting that extra sand. I have people who have been members for 40 years saying, “This place is better than the day it was built.” It makes me smile knowing how far we’ve come.

Rehak: Did you have to replant the greens?

Roberts: All the greens survived except two. And we redid those with the three fairways. But if you didn’t know exactly where to look, you probably couldn’t tell. 

Rehak: If you had one thing to tell potential new members right now, what would it be?

Roberts: We’re back and better than ever. And we’re getting even better every single day. If you haven’t seen us lately, you probably should take a look again. Because you know what? What people may remember is completely different now. 

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 7, 2019

708 Days from Hurricane Harvey

After Eighth Flood in Five Years, Forest Cove Townhome Renter Forced Out and Burned Out

Before Harvey, Jennifer Parks lived in the Forest Cove Townhomes with her husband, four kids and cat. They absolutely loved the river lifestyle and the friendships they built with neighbors. Harvey was the eighth of seven floods in five years. It destroyed their 4-story townhome, a close knit community and a life they loved despite the trouble. This is a story about how a flood changed the trajectory of six people’s lives forever. It’s the latest in a series of Impact stories.

2019 Fire Brings Back Memories of 2016

Rehak: You lived in the complex on Timberline at Marina Drive that burned on July 4th this year?

Parks: Yes. We were the four-story unit at the end, two doors down from where there was another fire in 2016.

Rehak: How many fires have there been there this year?

Parks: Three. Two during the week of July 4th and one earlier over by the pool. 

Rehak: The fire department came out in force for this one. They had 10 fire trucks plus two ambulances. It was impressive.

Ten fire trucks were called out to battle the blaze in Parks’ townhome complex on July 4.

Parks: When we had the fire back in 2016 there were 32 fire trucks. The whole street was lined all the way. On both sides. Every truck in Kingwood, plus Porter and Atascocita came in. It was craziness but people lived there, then. So lives were at stake. Now, the townhomes are abandoned.

“We Always Flooded on My Husband’s Birthday”

Rehak: How long did you live there?

Parks: Five years. We moved in at the end of March, 2013. We had our first flood on Memorial Day. My husband’s birthday was Memorial Day and we always flooded on his birthday.

Rehak: (Laughs)

Parks: Yeah (also laughing sarcastically) it was nice. At first, we would flood from the streets when the storm drains backed up.  The first time I ever saw the river come over the bank was Memorial Day of 2016. It filled the area up like a bowl. People would drive around to look at it and splash water into our garage. It ruined everything we had on the floor.

Eight Floods in Five Years

Parks: We had a total of eight floods including Harvey in the five years we lived there.

Rehak: (Incredulous) Eight floods in five years!

Parks: Yeah. We had to move our vehicles and water got into the first story. Usually it would just splash in, but for the Tax Day flooding, we had three feet of water. That was the first time we left our house in a canoe. Then that Memorial Day we had eight feet. That was the second time we left in a canoe. Then there was Harvey. We had 20 feet.

Rehak: How many?

Parks: 20 feet is what FEMA measured.

Parks’ second story living room went under water during Harvey. FEMA says water reached 20 feet.

Rehak: Oh geez!

Parks: It went over my TV in the second story. 

Man Cave on First Floor

Rehak: Were those apartments vacant on the ground floor?

Parks: They were all built with the garage on the first. We have a big truck that did not fit in there. So we had a bar, darts and lights. Ours was decked out. It was more of a man cave than a garage. We never managed to get a lava lamp. But it was pretty cool. We were the neighborhood hang-out. We were always told that we were the welcoming committee.

As Harvey’s floodwaters receded, Parks’ husband took this picture from a canoe while returning to save the family cat.

The kids would be playing board games in the front. They had a TV, a table, a microwave and a refrigerator. It was like a snack hangout area. People would walk by, see us out there, and be like, “Hey, how you doin’!” That’s how we’d meet all the new neighbors. We were just in a friend’s wedding who we met that way. He went by one day to get the mail at stopped in to say hi. It was a very tight knit neighborhood to say the least.

Structural damage made townhomes unlivable. City condemned them all shortly after the flood.

Sense of Community Lost

Rehak: What brought you together? 

Parks:  Just living close to each other. Plus, the backyards were large. The driveways were very long. And then there was a big beautiful field. We have four kids. So our kids were always back there playing and we were outside. We did a lot of landscaping and gardening and we helped other neighbors. I think just being outside all the time was a large part of it because it was such a beautiful area to be outside.

Collapsed first floor game room where kids and neighbors once gathered.

Rehak: It’s easy to see why you miss it.

Parks: That’s how we made friends. And then there was the canoe.

Rehak: Canoe?

Parks: A neighbor with a canoe kept rescuing my children. Needless to say, we became very close with him. His name is Bob. 

