Amy Slaughter, her husband, two kids, a dog and a rabbit lived in a picturesque one-story house…until Hurricane Harvey. For the last eight months, she has lived with her husband and daughter in a trailer in their driveway while they struggle to rebuild their house. Their college-age son now lives with in-laws; it saves space in the trailer.
As I interview Amy in a local restaurant, she orders a root beer. She needs it, she says, to settle her stomach. She’s just come from court and is trying to squeeze me in before a conference call. As we talk, she constantly checks her phone for messages from contractors, architects and engineers. Such is the life of a professional mother in the Post-Harvey Reconstruction Era.
Matching shoes! Life is good!
As I listen to her tell me her story, I marvel at how energetic and positive she sounds. No doubt, this is a by-product of finally having found matching shoes and a working toaster oven.
“During the first days of the storm, we really weren’t worried,” says Slaughter. “Lake Conroe was beginning to release water, but there was no visible impact.”
“Ironically, relatives on Lake Conroe called us and said, ‘They’re releasing water from the dam up here and you have no idea how much!’ It was much more than the SJRA’s web site was showing. Evidently, the updates were way behind. But we still weren’t worried because we didn’t flood in 1994.”
“By noon, we began to think differently. We took three of our cars to Kingwood Park High School, just to be safe. My family talked me out of loading our computers into the cars because they thought someone would steal them. Big mistake. Everything I do is filed electronically with the courts. All the files on my laptop, memory cards, my home server … everything … was lost!”
“Our neighbors across the street are about a foot lower than we are. The creek behind them started to rise during the morning of the 28th. We went over to help them move their furniture upstairs. By 6 p.m., we had moved everything we could and water started to creep into their house.”
“On the news, they kept saying they were expecting the river to crest, but it didn’t; it kept rising. So we were caught off guard.”
“Then around midnight of the 28th, water began to creep into our house.” She looks whimsically inward at herself and giggles.
The Great Solo Cup Caper
“What?” I ask.
“We thought we might get only a couple inches, so we put solo cups under the legs of our wooden tables to protect them!” She smiles; You have to admire a woman who can laugh at disaster. Eventually, her home took on four feet of water.
“We put chairs, computers, photo albums, and other junk up on tables and chests without realizing that everything we put up high would float and flip.”
The Pink Flamingo Flotilla
She laughs again as she flits from memory to random memory. “We evacuated as soon as the water started coming in the house. We brought our dog with us. But we left the rabbit in a cage up on the dining room table. When the water kept rising, I told my husband, ‘You have to get the rabbit.’”
“He and the dear friend who rescued us took an umbrella and waded back to the house through chest-deep water. Our rabbit was floating high above the table in her cage. They floated her cage right out. Other belongings were rescued on a giant pink flamingo. Most people used john boats; we used a pink flamingo from our pool.”
Then her mood turns somber again. “Once we rescued the rabbit, we realized we had at least four feet of water in our house. We were pretty much in shock.”
“What did you lose?” I ask.
“Furniture-wise and computer-wise, we lost everything. Wedding pictures, family albums, even the digital stuff on thumb drives. It’s all gone. But everybody is safe, nobody got hurt.”
“We were able to save most of our clothing with Pine Sol and Clorox. We saved most of the dishes. Ironically goblets levitated out of my grandmother’s china cabinet and floated all over the house. We found them down the hall, in different rooms. Everywhere. Standing upright.”
“I’ll never leave this place.”
“Some friends suggested that we go to their home on Lake Livingston. It took three times longer than normal, but when we got there, we could get on the phone with our insurance company and FEMA. Watching all the news coverage from Livingston was terrifying. It was hard to see that and not be here.”
“When the river receded, we came back. We wanted to get into the house as quickly as we could. We lived with nearby relatives while we started gutting our house.”
“I didn’t cry for two weeks. I felt strongly that I couldn’t tell my children, ‘It’s just stuff,’ and not live by the motto myself.”
“When I got in there, I went from an attitude of looking at ‘what was lost’ to ‘what we could save.’ That really helped me get through the experience of gutting the house.”
“Everything in our home was sentimental. We had a lot of antiques we inherited. My grandmother grew up destitute. It killed me to put her sewing machine out at the curb, knowing how many dresses she had made for us growing up. To watch it rot there for three weeks was heart wrenching.”
“It was unbelievable, though, to be surrounded by people who came out of the woodwork to help. In Livingston, I was thinking, ‘Where can we live?’ But during the gutting of our house, people just came up and offered to help. Everyone pitched in. Strangers. Friends. Relatives. Customers. Clients. They brought food. They brought tools. And they didn’t ask for anything. After that, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll never leave Kingwood.’”
