The rain drove a constant barrage of water onto the streets of Lakewood in Northeast Houston. The bayou that runs through the neighborhood began to overflow its banks. My mom and I kept a constant watch on the weather, and when the news forecast a nonstop deluge, my siblings insisted we leave.
The news was already informing about the looting happening to businesses just a few miles from our home, so my plan was to stay. I felt that despite my prevailing health condition -a stasis ulcer in my lower extremities, kidney failure, depression, a heart condition, and obesity- I had to stay to protect our home. Despite my resolve, the water kept rising.
As my siblings, my mom, and I, along with all the other inhabitants of our metroplex, monitored the situation, I kept wondering how was I going to make it? Did I need help and assistance? Should I evacuate? Was it really going to be as bad as they said? But the water kept coming. When it reached our doorstep, my siblings arrived to transport us to safety, before it was too late.
We left our home, a home I have lived in all my life, all 49 years of them. The home that contained photos of our late father, grandmother, aunt, and cousin. A home that contained every worldly possession we own. My vehicle, along with my sister’s, had to be left behind. Despite the knowledge of these losses, I reluctantly left for dry ground. I prayed, cried, reminisced, and talked to God about what was happening. I had to leave it all behind, I knew, but that didn’t make it any easier. Once we arrived at my sister’s house, the news showed aerial footage of our neighborhood, and sure enough, the area began to flood.
Harvey stayed with us for seven days, poured out an overwhelming 52 inches of rain onto Houston and its surrounding areas, and four feet of rainwater into our home. We lost everything. By the time the waters receded, and it was considered safe to return, ten days had passed. The waters left its muddy and sewage-riddled stamp on our home. It destroyed everything: electronics, furniture, clothes, my vehicle, photos, mementos. Everything.
What the rain water didn’t destroy, the mold and mildew in the aftermath did. I remember arriving back at home, everything looked normal and, for a moment, a spring of hope began to trickle in. Then I opened the car door and was bombarded with the smell of our devastation. The rank odor which greeted me was the smell of death. The death of our possessions, the death of our lifestyle, the death of our home. I looked over at my mom, and her face mirrored the desperation that seemed to be creeping up my spine. The eyes which in the past had been my bastion of hope were now glassy with tears, as we beheld the totality of the loss before us.
My knees buckled, and I had to hold onto the door for support. What were we going to do? Where were we going to go? How could we move forward? What could we salvage? So many unanswered questions.
Family and friends came out to help us with the removal of all that we knew and had cherished for so long. As possession after possession was brought out of the house, and my mom and I had to decide what could be salvaged, a deeper sense of loss began to creep in and I couldn’t stand. I slumped into a molded chair as spasm after spasm wracked my body from the leg pain, as a result of overexertion. As I sat there and watched memory after memory being carried out and discarded, depression sat in. I couldn’t believe we had gone from a fully-furnished three-bedroom home to an overnight bag and a hotel voucher from FEMA. Walls were torn out, and appliances discarded. The wrecking crew came and in a span of about three hours cleared out 49 years of memories.
Once the house was gutted, it had to be aired, and remodeling had to begin. I couldn’t sit still. I wasn’t the only one to experience loss. Others were sick, depressed, worried and lost. The Salvation Army opened its doors some days after Harvey, and I immediately returned to help.
Healing begins by giving back
At the Salvation Army Aldine Westfield Corps I prayed, signed people in, served meals, counseled, stocked supplies, and drove to affected areas distributing meals, cleaning supplies, and necessities. I noticed that by giving back, I began to experience healing. As my fellow refugees and I bonded over our shared experiences, I realized that it kept me going. So I continued to volunteer. I helped until they stopped providing the immediate assistance. All the while living in a hotel room, visiting our gutted home, and trying to piece back the life that had been destroyed and so quickly taken from me.
As other refugees provided consoling words such as, “God knows best” and “It will be okay.” I sought refuge in the knowledge that God never leaves or forsakes you, and that trials only last for so long, and soon the hardship will end.
It took ten and a half months to completely renovate the home.
In that time, I was hospitalized for two blood clots in each leg, depression and heart complications. But I never lost my faith. I was blessed by The Salvation Army with a new vehicle, furniture, gas money, food, clothing, prayers, words of comfort, and supporting helping hands. It was a true struggle, but The Salvation Army stepped up when I needed them most. From private donors to the Advisory Board, assistance came in different forms. Without them, I don’t think I would be able to say today that I have survived and recovered from Harvey.
About the Author
Patrick Limbrick, a committed volunteer and church member of The Salvation Army Aldine Westfield Corps, lost everything in the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Growing up, Patrick attended The Salvation Army church and Boys & Girls Club programs.