What Happens to People Displaced by Monday's Historic Flood?
Hilda Perla thought the water would be gone when she returned to her bottom-floor apartment the morning after it flooded. She lived in Imperial Oaks apartments, just across the street from Arbor Court in Greenspoint, among the worst-hit areas in the city. Roughly 350 residents in those apartments had to be rescued on boats and brought to a nearby shelter. Some battled the high waters on top of flat-screen TVs or even refrigerators.
But that day, Hilda Perla stayed put, praying everything would be okay in the morning. While she stayed the night with her second-floor neighbors, she sent her children off to stay with their aunt, away from all the wet wreckage. When Perla woke up the next day, though, to go assess the damage, the water was not gone. Her bed and her three children's beds were soaked in sewage. The kitchen had been destroyed. The food, all perished. The smell, nearly unbearable.
On Wednesday, Perla gave a tour of what was left, as she and her family began hauling out all their belongings that had become debris. She spoke quickly, in Spanish, about what the storm had taken from her. She pressed the back of her palm to her cheek to mime sleeping when she said she had nowhere to rest her head at night. She gestured to the empty living room and the clutter on the kitchen table, bound for the garbage, when she said, "No tengo dinero. No tengo nada."
Perla and her family are among hundreds of residents in the Greenspoint area who lost everything and are simply waiting in limbo for the city's help.
Her story has echoes across the Houston area. In Katy, residents reported water waist-deep on some city streets after 12 to 17 inches of rain fell during Monday morning's storm. While most school districts across the region had opened by Wednesday, Katy and Cypress-Fairbanks ISDs closed for the entire week.
According to an email Katy ISD administrators sent to parents and staff Wednesday, "the flooding continues to cause infrastructure, mobility and transportation issues for school busses and a significant number of families and staff." It is unclear if school facilities have been damaged by the flood. Likewise, Cy-Fair ISD's website said it decided to close "due to hazardous roads, school damage & displaced families." (In a press release, the Texas Education Agency announced it will be granting two missed school day waivers for Houston-area school districts impacted by the flood, so school systems that missed one or two days won't have to make those up later in the year.)
Here's a birds-eye view of the catastrophic flooding Katy endured, shot by videographer Caleb Brown:
Over in Meyerland, where hundreds of homes were flooded Monday, personnel from the city's Department of Neighborhoods began to go door to door to ask residents about their first impressions of the damage. At a meeting Wednesday night, Mayor Sylvester Turner said that information should help FEMA decide whether to grant disaster relief assistance, which he said they'll rely on before doing more detailed damage inspections on the homes. "We're going to do everything to try to convince you to stay in your home, because this community is very important to the city of Houston," Turner said, calling back to the Memorial Day floods that the homeowners had just finished recovering from.
People in areas hardest hit by the flooding nervously eyed storms expected to move in from the northwest and bring with them another inch or two of rain sometime late this morning, according to the National Weather Service, which has issued a flood warning for the Addicks and Barker reservoirs (according to meteorologists with KHOU, it's the first time that's ever happened).
Up in Greenspoint, Turner promised a room full of hundreds of displaced residents, many living in the MO Campbell Education Center shelter, that this was not a "here today, gone tomorrow" scenario. Turner said the top priority was finding temporary housing for everyone in the Greenspoint area. About 350 people had been taken to live in a large gymnasium-turned-shelter. Dozens raised their hands when Turner asked who was still living in their current, semi-uninhabitable units and felt unsafe. Dozens more raised their hands when Turner asked if the city had not yet made it to their doorstep to offer help. The city will have to pick up speed, though, because Turner said that he wants to relocate everyone by Friday at 5 p.m.
He said housing organizations such as the Houston Apartment Association and the Houston Housing Authority are currently surveying buildings to make room for those who lost their homes. For those trying to keep theirs, apartment managers and owners are supposed to be helping residents clear the musty carpet and debris from their apartments (though some residents at the meeting murmured "yeah, right" when Turner mentioned this). And Waste Management has provided dozens of extra-large waste bins so that all of it doesn't pile up and attract bugs.
A representative from Public Works said that, based on initial inspections, there don't appear to be any structural problems with the apartments. However, many have problems with electricity and air conditioning. That's what they're trying to fix right now, along with general repairs as needed. Residents at Arbor Court also lost hot water, and so the management is ordering new boilers.
FEMA has still, as of Wednesday night, not declared whether it will assist Houston with extra housing vouchers and supplies, though Mayor Turner seems optimistic the feds will come through soon. For now, the American Red Cross has been going around providing families like Perla's with bottled water and canned food.
Leif Reigstad contributed to this report.