A Court Appearance Reminiscent of “My Cousin Vinny”
“Then the exhaustion hit. My husband and I were both still trying to work. I had court dates. My clothing was all over Kingwood. At cleaners. With me. With my mother in law. It was pretty funny. The first time I went to court, I showed up in a denim skirt. I approached the bailiff and said, I apologize ahead of time to the court. We got flooded and I don’t know where any of my clothes are.” Luckily, Slaughter had a judge who was more understanding than the one in the movie.
“Home, Home on the Driveway”
“Currently, we live in a travel trailer. We had looked for homes, apartments and hotels to rent, but everything was booked up. Friends opened their homes to us, but we wanted to stay near the house to deal with repairs. The trailer is not big enough for all of us; my son has to live with my sister in law.”
“The trailer is not like living in a drum; it’s like living in a drum SET,” Slaughter jokes. “When it rains, you hear all kinds of sounds. The rain makes one sound. The pine needles brushing up against the trailer make another. And then there’s the occasional cymbal crash when a pine cone hits the roof.”
“We store our clothes in the garage. It’s the mother of all walk-in closets right now.”
“How do you cook?” I ask.
“The trailer does have a microwave. We have a grill with a burner on it. And we have a hot plate and a toaster oven. But mostly we don’t cook.”
Shrinking an Inch a Day
I shake my head, thinking back to college. I could handle life in a trailer then. Now, I’m not so sure. Amy Slaughter seems only slightly troubled, though.
“It’s not bad if you’re on vacation, but after eight months, it’s kind of getting old. At first you’re so grateful to have it that you overlook the inconveniences. Then after about a month, your thoughts start to go in the opposite direction. It feels like it’s shrinking an inch a day.” I nod; I have a pair of jeans like that.
Camp Chairs and an Air Mattress for Watching TV
“Now that the house is dried out, I’m starting to use it as a workshop to restore my grandmother’s furniture,” says Amy Slaughter. “We have a back porch. We put a TV out there. We have camp chairs and an air mattress for watching the TV. That’s really our living room. But it’s getting hot now. So we may be spending more time in the trailer.”
“The shower in the trailer is about the size of a bucket. It’s functional and would work. But it’s tiny, so we shower in the house. One of the bathrooms had a shower where we only tore out the glass and the backside of two walls. We put tarps along the wood studs to hold the water in and propped up the one wall with a wire shelving unit and bungee cords. It’s definitely Third-World living.”
I think to myself, “This lady wins awards for creativity, but I doubt she will pass the plumbing inspection.”
“Purchasing the House We Almost Paid Off.”
I ask how Harvey affected Amy Slaughter’s family financially. Without missing a beat, she says, “We get the privilege of purchasing the house we had almost paid off.” I ask for an explanation. “Our options were: sell and move; put it right back together again; or build up. We didn’t want to move. And we didn’t want to flood … ever again. So we decided to build up. But contractors told us it would be less expensive to wipe the slab and start over than build on top of what we had.”
“How much longer will it take?” I ask.
“Finding a contractor to do the whole thing is difficult. Everybody is booked. We’re in a financial quandary. Flood insurance will only go so far. It will replace what we had, but not what we feel we need to build to be safe. Before this, we had a house that never flooded and we want to get back to that.”
“What are your biggest concerns at the moment?” I ask.
Concerns Looking Forward
“There’s a concern that we won’t be able to sell the house. How many people want a one-story house where you have to climb the stairs to get in?”
“I’m also afraid that Kingwood will be considered a lost cause at some point by politicians. You’ve seen it happen with Forest Cove. ‘Oh, that area floods now, so we should just buy out the owners and wipe it all out.’”
“Meanwhile, you have developers who are buying golf courses, like Forest Cove’s. I’ve heard it was bought and is about to be turned into homesites. That scares me. They’re going to build up higher and that’s just going to send water toward the rest of us. If the politicians don’t start limiting development like that, it will turn the rest of us into a financial sink hole.”
“If you could say one thing to the mayor, what would it be?”
Amy Slaughter pauses a long time, then…
“Come try to sleep through a rain storm in my travel trailer!”
“I worry whether I should put pontoons it,” she says doing her best Sarah Silverman imitation. Then seriously, “It won’t take a Harvey at this point to flood Kingwood again. I know they are committed to dredging the river, but the reality is they haven’t solidified any workable plan yet.”
And with that, Amy Slaughter excuses herself and sprints off to her conference call.
Interview by Bob Rehak
Posted May 15, 2018
259 Days since Hurricane Harvey