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SALT LAKE CITY — Hurricane Harvey floodwaters chased Beth Green and her growing family from their Houston area home this week.
The young Mormon mom shared her anxieties and fears about the evacuation in a thoughtful interview done through a series of texts. Green’s insights read like a natural Facebook conversation. The record flooding swiftly overwhelmed the extensive preparations she made with her husband, Sheridan. She shared her concerns about imposing on friends. She expressed sadness over what the family is losing as their house floods, even as she felt gratitude that her family is safe while others are dead or injured.
“I would probably have an easier time texting than talking on the phone,” she started in a text sent Monday night. “If you want to interview me by text, I’m open to that. We still don’t know how much more water our house is going to get. We don’t know if we are going to lose a few things or a lot of things or everything. I’m trying to process everything. And I haven’t really slept since Friday night. I’m more coherent in writing than speaking anyway, even when I’m not emotional. 🙂
Editor’s note: This Q&A is broken up in paragraphs that represent each text sent.
DESERET NEWS: I’m fine with whatever works for you. Beth, where do you live?
BETH: We are in Spring, just a few streets from Amy. I live with my husband and our three kids, Hector, 7, Ella, 5, and Freddie, 1. We have been in Houston for nine years and in this house for three of those years.
DN: A lot of history in your home, then, with your kids growing up there. What in the house is most difficult to see damaged?
BETH: Our piano is from my parents. They bought it as their wedding present to themselves in 1985, and it’s the piano my brother and I grew up learning to play on. They lived in Dallas for a long time and moved to Alberta a few years ago. They left the piano with us when they moved so we would have one. My husband I both play. Knowing that Houston floods, I’ve always in the back of my mind hoped we wouldn’t lose the piano.
We also have several bookshelves that my husband built. Kind of a painstaking process as he taught himself woodworking. Lots of love put into them. I’ll be sad to see those go.
And we just had my son’s first birthday a couple weeks ago. My mother-in-law and my older kids and I took him to a toy store and picked out some toys he really loved. He’s only had them for a couple weeks. I wish I had brought them with us, but we were trying to pack so light.
DN: Are they already sustaining damage?
BETH: We know there were 6 inches of water in the house when we left our street Sunday morning to stay with friends. So the bottoms of the shelves will rot.
The piano we put on cinder blocks. My husband said it had a couple of inches left but that was Sunday morning and there’s been more rain since then.
We haven’t seen our house since 8:30 Sunday morning so I don’t know more than that about the conditions inside.
DN: Tell me how this started for you? When did the rain start?
BETH: The rain started at our house late Saturday night.
DN: You must have a nearby river or creek, right?
BETH: We sit on a hill (a Texas hill, not a Utah one) up from a small tributary of Cypress Creek. We are downhill from several neighbors.
Last year in the Tax Day floods, the creek flooded through that gully and into the road by our house. The water came up to our curb but not further. That was supposed to be the biggest flood we would ever see. We figured our house was totally safe on this hill.
Sunday morning when we woke up the water was at the level it was last year. We expected that.
DN: I’m sorry. This storm is one in a million.
BETH: We weren’t too worried, but then it just kept rising.
So we have this back corner of the house that is lower than the neighbors and we get their rainwater. Last year in the storms we got a little water on that side of the house and had to replace carpets. We thought that drainage was our only concern. We worked really hard to get the yard ready.
Everything drained perfectly. But this time the creek came up on the other side of the house.
DN: When and how did you evacuate?
BETH: Sunday when we saw how fast the water was coming we knew we would sleep better at our neighbors’ uphill from us. We didn’t want to have to get the kids out of bed in the night to move them.
So we simultaneously packed some bags and put stuff up high in the house. The day before we had done the rooms we thought might get rainwater. So on Sunday we did the other rooms.
My visiting teacher texted to tell me they were predicting the creek would rise to an elevation of 102 feet and that her husband had checked a map for us and we were in the 102-feet flood zone.
So we thought maybe it would come right to the door or maybe we would get a few inches in. We thought we would sleep at the neighbors and then be able to wade back to our house to check on everything and maybe move more stuff as needed.