And then there was all the bonding during cleanups. After the bigger floods, the sand deposits were crazy. It got in your house. So there was a lot of pressure washing and a lot of cleaning.

The first story had Blowout walls. They are intended to blow out with a flood.

Repairs and Clean Up Brought People Together

Rehak: So you had to rebuild those.

Parks: Yes. The structural walls with cement and cinder blocks … there was a lot of rebuilding those, too, and sand removal and pressure washing. The whole neighborhood just kind of came together. We would go from one drive to the next. Someone would be shoveling sand out of one. Someone would be pressure washing the next. I think that brought us really close together. We helped each other out. Then the Memorial Day flood happened and it was like ten times worse.

We had the Red Cross truck here three times a day with food. It was amazing. My kids joked, “Heyyyyy! We’re getting snacks from the Red Cross today!”

Rehak: Red Cross Cuisine!

Some of the sand deposited by Harvey in front of Parks’ Townhome.

Parks: Yes. And you know, it wasn’t bad…considering you work all day, and then you come home and you’re going to pressure wash or shovel sand. Because with sand come roaches and to try to keep the roaches out of everybody’s house, we’re trying to move the sand as quickly as possible.

Rehak: I hadn’t even thought about that.

Parks: It was disgusting. You would shovel it to scoop up sand and roaches would just scurry. And we never had roaches before the Memorial Day flood. Never! It was baaaad.

Why They Stayed Despite Flooding

Rehak: If you flooded eight times in five years, why did you stay?”

Parks: The first few weren’t that bad. Then the next two were big and really rough. We contemplated what we were going to do. One big argument for staying put was that our kids went to Foster Elementary school. It was and is an amazing school. And we didn’t want to pull our kids out. Another big factor was finding another rental in the area that was within our $1400 budget. That was just not happening unless it was an apartment. And we really didn’t want to do an apartment. Finally, there was also the beauty. Every time we felt we couldn’t go through another flood, we’d take a look at how beautiful it is here. We’d say, “It’s worth it to stay. And we have our community here.” So we stayed.

“You Know We’re Not Coming Back This Time, Right Bubba?”

I have a video of my husband and Bob in a canoe. As Harvey was receding, they went back and got our cat. In the video, it’s like the most heart wrenching thing you will ever hear. Bob says to my husband, “You know we’re not coming back here this time, right Bubba?”

Every single time I watch that video it brings me to tears because it tells you how much that place meant to all of us. My husband and I actually got married there. It’ll be four years in October. We got married right on the river bank. We had party tents in our driveway and we had a big wedding. It meant so much to us.

I get a little defensive when people say, “Oh, you lived in the crackhead apartments? No, it was not crackhead apartments in any way, shape, or form! Sorry if I get a little defensive. 

Parks surveys the gang graffiti where her children once played.

Too Heartbreaking To Go Home Again

Rehak: When you go down to your old neighborhood today, what does it make you feel?

Parks: I don’t go down there. I can’t. It’s heartbreaking. It’s disgusting. It amazes me how in two years … how it got so bad. A friend who is a police officer was down there after the last fire. He took pictures and there’s graffiti all over my beautiful garage. Like disgusting graffiti. And it’s…it’s gang graffiti. It’s absolutely gang graffiti. There are gangs living in my beautiful home. 

As Parks gave me a tour of her former property, she discovered this looseleaf notebook that looters had thrown from her kitchen. It contained a lifetime of recipes. She tried to salvage her family cookbook.

Our house was completely redone after the 2016 fire. All the walls. All new appliances. Everything was brand new. Flooring and carpeting. It was beautiful. So that’s the other thing people don’t know because they hadn’t been inside the townhomes. A lot of them were gorgeous. 

Rehak: Did your kids end up in a different school? 

Learning Firsthand What It Means to Be Homeless

Parks: We actually were able to stay. Because our status was “homeless,” which is always interesting, our daughter was able to stay for fourth grade at Foster without any question. That was fantastic. But then for the fifth grade we would have had to transfer. Her guidance counselor told me to note, “mental stability of the child at stake due a natural disaster.” And so she got to stay for fifth grade and finish up at Foster.

Rehak: Tell me about the homeless aspect for a second. What did that mean in practical terms? 

Parks: We were fortunate. I’m involved in Cub and Boy Scouts. One of my Cub Scout friends, she actually lived here her whole life. She knew that in the ’94 floods, a couple of the townhomes collapsed. So after Harvey she was, “Get out, get out, get out, right now.” She said, “Come stay with me.” I only knew the family for two years from Monday night Scout meetings. But we ended up living with them for months while we bought our current house. 

We were actually renting the townhome in Forest Cove, but wound up having to buy a house because we were “homeless.” It took time. While we were looking, we were considered “displaced due to natural disaster.” They condemned the townhomes pretty quickly. We couldn’t even think about going back because of structural damage. What else?

