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December 17, 2018
I Survived Hurricane Harvey. Here's What I Want Those Facing Florence To Know.
US News

I Survived Hurricane Harvey. Here’s What I Want Those Facing Florence To Know.

Fellow friends in the path of Florence, I understand the anxiety, the uncertainty, the feelings of desperation, knowing your house will likely sustain some damage with the monstrous storm headed your way.

Our family of five ― myself, my husband and our three children ― survived Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and we are still rebuilding our home a year later. The lessons have been numerous, and the challenges outweigh the peaks of joy we’ve experienced at times. We had four feet of water in our one-story house for 14 days. We lost it all. Every book, piece of furniture, wedding album, baby photo, family heirloom and other precious items were gone with Harvey’s relentless wrath.

The storm sat over us for four days and dumped an unprecedented amount of rain. According to the National Hurricane Center, the Houston metro area got between 36-48 inches of rain. Florence is also expected to be a tremendous rain-maker. My heart aches for you in the East Coast, because I know the pain all too well.

Hopefully, you’ve evacuated. My best advice is if you haven’t left yet, and your residence has a second story, move everything upstairs. If not, take medications, any electronics which hold photos or important information, passports and other documents, photo albums and keepsakes, as well as clothes. It’s a pain to only have one extra pair of shorts and T-shirt, which is what happened to me when we evacuated our house. Also, take pictures for insurance and FEMA officials. They’ll likely ask for before-and-after photos.

My best advice is if you haven’t left yet, and your residence has a second story, move everything upstairs.

We evacuated the night before the flood inundated our home. We hurriedly got all our stuff together at 9 p.m., thinking it wouldn’t be safe to stay in our house, which backs up to a bayou. We took backpacks, blankets, pillows and headed to my sister’s.

I looked behind me before closing the door. I visualized how high the water might go ― a few inches, I thought. Water would rush in and back out. No big deal. We’d be OK. But never could I have imagined we would get such a torrential amount of water. Nor did I ever think that water could be so brutally damaging: wood floors buckled, our sofa with green colonies of mold covering it, books transformed into a massive mush, the kids’ stuffed animals soiled in sewage.

Things in one room were displaced to another by the current of the water that invaded our home. Our safe place, our nest of love and laughter, obliterated.

As the storm played out and in its immediate aftermath, we moved four times: to my sister’s, to my mom’s, then a hotel, and then my in-laws’. We couldn’t even access our house until two weeks after the storm. We wore protective Tyvek suits, masks, boots and gloves as we entered it. The vile smell managed to penetrate through the masks and deep into our olfactory nerves ― humid fumes from sewage, mold and fish (there were dead fish in our yard!). 

The author's couch after hurricane Harvey.

Maria Sotolongo

The author’s couch after hurricane Harvey.

As hard as those first days were, we had no idea the rollercoaster of emotions, decisions and hardships that awaited us as we gutted our house. We had to part with all of our belongings and literally throw them on the curve. It took the city two weeks to pick up our pile of molded items. It took three weeks for our house to dry out. It was then that we became acutely aware of time, and how slowly things were getting done.

Call FEMA and your insurance as soon as you know you have damage in your home, so that you are up on their list and they can get to you as soon as possible. Quickly call apartments or rental houses if you need to find a place to live. Apartments in Houston booked so rapidly, there were none left in our area. We ultimately made the decision to rent a friend’s house, where we are still living ― now a year after Harvey.

As hard as those first days were, we had no idea the rollercoaster of emotions, decisions and hardships that awaited us as we gutted our house.

Not being at our home has certainly affected the kids’ routine and perspective. They fear the rain when a big storm hits, and their anxiety on some rainy nights brings them into our bed for reassurance that we will be OK. We put our arms around each other and say a prayer: Please dear God, don’t let it flood again.

Make sure to buy fans and dehumidifiers online to help during the drying period. And get cleaning supplies, too. As cleanup begins, items such as masks, gloves, trash bags, rakes, spray bottles, bleach and a wheelbarrow are in high demand. Those were imperative during our cleanup and gutting process.

Once you’re done cleaning, and your body aches from the week of pushing, moving and lifting you did, the real work begins ― getting mold remediation, a contractor, an architect and an engineer, if you need one, like we did. Keep a folder, notebook or very well organized spreadsheet with expenses and contacts. Patience will be essential during this process, and that’s been my biggest obstacle. I am not naturally patient, but Harvey has undoubtedly taught it to me.

No matter what happens to those of you on the East Coast, know you are not alone.

What hasn’t been as pleasant are the strains on our marriage, the health issues, the swinging emotions, the dealing with our kid’s questions and changing their schools. Paying rent and a mortgage has been a killer. Our financial situation has forever changed. So has our life. So has our city. Our library is still closed, our favorite restaurant closed down too, our bank continues to be under reconstruction. The fourth largest city in the nation took a debilitating blow with Harvey, but we are resilient, and we will rebuild. We are Houston-strong!

No matter what happens to those of you on the East Coast, know you are not alone. The amount of help we received in Texas from every other state was heartwarming. You will be stronger and more united after this. It won’t be easy. You will cry many nights over a glass of wine and think you can’t possibly go on. But again, you are not alone. We will be there to help you rebuild. We will fight Florence together.

Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to pitch@huffpost.com.

Source HuffPost

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