But the creek just kept coming up. My 1-year-old didn’t sleep all night, so I didn’t, either. Around 6 a.m. I started to get scared and asked friends who live farther north to figure out if they could drive close enough to get us.
These are friends from the ward we loved in when we first moved to Houston, the Inwood Ward. Both our families moved to Spring a couple of years ago. We’re now in the Westfield Ward.
They were able to drive to about a block above our street and walk in across people’s yards to help us carry our stuff out.
By Sunday night, our mailbox was underwater.
DN: You weren’t able to take much.
BETH: No, we only took the things we already had planned to take. They brought their minivan about 8 a.m. We took two suitcases, a backpack, a laptop bag with our laptops, my diaper bag, and a couple totes with food storage. I didn’t want to show up at someone else’s place with five extra people and no food when all of us could be stranded indoors indefinitely.
DN: Do you have photos or a computer or keepsakes in danger?
BETH: We took our laptops. There are lots of photos in the house but we have digital copies of most things, I think.
I don’t know … when I think about what’s left in the house, and what’s most important … getting the people out was most important, the rest of it is just stuff. But it’s stuff I like. So it’s hard.
I know we are luckier than a lot of people because we made it out safely, we have been in dry houses the entire time because we left before the water came in.
And we had time to prepare.
DN: You’re safe, and that’s what’s important. And you’ll clean up and move ahead, but of course it’s hard. That’s very real. I’m so sorry.
What time did you leave Sunday morning? Soon after 8?
BETH: I was texting a friend when I was packing and telling her I didn’t know what was most important to save. She said to make sure I got jewelry that was sentimental. And I’m glad she said that because neither my husband nor I wear our wedding rings right now (we’ve grown since we got married) but I remembered to get them and some other things that were gifts from him.
We left this morning about 8. My husband went in one last time to get his Go Pro. And that’s when he saw how high the water was already. We haven’t seen the house since.
DN: What a great friend.
BETH: Everyone I know seems to be checking on me. Of course, when it storms in Houston, we all check on each other. This friend was my boss eight years ago.
DN: So where are you now?
BETH: We are with friends about 10 minutes north of our house. They have a big, two-story house and no standing water in their neighborhood. I feel much safer here. They are the friends who picked us up on Sunday.
I’m hearing from all my friends here and old friends who used to live here and all my high school friends and all of our extended family.
Everyone is checking on us.
So many people near us have offered us places to stay.
DN: Has your husband been able to go to work?
BETH: Sheridan is an immigration attorney. He started his own solo practice this year. So the business is his mind and his laptop, and it’s come with us, and he’s been able to work at our friend’s place.
DN: Do you work in addition to being the Chief Domestic Engineer in your home?
BETH: I’m the chief what-you-said and I homeschool our older kids.
DN: I guess you’ve got some experience from watching others go through this from previous nearby floods?
BETH: My friend, the one with the advice about the jewelry, she and her husband have both lived in Houston their whole lives and she has been texting me and telling me what we need to do.
DN: What worries you the most about returning home and the next weeks and months?
BETH: She’s told us we need to file everything ASAP and try to get a good contractor very fast because everyone is going to be soooo busy.
Well, I was supposed to fly to Alberta on Wednesday with the kids for a family reunion. I’m still trying to figure out how to make that work and if the kids and I should stay up there while the house gets fixed up.
I’m not sure how we would get there because it doesn’t seem like flights are leaving Houston yet.
I’m worried about how the kids will react.
DN: Do you have flood insurance?
BETH: Yes. I know a lot of people have been caught without it, but I was always told it was best to have it in Houston.
In fact, we had a Sacrament meeting once devoted to the necessity of flood insurance.
DN: How expensive is that insurance?
BETH: We are not in an expensive flood plain, we’re in the plain with regular rates. It’s like $400 a year, I think.
It’s all federal insurance. It’s through an agency but it’s federally mandated rates.
We have one neighbor downhill from us whose house is under water now. She had been there like 30 years and her house had never flooded. She’s in the flood plain, so it’s like thousands of dollars a year, and she’s an elderly woman. She said she couldn’t afford it and had never flooded, so she didn’t have it. She doesn’t know what to do.
