A father forced to flee fast-rising water with five children in tow. A couple who saw the dream house they’d bought little more than a year ago devastated. A veteran of past floods so chastened by the last few days that she wonders whether she can ever go home.
Hurricane Harvey authored unwelcome chapters in the lives of thousands of families. Even as the water recedes, the worry and work that remain mean those stories are far from over.
In the five years that Mickel Batts and his girlfriend rented their house in northeast Houston, water had never made it past the start of the driveway, even when neighbors’ homes flooded.
So when Hurricane Harvey began beating down, Batts fell asleep in front of the television, unworried. He woke around 2 a.m. to find water at the front door.
Outside, the flood lapped at the steps of his truck. His 11-year-old stepson, Edward Jones, ventured down the driveway to where water reached his chest. It was time to go, Batts knew. But it would not be easy.
Batts’ girlfriend, a corrections officer, was working the overnight shift. That left him with five children, ranging in age from 11 months old to 17 years, a challenge for Batts, who is disabled by kidney failure that requires dialysis three times a week and keeps him home as the primary caregiver.
When he heard a boat motoring past, he waded out the back door to flag it down.
“I started stuffing some things in bags and worked to get (the children) up and dressed. We were just waiting by the door,” he said. One rescuer carried Batts’ 3-year-old through waist-deep water, another grabbed the 2-year-old and a third helped with the bags. Batts carried 11-month-old Mickel Duane and tried to maintain order.
The youngest were “screaming and howling. They were a little terrified. But once I got in the boat and let everybody know it was going to be all right, they calmed down,” he said.
From the boat, a truck moved them to a highway underpass. Then a military transport carried them to a bus and onward to a shelter in an elementary school in outlying Huffman. A few nights later, they moved again — to a newly opened shelter at Lakewood Church, the Houston mega-congregation housed in a former basketball arena.
Batts said it’s tough trying to keep children used to running around from disturbing other evacuees. Edward has helped him meet the challenge, feeding his 11-month-old stepbrother and looking after the others.
“If I have something going on and I come back, he’s got all three kids to himself,” Batts said. “I’ve got to take my hat off to him.”
By midweek, things were looking up a little. For the first time since Harvey struck, Batts was taken to a dialysis clinic, where he sat in a reception area waiting for the treatment he depends on.
“We’re doing as good as can be under the circumstances,” he said by phone. A few minutes later, he apologized for cutting the conversation short. A staffer at the clinic was calling his name.
Even before the hurricane, Judy Mellon and her neighbors in the Meyerland section of Houston had seen their subdivision flood three times in five years. Afterward, though, they always came home.
Maybe not this time, she said.
When water rose from nearby Brays Bayou over Memorial Day two years ago, Mellon, who is 74, and her husband, Harry, 82, didn’t think twice about stripping out the soaked wallboard and replacing the floors of the cherished home he built more than 50 years ago.
But as Mellon salvaged family photos and her husband’s Eagle Scout badges from the house Harvey flooded with at least 3 feet (90 centimeters) of water, she voiced deep misgivings.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do, because he wants to rebuild and I’m totally against it,” she said Wednesday.
It’s not that Mellon doesn’t love the leafy neighborhood, where her stepdaughter lives just a block away. She’s just seen enough.
On Sunday morning, neighbors helped guide her through waist-deep water to a house that sits higher up, where she and 11 others took refuge. Then, she watched as floodwaters swelled past the windowsills of her gracious white-brick ranch.
“It really looked like we were in a river,” she said.
Harry Mellon, battling advanced renal cancer, was not there to see what happened to the home that holds great sentimental value to him. He remains hospitalized, while his wife stays with a stepson whose house remained dry. A crew dispatched by Harry’s real estate office has already removed their damaged carpet and furniture.
In a couple of weeks, the couple will move into an assisted-living home with the round-the-clock care Harry requires. But that does not settle the long-term question of what they and other neighbors will decide to do with their homes.
“I don’t think people respect water enough and the force of it,” Judy Mellon said.
Soon after John Cservek and his wife, Kathy, bought their house 13 months ago in Spring, Texas, he took on the job of installing a new kitchen himself, figuring they would stay for years. Because of Harvey, they’re now looking at remaking the place all over again.
“We’re still in that dazed and confused spot,” he said Thursday. “We’re doing what we can and what we think we need to do, but I’m sure this will kind of sink in as we move on.”
When the couple bought the house, their research showed it lay right near the line separating the 100-year and 500-year floodplains, and that the site last flooded in the 1940s. On Sunday, the waters of Harvey rose rapidly, seeping inside before nightfall.
Without a second floor to retreat to, the Cserveks loaded up what they could and climbed to a garage loft with their dogs, Lacy and Iggy, and two parrots. When they looked out the window Monday morning, the water in their house was about 3½ feet (1 meter) deep, and the couple decided they better find a way out.
Volunteers in a boat carried the pair and the dogs to safety but didn’t have room for the birds. Cservek was able to persuade another boat to return for them later, and a friend “welcomed us and our menagerie inside their home.”
Cservek spent years living in south Florida and recalls nailing plywood panels over his windows to gird against hurricanes. But Harvey was like nothing he had ever experienced. This house, newer than their previous place and with the pool his wife had long wanted, was supposed to be a destination. Now it’s a looming labor.
On the day they were rescued, the couple filled out insurance paperwork and FEMA forms. His sister has promised to drive her trailer down from Nevada and park it in their driveway so they’ll have a place to live while they work to undo the storm’s damage. On Thursday, they were waiting for a dumpster to be delivered, so they could begin hauling out the refuse.
“Today the real work starts, actually the physical work of trying to rebuild,” Cservek said. “And to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not looking forward to it. But what choice do I have?”
Most days since Beverly Bugler moved in 16 years ago, the vast, twin reservoirs framing her Houston neighborhood have been dry expanses of grass and trees, filled with dog owners and children playing soccer.
By last Sunday night, though, the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were threatening to burst the dams containing them. Inside their two-story brick house, Bugler and her husband, Richard, put their faith in television reports that engineers planned to release water so that it flowed west and away from them.
Then the power went out, and the water started coming in.
“By the time we left the house Monday, it was up to our knees. We heard from someone else that when they left, it was up to the kitchen sink and it was coming in fast and furious,” she said.
When a boat came by, the couple called out from the bedroom window. Rescuers yelled back that they had 15 minutes to get out. As it happens, that was Richard Bugler’s birthday. But in the rush to escape, the cake and gift his wife prepared became a left-behind afterthought.
By Thursday, the water had still not receded, leaving Bugler certain the first floor had been destroyed, with doubts that the rest is habitable.
“Nothing is ever going to be the same again,” said Bugler, a Houstonian since 1963. “I’m not sure I really want to live here anymore. I never want to see another raindrop.”
The strain, she said, has been eased by the shelter they have found with a friend who welcomed them in and the assurance they can move in to a rental home their son owns that happens to be vacant.
“It puts everything in perspective, you know, that things are things and stuff is stuff,” Bugler said, her voice breaking as tears began to well. “But if you’ve got friends and family, you’re rich.”
AP news researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this story.