School Restores Sense of Normalcy for Kids

Parks: So the kids got free lunch at school. 

Foster Elementary was one of the highest impacted elementary schools between teachers and students because of where it is and because it services Forest Cove. 

Many of the teachers were impacted, too, and the school did amazing things, incredible things really … like blankets were donated to the kids. Something so simple. But my daughter didn’t have the blanket that she grew up with anymore. So you know having a new blanket was something really special. 

They gave all the kids year books that year. 

When the book fair came around, they gave the kids gift certificates.  

They were just a lot of little things that happened even after we bought our house. 

We moved in the day before Thanksgiving so we were pretty quick. Others were displaced for so much longer and still are. We were fortunate that we had friends and family that helped financially. We were able to furnish our new home. We have all this stuff and a beautiful house. But getting there was not fun.

Friends Now Farther But Not Forgotten

Rehak: I certainly understand that. What has happened to your old circle of friends? Are you still in touch?

Parks: We are. Except for one who moved pretty far away … out to Crosby. We see Bob at least on a weekly basis. That was a hard transition from seeing him every day to now only once a week or so. He bought a house in Porter. His daughter … I see her at least two or three times a week still.

And Jane and Rob. It’s gone from seeing them every day to once a month now.

Rehak: On balance, are you happier now?

Learning to Live with Moderate Neighborhood-Ness

Parks: I don’t know if you can compare. Everything in our lives is pre-Harvey or post-Harvey. Which kind of sucks. I would say that the happiness is different because we’ve made friends with our neighbors in Woodland Hills. We just don’t see as many people as often. But we still have moderate “neighborhood-ness.” I would say we’re equally happy.

I can tell you that the six to twelve months after Harvey was very, very difficult. Probably the most trying time in my life and my husband’s. And my kids! My kids were thoroughly traumatized, to say the least.

Rehak: Your lives were turned upside down.

Parks: It’s hard when the kids say, “Hey Mom, do you have X? And I have to say, “I’m sorry. No, we won’t have that anymore.” 

The tree under which Parks got married with all their neighborhood friends. San Jacinto West Fork and US59 Bridge are in the background.

It’s little stuff like my daughter’s Build-a-Bear. And all their school supplies that were sitting on our kitchen table. We had to get new school supplies all over again; I had just bought them the week before Harvey. That was fun. (Rolling eyes.)

Rehak: Not easy on a young family’s salary.

Husband Forced into New Job That Takes Him Farther from Family

Parks: And my husband did private construction. All of his tools were in our living room. Before Harvey, we moved them up from the garage so they wouldn’t get flooded or stolen. Then our living room flooded. We didn’t just lose our house. My husband lost his job, too, because we couldn’t just go out and replace thousands of dollars in tools. So he ended up going back to the oil fields and travelling. It’s not so bad on me, but…it’s hard on the kids.

Rehak: When you saw those townhomes burn, did you still have an emotional attachment to them? 

July 4 Fire Triggered PTSD

Parks: I’m so ready for them to just be gone. I don’t even care how they go. I’m tired of the community badmouthing them; they were not bad places. But at the same time there’s some PTSD. Because of the 2016 fire, all that trauma comes back really fast when we see fire. 

We had so much fun there for so many years. Ironically, we had a big fire pit out front and we would burn whatever was laying around. It was right on the river. We had crawfish boils over there and now we’re like, “Oh my gosh! This place is gone.” In a not-so-comfortable way.

Parks: Adding insult to injury?

Parks: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. “Insult to injury.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 30, 2019

699 Days after Hurricane Harvey

How Harvey Affected Houstonians Physically and Mentally

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, more than 10,000 rescue missions were conducted, $125 billion worth of damage was reported, and more 700,000 residents registered for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. The storm caused so much property damage, that the damage to people’s health has largely been overlooked. Documenting that damage has been the goal of the Hurricane Harvey Registry and Rice University in collaboration with many local government, environmental and health care leaders.

Key Findings of Hurricane Harvey Registry

Their first report issued in February, 2019, reflects the input of almost 10,000 respondents. Among this self-selected sample:

  • 44% experienced flooded homes
  • 55% had damaged homes
  • 34% had vehicle damage
  • 43% lost electricity
  • 41% lost income

Almost half lost the use of their homes for 20 weeks. Sixty-five percent had to live among piles of trash for seven weeks; that’s the average time it took to clear piles.

People who experienced flooding were at risk for exposure to sewage, toxic chemicals, and other hazardous substances. Lack of knowledge, proper cleaning materials, and protective gear increased health risk. Exposure to mold, bacteria and toxins have been linked to new and worsening respiratory conditions.

