hurricane survivor cleanup home

A strong spirit remains intact as Hurricane Harvey recovery begins in Texas

Orange, green, blue and yellow. These are the colors that Lynn and Larry painted the rooms of their Habitat home in Port Arthur, Texas. “I have had people come into our house and say, ‘My goodness, the color. We feel your spirit,’” Lynn says.

Mold now blankets the walls and everything else in the house. Lynn’s spirit, however, is still very much intact. It’s what she drew on to survive Hurricane Harvey’s raging floodwaters. It’s what she and her husband will use to rebuild their home. And they will do whatever they can for their neighbors, whose houses also were destroyed. “My little neighborhood is going to come back,” Lynn says. “We are going to help each other do that.”

They will need a lot of outside help, too. The coastal city of Port Arthur, where unemployment is high and wages are low, has been in decline for decades. “We don’t have a lot of resources here on a good day,” says Miriam Morgan, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Jefferson County.

The city was still struggling to get back on its feet from hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008 when Harvey pummeled it. More than 80 percent of the housing stock was flooded this time around, including 11 of the 13 Habitat homes built here. “We thought we knew what was going to happen based on past experiences. Harvey came in and broke all of the rules,” Morgan says. “Homes we never expected to flood flooded. We had wind damage that we would not have expected.”

Harrowing stories of close calls and heroic rescues are being told and retold all over town. Lynn and Larry have one to tell. The couple lives at the end of a quiet, tight-knit street that includes four Habitat homes. On Aug. 29, the quiet street turned into a raging river.

At first, the water began slowly creeping up under the doorways. Larry left to move his car to higher ground just in case. While he was gone, the creep turned into a torrent. “It rose so quickly,” Lynn says. “I called my son and said, ‘Can you come?’”

Lynn began to panic. “I am standing at the front window with my little wiener dog in my arms and my purse strapped around my neck, and I’m crying, ‘Larry, where are you?’ I thought the water had swept him into the ditch, and he couldn’t get out,” Lynn says. “I waited a little while then said, “I gotta go.’” By the time she escaped through the window, the water was up to her chest.

Fighting waves, Lynn started walking and made it two houses before crawling on top of a van. “I just had two knees operated on, and it was hard but I got on that van,” Lynn says. Then she saw the headlights of the truck belonging to her son, who had picked up Larry stranded at the end of the block. “It took us two hours to get to my son’s 15 minutes away,” Lynn says. “This was the most horrific thing I have ever been through.”

hurricane victim cleanup

For more than a week, the floodwaters refused to recede, knocking out roads and other services and frustrating recovery efforts. “We now have supplies and volunteers coming in so we can start with the cleanup,” Morgan says. “As long as supplies and volunteers hold out, we will offer those to the community.”

Seeing her house in its current condition is really emotional, Lynn says. “The first time, I walked in, it was devastating. Not so much that it was torn up, but how the furniture and things had moved from one room to another.”

On this visit, she has salvaged a few photos. She also saved her undergraduate and master’s diplomas, which she recently earned while in her 60s. “That may be trivial to some people, but it is important to me,” Lynn says. “My husband sacrificed a lot of suppers for those diplomas.”

With each passing day, Lynn grows more and more optimistic about the future, she says. “I don’t know why.” If the exterior of the house has to be redone, she wants to go with a Caribbean color scheme, something that reflects her spirit. “I am ready to move back home and back to my community. I miss it,” she says. “But I am good. I am good.”