It is soggy in Hamburg.
The rain season is in full effect here in Germany. Normally, rain isn’t something I mind. I welcome it. It cleanses the earth, the grass gets greener, and the air is cooler. Sleep is easier and comfort food is abundant. The kids love to splash in the puddles and twirl their umbrellas. Maybe I do too, just a little.
This year I am on edge. The rain makes me nervous. It makes me sad. My chest gets tighter with every front that comes through. It’s harder to fall asleep during a downpour.
Walking to school in it the other day, the boys told me it had poured the night before while we were all sleeping. “Don’t worry mama, we had decided that we were safe 3 stories up. The flood wouldn’t reach us.” I wish I could say this is the only time this conversation has been had but it is not. They are hyper vigilant and flooding is often a subject in our chats. Even now, as we reside over 5000 miles away.
The timing of the rain season could not be any worse.
One year ago…
A year ago Harvey blew into town and hung out for days. We were prepared. We were well stocked in food, water, and beer. The propane tank on the grill was filled and said grill dragged in to the garage. All stuff in the yard put away and plans to head north if it got bad were confirmed. I spent the day before the storm hit both prepping and getting the final stuff for the kids to start school the next week. I stopped at the temporary police and rescue checkpoint, dropping off bevies, snacks, and paper goods to help them do their job with some comfort.
Surrounding areas were devastated, Rockport especially. Kingwood saw a lot of rain and wind. Power outages rolled through. There was damage for sure but we were relatively untouched. We watched movies, played games. checked in with neighbors (we even got together for dinner one night). The kids got excited because the start of school was delayed by 2 whole days. We even jokingly had a beer count going. And we felt confidant in our decision to ride out the storm, we were nowhere near a risk zone. We were safe.
Then the water came.
Overnight, a decision was made to release record amounts of water into our area. An estimated 80,000 cubic feet per second. Not gradually. All at once. We woke to no internet or cell service. Our only source of news was the radio. And the news coming from the radio was not good. The calm that we fell asleep to the night before, the calm that we had made it through Harvey, was replaced by the noise of rescue.
We quickly went into survival mode. A call out for help was made and like everyone around us, we answered. Moose gathered clothing and food from the neighborhood while I used up all the extra food I had purchased in prep mode. With a packed van he took off to one of the shelters. We had little to no idea what was going on but we knew it was bad. I sat on the porch, listening to helicopters, sirens and boat engines. They were so much closer than they should have been. We should have been safe. But we weren’t. The trucks loaded with people and canoes, bigger boats attached to the hitch, flying down our street were a sign that it was not okay. The area behind our house, like a lot of Kingwood, should have never been a problem, but it had gone so very wrong.
Moose took forever. He came home looking defeated and horrified. Water everywhere, so many people displaced and so many trying to get out. The town we knew and loved was completely under water.
We quickly had the kids pack their backpacks and we grabbed all of our important papers and double bagged them in ziplock bags (bags they stayed in until we got ready for this move). And we waited for news.
The water stopped 2 streets over. Kingwood was devastated. Some 5000 homes and 300 businesses. Our high school. the library, multiple grocery stores. People passed away. In Kingwood alone. We were only one piece of the puzzle. Some recovered, some are still working on it, and some never will.
I often wonder what happened to the donations I dropped off at the check point. Not that I care about the stuff, I just long for the innocence of the previous Friday. The checkpoint building went under like most other buildings in the area.
Maggie babysat the boys for the first time in the weeks after the flood. Moose and I left them with one phone for a few hours as at a time as we moved through the neighborhood behind us, checking to see what people needed as they returned to what was left of their lives.
Even now, when I close my eyes and allow myself to think.
I will never forget the sounds of rescue, the boats and helicopters.
I will never forget the smell. The waters that flowed through our town were highly contaminated. The odor lasted for a long time. The air quality got really bad, really fast. I highly suspect there will be respiratory issues for years.
I will never forget the look on the stranger’s face as I, a lady who just randomly walked in to her home, helped her shovel baby pictures in garbage bags and drag them to the curb with the rest of her belongings. Pushing water out of another stranger’s home into their backyard, a task that never ended. Helping push a fridge wedged into a door way so that we could reach another room and then seeing the damage left in said room. Taking turns tearing up one of our beloved teacher’s first floor as she looked on in a state of shock that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I will never forget keeping an eye on every cut and scrape we had for infection.
I will never forget finding out over and over again that someone we knew had flooded and the relief of confirming that they were rescued and safe.
I will never forget how empty the grocery shelves were for months.
I will never forget that no matter where you turned, reminders of the flood were everywhere for months (still really). Calls for donations and helping hands. Mountains of people’s lives, heaped on the curb. Trailers full of flooded vehicles. Empty store fronts and neighborhoods. A town usually decorated to the hilt at Christmas time still largely dark and unoccupied.
I will never forget choosing our storage unit not on company or prices but almost solely on the NEW flood maps.
Look for the helpers.
I will also never forget how everyone came together. I will always remember how proud I am to know people who took people in, did huge amounts of laundry for strangers trying to salvage something (before we knew how bad the water had been and all needed to be tossed). I will never forget being so proud to break bread with our friends, (Calvin, Erin and Joey, I am looking at y’all) as they took a brief break from pulling people from their flooded homes.
I will never forget those who jumped in to help rescue. Not just local good ole boys with a boat but the Cajun Navy who rushed to our area to rescue and the Cajun Army who then came in to help clean up.
I will never forget the volunteers that drove around feeding victims and helpers throughout the neighborhoods. Delivering food to hotels to make sure that families affected atleast had hot meals.
I will never forget being able to provide assistance to teachers and staff at our school affected, due only to the graciousness of others who donated money to my little cause. I am a little greedy and will admit it felt amazing to spend the 1st day of school (over a week delayed) not doing the normal lazy lunch tradition but checking off every item on the immediate needs list of one of our favorite staff members and sneaking it into her vehicle with my sweet friend.
Who are we, one year later?
Community trauma is real. PTSD is real. Survivors guilt is real. I know this because I feel it within myself. I see it not just in those who flooded but those who stood helplessly on the edge of the water. I hear it not only in the voices of those surrounding us but our children as well.
You know what else is real? Recovery. I know this first hand too. I have witnessed it in our town and in all of Houston. Every reopening celebration with obligatory flood lines and in every sweet announcement that someone slept in their own home for the first time in a year. I know because I can leave the house when it rains now, almost without a second thought. I know because steps are being taken to hopefully keep this from ever happening again.
Kingwood is our home. No matter where we live, it will be our home. Our hearts will always belong there and we will always return. I believe in recovery as much as I believe in Kingwood.
But on this rainy day, one year later and 5000 miles away. I still get nervous when it rains.