DN: That would be so scary.
BETH: There are a lot of people who will be in that situation. So many places flooded that never flood.
DN: What are stores like now? I’ve heard of long lines and closed stores. Are they getting resupplied?
BETH: I haven’t been out, but our friends we are staying with want to HEB today. He said they were letting 20 people in at a time so they had to wait in line. They also cut the line off a little after my friends got there and turned people away so the store could close at 3 p.m.
DN: What else is abnormal that those of us not experiencing this wouldn’t think of?
BETH: Everyone in the neighborhood comes together to help. Sheridan says the only times you meet your neighbors are Halloween and natural disasters. We don’t know most of the people on our street except our uphill neighbors, who are amazing. But everyone came down the street to check on us and tell us we could come to their house if the water got deep.
Our downhill neighbor showed up on our porch yesterday afternoon with her cats when her house started to get water in. When we moved up to the uphill neighbors’, she came with us. The uphill neighbors fed us dinner and gave us beds. I couldn’t sleep because of the storm and my baby and neither could the downhill neighbor who had just lost her house. She took the baby from me and rocked him from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. so I could sleep a little.
I’ve only had like maybe three brief conversations with this woman before in my life.
I keep thinking of the things I should have packed.
I just had no idea. We thought maybe a few inches of water.
DN: Ouch. And now you’re stuck with time on your hand to think.
BETH: I should also tell you the Schmidts are amazing. (Beth’s friend Amy Schmidt was a part of a Deseret News story Monday.) Last year whenever we had heavy rain they would come trench our yard so the rain could flow.
Last night when I said I was putting stuff up high, Amy said she was coming to help. She and her husband walked three streets down to us barefoot through the mud and rain to bring us garage shelving and helped us put some furniture on it.
But they are always looking after us like that. A lot of our ward is in the same neighborhood, and we look after each other.
Yeah, I’m stuck with time to think and wonder.
It’s like Schrödinger’s cat right now. All of my stuff still exists and does not exist. We don’t know for sure when we will get back in to know for sure.
Oh, another things people should know, we had bad floods last year and bad floods in 2015, but not always in the same part of the city. So there are people flooded out this week who have never flooded before, but also people who just finished rebuilding from the last flood.
And we were able to walk to safety, but there really are people being rescued from their roofs by helicopters. This has happened to friends of ours and their relatives in other parts of the city.
Oh, I just thought of something else. We have these big, fantastic rainstorms in Houston, and that is something I liked about the city, if it was night and everyone was home safely, to listen to a thunderstorm crashing outside and pounding rain. I loved that. I don’t feel the same way about the sound of rain any more.
More from my friend about the grocery store: He said it took about 35 minutes before they were allowed in. And he said over the loudspeaker the whole time they were in they were all being urged to get their stuff and get out because there were more people waiting in line outside. He said they did have water and milk but no bread.
Another thing that’s frustrating: We did a lot of prep work getting all our food, water, batteries, etc., prepared to be stuck in our house for a week potentially with no power. But now we aren’t in our house. So all these people are being evacuated and rescued from flooded houses, even if they had all their supplies ready, they don’t now, and they are going to need stuff.
DN: These are great insights. Thank you for being so thoughtful and sharing them with me.
BETH: I have one more story for you.
The last thing I did before we left was unplug appliances. It suddenly occurred to me it was the Sabbath. No church and it hadn’t been a day of peace and rest but rather work and stress. But we had been checked on and helped by family and friends near and far and total strangers. It felt like a holy day. I got behind my TV cabinet to unplug all the cords and found a picture my daughter had drawn that must have fallen back their months ago. It was a rainbow. I don’t know what the next week or months hold for our little family, but I feel like that rainbow was telling me we are going to get through this. We are feeling lots of love right now and still hope.
Editor’s note: The Greens were able to return home on Tuesday to grab a few more items. The water had come up over the cinder blocks and damaged the piano legs but didn’t reach the keyboard. Beth said, “I’m not sure how wet it is. I couldn’t feel it and still be able to focus on the other things I needed to do.” The water is slowly receding for now, but Beth has heard some predictions that the creek won’t reach its high point until Wednesday or Thursday.
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