Let me start by saying that we are grateful to be alive and nothing is more important than that. My heart hurts for the families that lost loved ones during Hurricane Harvey. Several rescuers died while bravely trying to help others. A disaster resets priorities with great speed and vivid sharpness. Our family survived Hurricane Harvey — two adults, two teens and two cats. You can check out our evacuation story and our cat rescue story for more history. Today is one week (Friday Sept 1, 2017) after Harvey hit Houston.

To catch up on earlier dispatches, read these:

Life Changes Overnight — Surviving Hurricane Harvey Dispatch #1

Cat rescue and grocery shopping — Surviving Hurricane Harvey Dispatch #2

Losing Stuff

Our car on Monday August 28, 2017

The waters have started to recede across the city. News broadcasts show people cleaning out their houses and piling trash on the curb. Our house is still under 6–8 feet of water. We live along Buffalo Bayou which seems to be the main runoff spot for most of the water and our house is below one of the dams. Every time they release water to relieve pressure, our flooding level stays high.

In the first days after our evacuation, we mourned the loss of both of our cars and all of the items left on our first floor. In the wee hours of the morning before our evacuation, we had moved stuff to the second floor or on top of counters in the kitchen. As we watched the flood reports over the next few days (especially with dam releases), we realize now that we probably lost everything on the second floor as well.

Now we start the long process of rebuilding — literally and figuratively. We waded out with one backpack per person. We each had stuff like IDs, electronics (phones, i pads, work laptop), critical papers like insurance forms and passports and 2–3 changes of clothes. That’s it. That is everything we currently have.

We were lucky enough to find an unfurnished townhouse near our neighborhood and signed a lease for it today. We expect to live in the townhouse for the next 6–12 months while our house gets evaluated and gets either fixed or rebuilt. The townhouse stayed dry during the flood, but it is still without power as of this morning. We hope to move in next week. At minimum, we need to buy mattresses and bedding and a refrigerator before we can move in. But making a home takes lots of other stuff.

All the little stuff

Brooke Lark, Unsplash.com

We found a few open stores yesterday and started buying clothes and toiletries. But we are missing all of the little things you take for granted. We even had to buy scissors in order to remove tags from the other stuff we are starting to buy. In our flooded house, we have a couch that was only a few weeks old and still had tags on it. As part of a laundry remodel, we also had a brand new washer and dryer — less than two weeks old. Last time we saw that new couch and washer and dryer, they were floating. Over the next weeks and months, we’ll have to replace all of our dishes and silverware and pots and pans and cooking gadgets and cleaning supplies and linens and paper clips and school supplies and toys and furniture and clothing and jewelry and shoes and purses and bicycles and so much more. It is exhausting to think about, but at least all of that stuff can be replaced over time.

All of the personal stuff

The hardest losses are the personal ones. My husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary in June — this week, we lost our wedding album. We had just received a big order of prints of our older son’s senior pictures. We assume those got wet or will get moldy. At least we know how to re-order those! We lost all of our photo albums and pictures, fortunately some of them are digital and had been backed up.

Our art is gone. They were not museum quality pieces, but they were ours. That art showed the journey of our lives. I had a beautiful print of a Texas Hill Country landscape with blue bonnets in it. My parents gave it to me 25 years ago when I left Texas to go to Michigan State for graduate school. It always helped connect me to my home state as I moved through the years. We lost the original oil painting that had been hanging above our mantel. That painting showed a lovely Canadian lake landscape. My husband bought it on a whim at a small gallery in Canada on his way to a kayaking trip many years ago. We also had three bronze sculptures. One, of a boy with a baseball bat, was sculpted by my childhood neighbor and always made me nostalgic for the days when my boys were still small. I still retain some hope that we will find those sculptures and be able to clean and repair them. My grandmother’s beautiful china cabinet (which moved with us from Michigan to Arizona and finally to Houston) was almost 100 years old and drowned in the flood. Maybe a few of the items inside it will be salvageable if they did not break while floating around.

We lost all of the trip souvenirs we collected over the years and the goofy t-shirts and our favorite old sweatshirts. Some of the childhood items that we were saving for the next generation were in the attic — maybe some of that can be salvaged.

Forced Minimalism

It is likely to be a week or more until the water recedes enough to get into our house. We know we lost everything on the first floor. Until we get access, we won’t know if anything is salvageable on the second floor. With the heat and humidity, even items that were not submerged will start to get mold and mildew. Right now we are in a waiting pattern. De-clutterring and minimalism are all the rage right now, so we will try to re-frame this experience as forced minimalism.

Originally published at medium.com


  • Ann Howell

    Executive Coach

    Howell Leadership Science

    I write about research-supported workplace topics and improving workplaces. I'm also experimenting with humor writing in my Level 50 Life series. Be warned - this is an experiment, and explosions, or at least bad jokes, could occur at any time.