HURRICANE HARVEY ONE YEAR LATER
Texans recall how people of Louisiana helped their neighbors to the west
By Ginger Broomes
Last August, slow-moving Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas . In a four-day period, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain, causing unprecedented flooding . Today, Texas journalist Ginger Broomes remembers the storm, sharing her own personal saga along with the stories of other Southeast Texas residents .
One year ago, Tod Hurst and his family sat atop kitchen countertops as his home in Orange, Texas, took on an unprecedented amount of water from Hurricane Harvey. Realizing no help was coming to them, Hurst swam out through a window and borrowed a neighbor’s boat to evacuate his family.
After decimating Houston, Harvey bore down over Southeast Texas with three days of relentless rain. Homes that had survived Hurricanes Rita and Ike did not survive Harvey’s flood, and homes in 1,000-year flood plains took on water.
A lifetime Orange resident, Hurst had been through both storms with no flooding, so he had no flood insurance.
After getting his family out of the home, he proceeded to rescue others in his neighborhood, something that changed his life forever. His family sought temporary shelter at a local church.
After the floodwaters started to recede, one of Hurst’s friends evacuated them to his home in Lake Charles. The Sabine River — the natural border between Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana — flooded from the waters up north, covering Interstate 10, stranding him in Louisiana.
When the waters from the second flood had gone down, he returned to find a foot of water in his house. For the next three months, he stayed in Lake Charles, driving to his job in Texas, and working on his house every day.
Hurst said a rental-car business on Prien Lake Road “went out of their way to find me a car when none were available.” Other Lake Charles businesses offered him help: a local laundromat cleaned his clothes.
Help in Lake Charles
Built in 1962, Ken Rougeau’s childhood home in Mauriceville had also withstood multiple hurricanes. Harvey flooded the house with 8 inches of water.
With no power, Ken and his wife, Rena, couldn’t dial 911. Rena used her cell phone to call her daughter in New Mexico, who eventually managed to get through to the Cajun Navy in Louisiana.
Two days later, they were evacuated by airboat to a shelter in Orange before being moved to a shelter at Burton Coliseum.
“I do know in Lake Charles, everybody was taking care of everybody, whether they knew them or not,” Rena recalled. “I got fed. They gave me clothes, showers, anything you needed.”
Rena teared up at the memory.
“We had a dry place to sleep,” she said. “It wasn’t ideal, but it was good, it was nice, and I wasn’t sleeping under a rock outside.”
The Rougeaus had left behind three dogs, two horses, and hundreds of ducks and geese. The horses and dogs found higher ground, but many of the ducks perished in water that was 18 inches deep in some places behind their home.
After the family was shuttled to a shelter in Alexandria, Rena contacted her insurance and a construction company in Orange to get the ball rolling on fixing the house.
The home wasn’t in a floodplain, but Rena said she paid flood insurance “only because Ken’s parents had.”
After the family returned home, they spent most of the first few months inside a horse trailer while construction teams did repairs. Later, they moved into the only room that was livable. An outside grill under a canopy served as their living room and kitchen for months.
Chris and Linsey Sappington got more than one foot of water in their Little Cypress house, just outside of Orange. Linsey evacuated several days ahead of Harvey, but Chris stayed behind with their dogs. As the safety manager at the LyondellBasell plant in Lake Charles, he had to be available if the plant was affected by Harvey.
The Cajun Navy eventually evacuated Chris and his neighbors and dropped them off at a pickup point in Orange. Chris took a shuttle to Burton Coliseum, where Linsey met him from her mother’s house in Fort Worth. LyondellBasell reserved the family a hotel room in Sulphur, where they stayed for a few more weeks when the Sabine flooded.
When those waters receded, they set about the long, arduous task of cleaning their home. They commuted from Louisiana to Orange daily to fix what they could, enduring long lines at checkpoints that had been set up at the Louisiana-Texas border.
Linsey said the family could never thank LyondellBasell enough for helping them and their neighbors clean up after the storm.
“Not only did they reserve a hotel room for us, but a huge group of volunteers showed up at our home within days with tools, a dumpster, shovels and lots of man (and woman) power to completely gut it,” she said.
Family loses all
During the early morning hours of Aug. 30, 2017, Daniel and Jen Creel and their two children, ages 2 and 7, were still in their home in Pinehurst. Despite using sandbags, water continued to rise, forcing the children to sleep in their parents’ bedroom.
At about 2:30 a.m. Jen saw water coming into the living room. As she grabbed her children from the bedroom, Daniel shouted they needed to get on top of something.
Daniel had opened the back door, and two water moccasins had come into the house. Jen put the children on top of the kitchen table, and she climbed onto a countertop. Daniel’s only available weapon to kill the snakes was a broom.
After that, they ran for the truck, the water outside almost the same height as the base of their vehicle. They drove to a friend’s house down the road and spent the rest of the morning there.
Once the rain stopped and enough spots were accessible, the Creels retrieved Jen’s mother and grandmother and headed to the nearest available hotel, a LaQuinta Inn in Lafayette.
“I swear I must have called 39 hotels and could not find one with an available room except for (that one),” Jen said.
During the 4.5-hour trip to the hotel, Jen began making calls and applied for FEMA assistance, which was approved.
The Creels later learned their house had taken on 6 feet of water. All they had left were the clothes they were wearing and their vehicle. Birthday gifts given to the 7-year-old the week before Harvey were gone.
“If anyone thought we were evacuees, they asked, and I would try to hold it together, but it was hard,” Jen said. “We lost everything, including pictures of my deceased father and new furniture that we had just bought. It was devastating.”
One year later, the generosity of Texas’ neighbors to the east has not been forgotten. Linsey Sappington said their home “is back to normal and better than before.”
The Rougeaus said their home renovations wrapped up in February.
“I’m forever grateful to The Cajun Navy,” Rena said. “Without them we wouldn’t have been rescued.”
Hurst continues to work on his house, with the drywall recently installed. He still showers outside. With no flood insurance, his only option was to do as much of the work as he could. He spent many months in Louisiana until his home was even vaguely livable.
But Hurst said the simplest things meant more to him, including sleeping on friends’ couches in Lake Charles and help from local businesses.
The Creel family moved into a rent house not far from their destroyed home, which is scheduled for demolition.
“We still haven’t been able to replace everything, but God has blessed us with everything we need,” Jen said. “We emotionally were hurt, but we drove away in our own vehicle without a scratch on us. We didn’t lose each other or any friends or family members.”
Creel said they would rather “lose every bit of our material things than to lose the life of a loved one.”
“In the end, we are healthy and happy and thankful for what we have,” she said. “We watched others on TV and personal friends lose much more, and some lost their lives from the flood.”
The families not only survived “The Storm” — as the locals call it — but they remain grateful for the kindness of friends and of neighbors near and far. Multiple stories have emerged of ordinary people taking it upon themselves to rescue each other, including Louisiana residents showing up with their own boats and supplies for survivors.
“We also saw a side of people that risked their lives for strangers, and that’s what this world needs more of,” Creel said.
The Hurst home in Orange, Texas, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Bill Green unloads personal items from his two vehicles that sit under high water off Dunn Ferry Rd. in Moss Bluff from Harvey on Aug. 30, 2017.
Volunteers work to prepare Burton Coliseum to serves as a shelter for evacuees after Hurricane Harvey in August, 2017.