Most Common Physical Maladies

Among the physical symptoms people showed:

  • 50% complained of runny noses
  • 26% experienced headaches or migraines
  • 23% had problems concentrating
  • 20% had shortness of breath
  • 10% experienced skin rash.

People who lived in homes during cleanup reported much higher incidences of these problems than those who lived with relatives or somewhere else.

From page 9 of the Hurricane Harvey Registry Report. Share your Harvey experience at HarveyRegistry.rice.edu.

Psychological Aspects Revealed by Hurricane Harvey Registry

Property loss and damage correlate highly with poor mental health among hurricane survivors. Unemployment, physical illness or injury, and housing insecurity related to hurricanes have also been linked to mental health problems.

  • 37% of respondents reported difficulty sleeping “sometimes or always”
  • 33% reported feeling “numb” sometimes or always
  • 30% reported dreaming about the flood sometimes or always

The report explores many other psychological dimensions of the aftermath.

Interestingly, psychological reactions to natural disasters occur in waves of emotional highs and lows. They take place well beyond the event’s anniversary and reveal an inability to put the storm behind them.

Difficulty of Putting Past Behind

Compared to those who didn’t flood, people who DID flood were almost THREE times more likely to say they OFTEN:

  • “..tried not to think about it.”
  • …”had waves of strong feelings about it.”
  • “…thought about it when I didn’t mean to.” Or…
  • “Other things kept making me think about it.”

They were FIVE times more likely to say that they were aware that “I still had a lot of feelings about it, but I didn’t deal with them.”

Unmet Needs Revealed by Study

Researchers hope their work will help the region better understand and identify gaps in air quality regulations and help devise better intervention efforts aimed at addressing asthma within the state.

They also note that mental health services remain a significant need for the entire region. “Oftentimes, in the aftermath of traumatic stress,” they say, “it can take months for mental health conditions to manifest.”

Long-term displacement, financial challenges, and adverse health effects all contribute to anxiety, stress, persistent headaches, and other mental health related symptoms.

The researchers request that if you have not registered already, please make sure to visit HarveyRegistry.rice.edu. If you have friends, family, or neighbors in the region who have not registered, please make sure to share the link with them.

To view the full list of more than 50 researchers and sponsors who contributed to the Hurricane Harvey Registry project, download the full report.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 2, 2019

581 Days since Hurricane Harvey

John Rocco’s Harvey Experience: Death and Destruction in the X-Zone

John Rocco lives in Kingwood Greens where 225 out of 225 homes flooded according to statistics compiled by the Kingwood Service Association. John is a man of few words. He let these images tell the story for him and sketched out a few details (see below). All images were taken after he was able to re-enter his home. I can only imagine his horror. It looks like his whole home was shaken, not stirred. But the home wasn’t the real tragedy.

John Rocco #1
An inch of mud and flood damage up to the door knob.
John Rocco #2
Fine layers of silt cover everything.
John Rocco #3
Large screen TV flipped off its stand
John Rocco #4
Fridge on the fritz
John Rocco #6
Kitchen needs aide!
John Rocco #7
What 240,000 CFS can do to your home
John Rocco #8
His life was turned upside down.
John Rocco #10
Buried treasures.
John Rocco #11
Room no longer fit for living
John Rocco #12
Uncalm after the storm
John Rocco #13
Come right in and sit awhile!

Death and Destruction in the X-Zone

Said Rocco,  “I’m supposedly not in a flood plain (Zone X) and I did the research on the build up of the Greens area after the 1994 flood before buying here in 2015. My house was built in 2005. Before moving here, I lived on Scenic Shore in Kings Point since 2001.”

“My son lost his house in the Enclave as well as his business next to the FEDEX store. We restored both as well as my house. My neighbor and I rescued the 90-year-old next door just as the water was within an inch of covering her bed in her first floor master. She had no idea. Unfortunately, she died about 2 months later.” 

“My wife was suffering with stage 4 cancer. I had to carry her out of the house in waist deep water to a rescue boat that our son arranged to pick us up. She was in shock. She caught pneumonia twice,  spent time in the hospital. She passed away in May, 2018, nine months later. I’m not blaming the flood per se, but it certainly had an effect.”

“I will say this. I will not restore all this again if we don’t get appropriate actions to mitigate flooding problems.”

Directly Impacted by Mouth Bar

Thank you, John, for reminding our political leaders of the pain that thousands of residents suffered. The homes in Kingwood Greens, like those in Foster’s Mill, Kings Point, Kings River and Atascocita Point were directly impacted by the mouth bar.

A year and a half after Harvey, a year after Mayor Turner said the mouth bar would be removed, and six months after “everybody but Trump” met in Austin and agreed in principle to remove it, not one cubic yard has been removed.

Performance, Not Promises

As we head into another election season AND another hurricane season, we need to remind our elected officials that it’s time for performance, not promises.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 14, 2019

562 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Milan and Lori Saunders’ Harvey Experience: “You can’t outsmart nature. Nature always wins.”

