This story includes descriptions of flooding experienced during Hurricane Harvey.
Like so many Houstonians, Esmeralda has a Hurricane Harvey story to tell. Two years ago, she was living right by Halls Bayou, at Parker by highway 59 in a four bedroom home with her daughter, a student at HCC, and her partner. Esmeralda and her daughter had always been very close. Every Tuesday, the pair took advantage of the nearby AMC $5 Movie Night.
The night her home was flooded, everything happened very quickly. A native Houstonian, Esmeralda lived through Hurricane Rita, among other storms. She remembers the large tree that dropped down in her yard during that storm. Luckily, no one was injured. This time around, the flooding happened within hours. Around midnight, the rain didn’t seem unusual. There was some water around the tires of their cars. The family was then awakened at 2:30 in the morning by the sound of the family dog barking in the flooded yard. He was up to his waist in water. In the house, the water was already knee-high, swirling around them. They were in darkness, the breaker having cut out.
Stunned, Esmeralda called her sister for help and the three of them began working to salvage what they could, placing their possessions on the roofs of their now useless vehicles. Disoriented and scrambling, Esmeralda now recalls how she focused on saving a little plant from the water.
Esmeralda, her daughter and their pet chihuahua set off to connect with her family. Braving biting ants, leaking gas and quick-moving, chest-high water, they fought their way toward safety. While her daughter was able to make it the two long miles to connect with her sister’s car, Esmeralda was forced to turn back and the two were separated. Their two larger dogs tried to walk along with them but were finally swept away by the current.
For days after the storm, the family looked for their dogs. Happily, late on the second day, they were reunited. Esmeralda recalls that the dogs were very hungry and very glad to see their family. In the days following the storm, neighbors pulled together, sharing what food they had. Esmeralda helped coordinate between church and civic groups that were providing food to those who were affected.
The family was separated by the storm. Esmeralda’s partner stayed in the flooded home. Her daughter stayed with an aunt and uncle. Esmeralda stayed at another sister’s home, close by. Eventually her daughter would receive FEMA assistance, allowing her to stay in an apartment near HCC so that she could continue to go to school. Location was important as both of the family’s cars were ruined in the storm.
Esmeralda moved across town to a small apartment. Having lost everything, when she arrived at Houston Furniture Bank over a year and a half after the storm, she shared with us that she had been doing without a bed or a table. She had been sleeping on her couch, which had aggravated an old, work-related back injury. Donated clothes were organized in boxes and she had been taking her meals perched on the corner of her couch. “I am a clean person but it looks messy,” she lamented. Esmeralda is looking forward to putting her new chest of drawers to good use, along with a new queen bed set and a dinette.
Since the storm, Esmeralda’s daughter has married a soldier and moved to Germany. Earlier this year, she faced a health crisis requiring surgery. Esmeralda was unable to travel to be with her, having depleted her savings in recovering from the hurricane. In February, her daughter came to visit but was unable to stay with her mother because she didn’t have the necessary furniture. This June, her daughter will be back to visit and Esmeralda is excited to be able to host her and cook for her, thanks to her new furniture. Together, they will “sit down to eat a home-cooked meal, instead of getting fast food.”
Both mother and daughter have suffered the psychological effects of living through such a traumatic experience. For each of them, the hardest part has been the pain of seeing the other suffer. “It’s a struggle to get back to where we were,” said Esmeralda. “All I want is for her to be ok and she wants me to be ok. She is worried about me. It was just me and her all our lives.”
Houston Furniture Bank is proud to be a part of the continued recovery of our community in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Since the storm, Houston Furniture Bank has provided assistance to more than 3,000 affected families. As we continue to assist these survivors, we are constantly reminded that for many, recovery remains elusive. Furniture assistance is made possible by a generous grant for Hurricane Harvey relief from the Greater Houston Community Foundation.