I am sensitive to the right to privacy of the flood victims, and have tried not to show any distinguishing features, like addresses, license plates, or faces. If I have missed anything, please let me know.
On Saturday night, Matt, Mason and I drove to a Houston suburb and slept on the floor of a high school gym. The next morning we had a short church service in the school's auditorium, and then drove to a flood-damaged area to be part of a cleanup crew in a neighborhood lined with huge trees and beautiful homes. We were told the water had just finished receding the day before, and at the house we were assigned to, Mr. and Mrs. H were just getting back in after evacuating days earlier. Cars were crowded along the streets, leaving room for only one direction of traffic at a time, and the noise of demolition rang in the air.
The emptied houses looked as if they had just vomited all of their guts onto the lawn.
In the coverage of a flood and its aftermath, we often hear homes described as "a total loss". Do you know what that means? Even if you understand logically that everything in the house is ruined, seeing it in person is something that takes your breath away. Because it's not just a bunch of fresh rainwater that fills the houses; it's creek overflow and possibly even sewer backup. Here's how I explained it to my nine year old, who was too young to come along and help.
Alec: So, what were you guys actually doing?
Sarah: We were mucking out a house.
Alec: What does that mean?
Sarah: You know when we went to that swimming hole with Ramon, and there was that spot off to the side where the water was shallow and it was stinky and gross?
Alec: Ew, yes. I know exactly what you're talking about.
Sarah: That's muck. Now imagine that our whole house was filled with mucky water, up to about the top of Mason's head. Then it sits for a while and all our belongings float around in it, and then when the water recedes, our soggy, smelly stuff is left behind in a big jumble. Removing all that from the house is called "mucking it out".
There's the water line on the garage door.
Back at the house, we were encouraged to wear face masks, and so we got ours on and helped Mason adjust his. We brought things out to the front yard and grouped them in categories: kid toys, furniture, electronics. After just a minute, Mason said to me, "Mom, I need a stronger mask. I can still smell the smell." I had to explain to him that the mask is to keep particles like dust and mold out, but it can't block the smell.
The homeowners were remarkably calm, considering the circumstances, though it's likely they were hesitant to express their deepest emotions to a bunch of strangers. Mrs. H went from pile to pile, snapping photos for insurance purposes, and Mr. H quietly carried load after load onto the front lawn. I tried to imagine what I would be like on the first morning I returned to my devastated home and began inventorying all the losses. I'm pretty sure I would be a sobbing, emotional mess.
At one point, I opened a large kitchen drawer and found it full to the brim with water. All the other drawers were full as well. Apparently the kitchen remodel they had done recently included some very high quality, water-tight drawers, because not a drop had leaked out. We ended up drilling holes in them to drain them, followed by a team effort to sweep out the new pile of water that ended up rising on the kitchen floor.
Diapers: super absorbent, and heavy when full
So many ruined books
This warped crackle pattern was little bit of beauty among the ruins
Someone down the street appeared to be rescuing a huge baseball card collection.
A minute later, our friend on the crew who was sorting through the garage said, "The first thing I'm gonna do when I get home is clean my house." Mason replied, "The first thing I'm gonna do when I get home is take a big whiff of the nice air!"
And now to the main point.
Do you have a day to spare in the near future? Are you within a reasonable driving distance to Houston? You can volunteer to help a family literally save their home. If the house isn't cleared and dried out in the early few weeks after a flood, it won't be salvageable. Time is of the essence, so please consider joining a crew of volunteers as soon as possible. There are tons of people working in Houston and along the Texas coast, so you can join the Mormon Helping Hands effort like we did, or find another group doing similar work. Do you have teenagers? Bring them along! We were told that ages 12 and up could attend, provided they are mature enough to understand and follow the safety requirements. Details are here.