Interview by Bob Rehak

In June, I interviewed Milan Saunders, Chairman/CEO of Plains State Bank, and his daughter Lori Saunders, the bank’s COO. Both live in Kingwood Lakes with their respective families several blocks apart. I asked for this interview to learn how Harvey affected them personally and professionally, and to see whether the flood had a domino effect on other businesses beyond Houston. Spoiler alert: It did.

As we sit in a quiet corner of Amadeus, awaiting our meals, I ask Milan and Lori to start at the beginning. Both have photographic memories and brains that process information faster than computers. They begin with an almost hour-by-hour narrative of the storm’s approach. Clearly, almost a year later, the images remain vivid and painful.

Milan Saunders

It’s time to abandon ship. The Saunders household is swamped by Harvey.

Water and Plumbing Back Up

Milan: “Harvey approached the Houston area on Friday, August 25, and started dumping buckets of rain. Going into the weekend, we were tracking weather reports. On Saturday, things lightened up. Then the rains came back again. Sunday … a lot of rain. Monday … a lot of rain. By that afternoon, water was out of Lake Houston and it began to look pretty ominous. By Tuesday, water was also out of Lake Kingwood. We had only 18 inches between it and our threshold.”

Lori: “My plumbing was starting to back up on Sunday. That’s why I went over to Dad’s house.”

Milan: “Overnight, early Tuesday morning, water began to rise substantially. About 1 a.m., we wrapped the legs of our baby grand piano. In ‘94, we were spared, so I was thinking that, at worst, we would get a foot of water in the house.”

Reliving the Story While Retelling It

Milan continues the story in a series of rapid-fire images that seem to fade to black between each. “I went back to sleep. I was woken up at 6:30 in the morning. Came downstairs. At that point, I am standing in water up past my knees. I open the door and go outside. I am standing in water up to my belt. I see this rubber boat pulling in. First responders called out, ‘It’s a mandatory evacuation.’”

“I ask who they are. They say, ‘We’re firemen from Memphis, Tennessee.’ I say to myself, ‘Wait a minute!’ How did they know about it in time to get here from Memphis when I didn’t even know about it?”

Milan Saunders

Milan makes his great escape with wife and dog on a Wave Runner down Kingwood Drive

“Somehow, we managed to get our dog, a giant German Shepherd, balanced on my lap. They took us up the next street, and we got out there.”

As we delve deeper, Milan increasingly uses present tense, as though he is re-living Harvey in real time. His jaw clenches. The gets that 1000-yard stare. He is in another place and another time now.

“The next challenge is finding a place to shelter for me, my wife, my daughter, my granddaughter and grandson…which we do that afternoon.”

“I’m also worrying about the bank. We had been closed for four days already. The law says banks can’t be closed for more than three days in a row. We had already contacted our regulators to let them know that we were experiencing some really harsh difficulties.”

Never in 50 Years of Banking

“All of our employees are basically stranded. 59 is shut down. The force of water running over the highway has moved the concrete barriers on it.”

“Plains State does business far beyond Houston. We are keeping in touch with our West Texas people to help our clients out there, but our headquarters is in Humble and no one can get to it.”

“If I had had any idea this was going to happen, we would have gotten hotel rooms on the other side of the river for our employees.”

Milan Saunders

Rising tide of discontent sweeps across Kingwood

One image intrudes on another as Milan talks of his experience. He jumps from subject to subject as we nosh on our linguine.

“I lost my telephone while rescuing my granddaughter’s cat,” he says. “I lost both cars.” He begins talking in a staccato shorthand almost like he’s running down a mental checklist, a pilot evaluating options for an emergency landing. “No cars. No phone. Can’t get across the river.”

“It really made it very difficult for us to run the bank. None of our offices experienced flooding; we just couldn’t get people to the offices to move electronic files. That’s where our connections to the Fed and our core processor are.”

Lori: “A few days later, as flood waters started to subside, some folks in law enforcement told us about a way to get across the river. It was a very long way without the 59 bridge, but it worked. Some of our managers were able to get into the bank and start taking care of customers.”

Milan: “We were down five days. I’ve never experienced that in 50 years of banking.”

Bob: “Were there any repercussions for being closed five days?”

Milan: “Overall, our clients down here were very understanding. The West Texas folks didn’t understand as well. One client is a school district. They had end of month payroll to make.”

“Luckily, the superintendent’s wife worked with first responders and knew what we were up against. We were able to explain those problems and I think we have that behind us now, but it was painful for everyone, including us. We built our reputation on service and reliability. Both were beyond our control at that point.”

