Her family’s goal was to just be able to spend Christmas at their home — a wish that many families across Houston likely shared after the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey back in August.
Their wish didn’t come true, but they made the most of their situation regardless, her mom bought a tiny Christmas tree from Hobby Lobby, and they celebrated that Christmas in the apartment they were staying in.
Media production junior Sarah Rolen wasn’t able to move back into her house until the weekend before this semester began.
“It’s weird because whenever I was standing in my house, moving all of our belongings around, water around my ankles — I didn’t really think about what it was going to be like, and that we weren’t going to be able to live there for so long,” Rolen said.
Rolen’s story is just one of many. In her neighborhood alone, Rolen said that out of 275 houses, 273 of them flooded.
“Everyone’s grass is dead, some people still have trash in their yards and most people still don’t live there, so when you drive through you just see trucks for contractors and construction workers — but there’s not really any families there anymore,” Rolen said. “It’s like an abandoned wasteland.”
Rolen was lucky — her family had flood insurance. But many others weren’t, including her next-door neighbor, who Rolen said haven’t even been able to start much of the major repairs needed on their house. Even though her family had flood insurance though, she said that they didn’t even receive all the money that they needed until last month.
And even after receiving the money, Rolen’s family is still in the process of trying to make their house feel like home again. Right now, they don’t have any furniture in their living room. Rolen said that they’re using fold-out chairs for now, but she’s grateful nontheless.
According to the Washington Post, Harvey damaged 203,000 homes, 12,700 of which were destroyed. Many of these homes belonged to students like Rolen — and even five months after the hurricane has passed, this is still something that they’re living with each day.
“People might think things aren’t that bad anymore, but when you branch out, and go into those smaller communities, people are still very much affected by it,” Rolen said. “It’s interesting that for the people who weren’t affected by it at all, it’s just a thing of the past. But for people like my family and others, this is still our reality.”
As far as actual damage, Rolen said her house flooded somewhere between 2 to 3-feet deep. Her house is situated down off the highway like a bowl, and there is also a creek that runs right behind her neighborhood. When Harvey hit, these two factors worked against her neighborhood and almost everyone experienced substantial flooding.
But through it all, Rolen said that her neighborhood held in strong. Even now she said that people are still helping each other out, contractors and and construction workers giving people advice over Facebook, people make each other food and let them have a place to stay. Her family has even become close with her neighbors across the street, and they stop by all the time now just to hang out.
“The number one thing I’ve taken from Harvey is that people are so good,” Rolen said. “We were taken out of our house in a canoe by some random guy who didnt even live in our neighborhood, he just saw all the water and decided he was gonna go get people. It just blew my mind at how there are people who when they’re faced with tragedy, their first thought is ‘I can help.”