A year ago, my family lost everything in Hurricane Harvey, and I am worried about the long term effects of trauma on my family, especially my children. I have a five year old and twins who were 18 months at the time of the storm. We were new to the neighborhood, having only moved into our newly remodeled home in April. We knew Meyerland flooded, but we were naive. We thought we had gotten such a great deal on our home. We were wrong.
The sun was shining all day, but we saw neighbors preparing. One neighbor told us if we saw one trickle of water come in to call her and her teenagers would help us get into her two story home. She told us we had no idea how quickly our one story would fill up. We thought she seemed dramatic. We were wrong.
We put stuff high on the shelves and on the counter tops- we thought we prepared. At about midnight, that first trickle came in through the wall of our game room. Within 5 minutes water was pouring in all doors. Bags were forgotten as I yelled to my husband, “Forget the bags, just get the twins!” My 5 year old heard me. I was going to get him, but his little mind just heard me say, “Get the twins.” He slipped and fell in the water and will remember my words forever. In his mind it was “get the twins,” but not him. Bless his heart. I changed his wet clothes and put him high on the kitchen island while I grabbed a few essentials. We called our neighbor and her teenagers came to help us get to their house. They are heroes.
We all had a kid on our shoulders and we felt our way across by the fence. The current was strong and the water was very deep on the road. We crept along the fence until we reached my neighbor’s house. She opened her doors to us but her bottom floor was filling up fast- this was the third time her house flooded. We waited a long time to be rescued. A high water vehicle tried, but couldn’t reach us.
At one point the water was coming upstairs and my neighbor again took charge. She told my husband and her daughter they needed to rip out the back fence to release some water. They had to crawl out a bathroom window to get outside. I was terrified; my husband is 6’3″ and the water was at his chest. They broke the fence out with no tools! It made no sense to me because the fence faced the bayou. But my neighbor was right, and the water rushed out and bought us much needed time.
The Coast Guard was completely overwhelmed with calls. They told us to get on the roof. We had two one year olds and a five year old and the thought of putting them on a pitched roof was terrifying. The teens got on the roof and waved white sheets as instructed-and we screamed out the second story window if we heard a boat or chopper. Today, I think of my son hearing these screams and my heart breaks.
Finally, a man in a jet ski pulled up and asked, “Is this the house with the Mayes Twins?” So much relief!
I thought I would be scared to go out the window with the kids, but I practically threw them and slid on down.
“We can’t take Dad right now,” they said. “He’s tall and strong and there is a person trapped in his attic.” My mind raced again- my first thought was, “He has the bag with the pacifiers!” I was in survival mode. We picked up a dear neighbor who was trapped in his attic, and we started the boat ride to end all boat rides.
As we were coming out the of neighborhood my neighbor cried, “Oh my God they are going to cross the bayou! Give me one of your twins!” I was surprised and clueless; – the twins didn’t have life jackets, but I never thought twice. I shoved the man my baby and we held on for the ride of our lives. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the men who rescued us, but whitewater rafting through my neighborhood certainly wasn’t on my bucket list.
The single scariest part of the ordeal was being dropped off on a street corner so the men could go back to rescue more people. I stood on the side of the road holding two one year olds and a 5 year old clinging for dear life to my legs. No one was around and there was no power. The street was covered in water. We had passed so many screaming for help as we drove by. I think our rescuers had to be wondering how they could possibly get to all of them.
Miraculously, a nice lady pulled up. She was the epitome of a gracious southern mama and was driving a white, extremely lovely clean car. We were covered in mud from head to toe. I was torn- I had nowhere to go and no one to call and my phone was dead anyway, but visions of messages about human trafficking were racing through my head. It was my duty to protect these kids.
After protesting about the filthy state we were in, she said, “Look at me- I’m a mom of three boys. I’m not afraid of dirt.”
She meant it- this lovely lady and her sons would end up keeping us at their home for 36 hours. They cleaned us up, fed us, and one of her sons went out in search of pacifiers! He played basketball for Syracuse and he had medals galore on the walls, and the twins took great delight in pulling them all down. Still, he gave us his room without a second thought. He is a brave young man with a heroic family.
This experience, and the recovery, has changed me. I hope I have changed for the better, although I will always be more cautious than before.
I’ve learned that people care even if they don’t say the “right” thing and that recovery will take years. I’ve realized my emotions are valid, even when I feel like rolling my eyes when people say “Oh yes, we flooded too! 8 inches of water!” or “At least you had insurance!” Flood insurance doesn’t begin to cover the losses- the reimbursement was only a drop in the bucket.
I have good days and bad days, with good nights and nightmares. I’m so damn thankful that a year later, I have a permanent zip code. But I don’t know how to completely move on. We lost everything we had, and yes, they are just things, but they were our things. I just keep going each day. And think of my family and friends that made endless calls for our rescue. And I am grateful my son saw his dad be a hero.
I told my son we now have a home in The Heights– hear the name, son? It doesn’t flood here. He smiled and then seriously asked if that meant his best friend lived in “The Lows”. That boy thinks too much -just like his mama- but I was so proud of that love he had for his friend.
We are making it day by day. I have so much love for every Harvey victim- and to the Houstonians that saved their friends. Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it.
Jimmie Sue is a former ER nurse turned stay at home mom of three. Her family lost their home in Hurricane Harvey, and they have spent a year rebuilding their lives.