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch House…

Milan: It was just an unbelievable experience getting into that house. Water up to mid chest.  Probably a foolish thing to do. All kinds of things can happen. The water wasn’t moving that fast, but it was touching the breaker boxes. Water and electricity! Not a good combination!”

“We finally got the cat out of there, but my phone went in the drink, so I lost all communication.”

“The next day, my wife and Lori had to get to the house, so we borrowed a canoe. We saw our brother in law struggling in the water. When we tried to get him into the canoe, he flipped it over. Now Lori’s phone is under water, too.”

Milan Saunders

That’s all she played.

“The hardest part for my wife was the piano. We had bought it for our girls in 1977. It was a baby grand. The force of the water had flipped it over and ripped off two of the legs.”

Nightmare Followed by a Miracle

“We had 3.5 feet of nasty water and sewage in the house. It finally subsided on Thursday afternoon. Then another part in the story began. It was just as unbelievable how folks came out to help.”

“The outpouring of help from the people of Kingwood, led by the churches, was amazing. With the help from strangers, we got everything torn out and the dehumidifiers going.”

Secrets of Dealing with Contractors

“Then I had to find some contractors who could get the rest done. Luckily, we deal with contractors all the time; I knew some very good ones. I hired one who builds hotels and high-end townhomes. I cut a cost-plus deal with him.”

Milan Saunders

Starting over. 

“I saw that a real shortage of qualified contractors was coming, so I did everything I could to sweeten the deal, but built in safeguards for us. I gave him two houses – mine and Lori’s. I guaranteed him payment every Friday night. We made up our minds about what we wanted and didn’t change anything. All he had to do was show every day and carry on the work continuously. As a result, we had two or three subs on the job site every day and avoided a lot of the problems that others have had getting contractors to show. If guys are working, you want to pay them every Friday so that they’re back on Monday.”

Milan Saunders

Kicked to the curb by Mother Nature.

“My wife is fluent in Spanish, so we could converse with subcontractors. That was another advantage.”

Repairs Completed in Record Time, But Now…

“We got the house all done by the first of December. Right now, I’m just wrestling with the insurance guys. They think I should have been able to get it done for half. But it’s unreasonable to look back and say that.”

“The IRS says you should be able to take $104 per square foot, no questions asked. Shopping for the best price in town is probably not the best idea at a time like this.”

Bob: “How long did it take the bank to get back to normal?”

Lori: “Other banks were having trouble getting personnel in. But after Labor Day, most of our staff was able to get into the bank. I remember coming to work Tuesday and seeing all the cars in the parking lot, and thinking, ‘Wow!’  We’d just been through a war zone…the craziest worst week of our lives. And there all of our people were!”

Milan: “We were also very fortunate that only three of our employees had flooded houses and two of those are sitting here with you.”

“The Craziest, Worst Week of Our Lives” Turns into a 3-Year Project

Bob: “How did you manage to cope with the business being down and your homes being destroyed at the same time?”

Lori: “You go into survival mode. You rely on others. I have really good managers. They just stepped up, personally and professionally. They knew what we were going through.”

“We lost everything. Now looking back…I wonder how we did get through it. It was just one day at a time.”

Milan Saunders

More net worth at the curb

“We knew good contractors and had great relationships with them. Not everyone had that luxury. When I drive down my street now, it breaks my heart. I still see dumpsters in the driveways and portacans…all of it. They’re still far away from getting their houses back together again.”

Bob: “What percentage of your street is finished remodeling?”

Lori: Maybe 20%. At least 80% are still not back in.”

Milan: “We have 42 houses in our part of Kingwood Lakes; only one escaped flooding. There aren’t ten that are completely finished restoring. You see lots of travel trailers. I’ve said all along that this is a three-year project and my opinion hasn’t changed.”

Fighting the Adjusters

Bob: “What’s the most common problem people have?”

Milan: “They’re all struggling with the insurance adjusters. Each adjuster sees things differently.”

“One friend’s adjuster told him that $70/sf was a starting point and that if you have cabinetry involved, you’re up to $100/sf. That matches up to what the IRS said. But some of these adjusting companies are trying to be too safe, in my opinion. They split everything up into a unit-pricing process that takes waaaay too long.”

Milan Saunders

Counter to counter, but not express

“When a cost-plus contractor shows up, he’s going to give you a quote for labor and all the receipts for materials. He’s not going to break out trim costs or caulking per square inch! Our first adjuster’s report was 40 PAGES!”

“By comparison, when our bank makes loans on a $700K house, the builder gives us pro formacosts on ONE sheet of paper. You can NOT analyze a house on a per-square-inch basis. These guys just don’t get it.”

“The other thing that has happened is that prices have all escalated by 30%.”

The Value of a Banker Who Knows Your Business

Bob: “Do you have any customers that were forced out of business by Harvey?”

Milan: “No. But many were affected.”

