As Jen Richman speaks to a reporter in Chilliwack from her flood-ravaged home in Houston, Texas, a neighbour’s child comes by to deliver lunch.
“Oh you are amazing,” Richman said. “Tell your mommy thank you!
“Y’all want to eat? Take a break,” she then says to friends from work in her house helping to rip out drywall.
Richman is one of thousands hit hard by the devastating floods that rocked Houston at the end of August in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. With Hurricane Irma in the news this week hitting the Caribbean and Florida, cleanup and finger-pointing from Harvey begins in Texas.
To do his small part, Richman’s brother from Chilliwack headed down last week with a pickup truck loaded with tools and supplies to do his part to help out.
Drew Goldstone and his father Brian run Griffin Security in Chilliwack. The Goldstones were watching closely as sister/daughter Jen relayed what was happening in the city she’s lived in for 17 years.
Drew, who also knows construction, drove for three days starting Sept. 6 to get to Houston to help his sister tear out walls and rebuild the house. He’s bringing tools, garbage bags, mould masks, and items in short supply.
“I’m heading down to see what I can do to help,” Drew said before leaving last week.
Jen’s husband is facing back surgery so is unable to do the physical work of tearing out drywall and plaster so Drew’s presence is welcome.
“This is way worse than we thought it would be,” Richman said in a phone interview on Sept. 6. “All my furniture is out on my lawn. We can’t do this on our own. That’s why I called my brother, I said ‘Drew, I need you.’”
And while his physical presence is incredibly helpful, before he went Drew said it was also a psychological reason he felt was needed.
“They don’t have any clue where to start,” he said. “They don’t want to make decisions. They are just in survival mode.”
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday, Aug. 25 but for the first couple of days, nothing was too terrible in Jen’s neighbourhood.
“We didn’t really get that much rain,” she said. “It was starting to flood, but not that bad.”
Houston is used to minor flooding, but as the weekend wore on and the rain pounded the city, things got worse. By Sunday, Richman said they lost the plumbing in their 1955 home, something that hadn’t happened before, even in floods.
As the water rose, Richman and her neighbour Erica were paying close attention to local Facebook-mom groups and a neighbourhood app called Nextdoor to find out about stranded people.
“All day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we were in the flood water up to our waist pulling people out of their homes,” she said. “We had a dinghy, but even though there were boats helping, there were just too many people.”
There are no basements in Houston and the homes in Richman’s neighbourhood are a combination of 1950s-style bungalows and much larger two-storey homes. The next-door neighbours have a two-storey house, which turned into a sanctuary for Richman, her husband Paul and their two daughters.
By Monday there were 16 people, including a couple in their 90s, along with four dogs in the house. By then Harvey had dumped more than 60 centimetres of rain on Houston.
The large group in the neighbour’s house realized soon after they, too, needed to be evacuated and luckily the National Guard arrived to help out. They were taken just a block away to a place that was totally dry.
“It was completely overwhelming to see that we were just in this flooded bubble,” she said.
Indeed, according to mapping the areas that flooded are spotted seemingly arbitrarily all over the city.
— ratlab (@ratlab3) September 7, 2017
More shocking to Richman, her neighbours, and thousands of others in the city, however, is that their homes were flooded not directly because of Harvey, but because of a government decision on Aug. 28 to open two reservoirs to keep them from overflowing.
Essentially, whole neighbourhoods were flooded, possibly needlessly.
“A lot of class actions are starting now,” Richman said.
And while the city is devastated by the flooding — in fact a NASA researcher says the trillions of kilograms of water pushed the city two centimetres into the Earth’s crust — Richman is buoyed by the sense of community in Texas.
— Chris Milliner (@Geo_GIF) September 4, 2017
“Our community is hugely amazing,” she said. “Anyone who didn’t flood is doing what they can to help the community. It’s really beautiful to see.”
But while day-to-day necessities are being taken care of, for the most part, by friends and family, neighbours and strangers, practical considerations make rebuilding at this point near impossible.
“Even if we wanted to pay for help we would have to wait weeks,” she said.
That’s, in part, because her neighbourhood was flooded last, so areas that flooded earlier already have the calls in to remediation companies.
Which leads to her brother in Chilliwack and his trip down. He left early on Sept. 6 hoping to arrive late on Sept. 8. He said he plans to stay for three weeks or so to help with the needed renovations on the family’s trashed home.
And while he’s down there, maybe he can do a little more.
“I’m hoping to help three or four places,” Drew said. “Lots of places are still under water.”
With him there, Jen said she can try to get back to some sense of normalcy by returning to work.
“I’m not getting paid,” she said last week. “I need to go back next week, and having Drew come down is huge because I know I’m not going to be hear all the time. The kids have to go to school. I have to go to work.
“We have to start moving on with our lives. We are going to rebuild.”