“We had a Holiday Inn Express in Rockport that was severely damaged. But the regulators were very proactive and encouraged banks to give people time, suspend payments, look for ways to assist them.”

“We had a dozen clients in different places that were badly affected, and we’ve worked with them.”

The Hardest Hit Clients Didn’t Have Flood Insurance

Lori: “The hardest hit were clients without flood insurance. They weren’t required to have it.
Not in a flood plain, you know!”

Milan: “We’re one of the top ten SBA lenders in this district. We’re up there with Chase and Wells. SBA requires flood insurance if you are in the 100-year flood plain. But the people that were the most affected were not in the 100-year flood plain and so consequently, they didn’t have any insurance.”

“I’ve had flood insurance for 50 years because my first house was in Bellaire. My second house was in Pearland. One time they had 35 inches in Alvin and there was no way out. We had to be rescued by helicopters down there, so when I moved to Kingwood, I insisted on flood insurance.”

Recommendations for Improving the System

Bob: “What would you change politically to help prevent another flood like Harvey?”

Milan: “Oversight needs to be regional. I think the SJRA worried too much about Lake Conroe and not enough about what would happen downstream. They need to communicate better, too. It’s incredible that guys in Memphis got the news before we did. Regional coordination and prompt notification. Those will be big parts of the answer.”

Milan Saunders

Heavy hearts and high piles: belongings on the curb, waiting for pickup

Nature Always Wins

Bob: “You work with a lot of developers. Do you have any observations about development near rivers?”

Milan: “You can’t outsmart nature. Nature always wins. We need to give Mother Nature her room.”


Posted By Bob Rehak on July 24, 2018

330 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Jennifer Trimble’s Hurricane Harvey Experience

Jennifer Trimble in front of her nearly restored home

Seven months after Hurricane Harvey flooded her home in the middle of the night, Jennifer Trimble still cannot hear the sound of a helicopter or rain beating on her windows without choking back tears.

Trimble, a single mother of an 11 year old son, lost her job before Hurricane Harvey dumped 40 inches of rain on the Lake Houston area. Like most of her neighbors, she had no flood insurance. “Everyone said that it never flooded here, that we were safe.” Trimble lives more than a mile from the San Jacinto River, two blocks north of Kingwood Drive in an area that had escaped previous “500 year” rains in 1994, 2001, 2015, and 2016. But her luck ran out with Harvey.

“With some warning…I could have saved myself from most of this terrible experience.”

Now, while picking at some enchiladas in a TexMex restaurant (that had also flooded), she tells the story of the night when she stepped out of bed at 4:30 a.m. into muddy water and reached for a light switch. Reliving those moments of panic, her story careens from desperate attempts to escape to the kindness of strangers, her faith in God, contractor woes, the search for a new job, and the politics of flood mitigation.

Flying Into the Eye of the Storm

The week before Harvey, Trimble had gone to Illinois to visit her mother who had been hospitalized. She recalls reading about Harvey, then a tropical storm, while flying back to Houston on August 23rd.

“By the time we got back, the forecast had changed to a hurricane,” she said. When the storm made landfall on Friday, August 25, she still wasn’t very worried. After all, she had lived and worked through Katrina in Louisiana more than decade earlier.

Back then, she worked in personnel for an oil company and helped hundreds of employees who had lost their homes. “But I didn’t think anything like that could ever happen here,” she continued. “We are too far inland. I went to the grocery store and stocked up on food and batteries just in case, but I wasn’t worried.”

Worries Rise with the Water

“Each night through the hurricane, I woke up from the rain. By the 28th, water was coming up everywhere. The drainage ditch was overflowing onto Kingwood Drive. Water was coming up from the greenbelt. That night, we made plans to evacuate in the morning even though I still didn’t think we would flood,” said Trimble.

The street in front of Trimble’s home as she and her son were being rescued by boat.

“I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and stepped out of bed into floodwater. I was kind of groggy and didn’t realize what was happening at first. I turned on a lamp that was plugged into a power strip on the floor. The power was still on. I was lucky we weren’t electrocuted.”

“I froze. For a full minute. Then I called the next door neighbor to let them know that their house would be flooding, too. I posted on the NextDoor app that I was flooding.”

Neighbors and Social Media to the Rescue

Trimble continued. “Two people I didn’t even know offered to come to my house and help. One person made it to the house, but couldn’t get in because of water already chest deep in the street. My car in the garage had water over the tires. We were trapped.”

“My neighbor and another person from social media came at 5:00 a.m. They helped move small items like electronics, an end table – anything we could salvage – upstairs. Through all of this, I’ll never forget seeing my cat in the office, sitting on top of my desk as the water was rising.”

Temporary Escape to Neighbor’s House

“We finally escaped out of the front door to my neighbor’s house in hip-deep water. While moving things upstairs, I was in ‘go mode.’

It wasn’t until I was in my neighbor’s house looking back at my house that it hit me. There was so much water. My whole house was sitting in the middle of a lake – and I didn’t have flood insurance.”

Jennifer Trimble’s home as seen from neighbor’s second story.

“Then my neighbor’s house started to take on water, too. At 9 a.m., another Kingwood resident rescued us by boat. I was so grateful.”

Search for Safety and Stability

As word of Trimble’s plight spread to friends, offers of help started coming in. Several offered her places to stay until she could recover. She and her son stayed with a friend in Mills Branch through the middle of October. “Then, we moved on to another friend.

“Because of my son’s allergies, we couldn’t move back in until all the drywall repairs were finished.”

My son has asthma and allergies, so we couldn’t get back into our house right away. We had to get rid of all the mold and mildew. The house had to dry out thoroughly and be disinfected. We also had to make sure the walls were up and textured. It took a long time. Sometimes I can talk about it, but other times I get emotional,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.

Rebuilding a Home and her Life

“After the water receded, I had many people helping with demo work,” said Trimble. “Friends, friends of friends, strangers, people from my church. By Saturday noon, we were done. In two and a half days, everything was knocked out and gone.”

Flood debris ready for removal in front of Trimble home.

“When the San Antonio crews came to haul the trash away, I was happy, but cried my heart out. It’s so emotional to see your life being carried away. Our house is close to livable again. The master bath is the last major piece, though there are still lots of little details. Some things will just have to wait. Like the deck on the back of the house. We lost it altogether.“

“The hardest part for me is dealing with my contractors. Sometimes, I want to scream. I’m so frustrated. It seems like we always get up-charged. The cost never goes down if we substitute something cheaper. And then there are mistakes. For instance, we ordered a new door, but they trimmed excess height off the bottom instead of the top. So we had to order another. Seven months after the flood, we’re still waiting on the replacement. I’m tired of dealing with it,” said Trimble.

Making Do Until Making More

In rebuilding her home, Trimble received help from many unexpected sources.

“A Facebook page, Flooding Kingwood with Kindness, has been my source of sanity,” she says. There, people who have items to donate find people who need donations.

“My sister also started a ‘Go-Fund-Me’ page where friends and family could make donations to my recovery effort.”

“FEMA was very good to me. They gave me the maximum amount. My family and friends also kicked in. And I created an Amazon wish list to help offset expenses.”

“Still, I’m glad that I was a diligent saver. Without a job and without savings, we would have been sunk.”

“I’m frugal. With the exception of new bedroom furniture, I bought used things to replace furniture we lost. I just won’t buy everything for a while, until I build savings back up.”

Trimble recently started a new job. “It was a blessing that I wasn’t working during the recovery. There were so many things that went wrong. If I wasn’t there to address them right away, it would have been a disaster. As it was, I got my son off to school at 8 a.m. then worked all day on the house until 8, 9, or 10 at night for a long stretch.”

Trimble has been a single mother for nine years. “Rebuilding was overwhelming at times,” she said. “I lived through Katrina, Gustav and two surgeries, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I look back now and think everything that came before was God’s way of preparing me.”

Natural disasters bring out the best in people

Much of Trimble’s interview focuses on the generosity of people around her. “Total strangers rescued us. Friends opened their hearts and homes. Neighbors washed laundry that had been flooded. Others helped tear out sheet rock and tile. My church started a support group. FEMA gave us help. Ted Poe broke through red tape. It’s all been amazing.”

Still, the trauma of Harvey makes sleeping difficult. How does she cope? “My experience as a single parent helped me get through this…and my faith in God. I don’t know how I would have made it without my faith!”

“I can’t do this again.”

Said Trimble, “I want to do what I can so that this never happens again.”

Trimble has participated in the Lake Houston Chamber’s Plea for 3 and Plea to See initiatives. She has also participated in the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative and demonstrated outside the community center when Governor Abbott visited the area.

“When we got those flood warnings in February and March,” she said, “I felt horrible. I’m scared. I have angst about what will happen every time it rains.”

“We need to dredge. We need better communication. Clearly, we got no warnings. With some warning, I could have moved everything upstairs. I could have moved my car. My son and I could have gotten out. I could have saved myself from having most of this terrible experience,” she says, choking back tears.

“Clearly, there needs to be a better plan with permitting. They need to get to a place where they can lower the lake level. They’re fumbling right now; figuring everything out as they go. We need more coordinated flood control; all these entities don’t work well together.”

“Everybody underestimated the impact that this was going to have and how long it would last. The emotional and mental toll is draining. A disaster like this impacts daily life, the ability of people to hold a job, to parent their children, and to navigate through life in general.”

Interviewed by Bob Rehak,
Posted April 26, 240 Days After Hurricane Harvey