Rabbi Aaron Levitt is the Judaic Principal at Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston. He described his family’s experience with the recent flooding on his blog, The Rodeo Rabbi.
It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to see your house and cars under water.
We woke up at 3 a.m. hearing dripping noises and realized (if you call it that) that our entire one story house was covered in water up to our ankles. We jumped into panic mode, foolishly thinking that if we put towels by the door somehow that would help. And we then spent about an hour trying to save as much of our belongings as we could. Thank God, I was able to save all of my sefarim in time. We also found important documents, medicine, and whatever else we could that was low down. Ironic though that the one night I put my iPad down on the floor before going to bed, instead of on my bedside table, there was a flood. Oh well. [Still, take a minute to think about which things are most important to you, and put them somewhere safe].
The kids were of course in shock, but we tried to reassure them that we were safe and just wanted to keep as much as we could from getting wet. The twins, half asleep, followed our directions to try to move their books onto their beds, but didn’t think to leave the ones that were already under water where they were. Goodbye two more mattresses. Also, note to self: not a good idea to unplug a DVD player submerged in water unless getting electrocuted gives you a thrill.
After about an hour the water was up to our knees and we realized it was time to leave the house and go across the street to neighbors whose house is raised up. When we opened the back door water burst through. We got out as quickly as we could and started walking down the driveway. Before we even reached the street the water was up to my waist and I needed a neighbor to help me carry the twins across.
[A few days later on Shabbat, the rabbi invited every individual who wanted to come up, one at a time, a recite Birchat HaGomel, the blessing after one survives a dangerous situation. I chose not to recite it, because I never felt like it was life threatening. Friends had to literally swim through water that was up to their neck, pushing their kids in boats or boogie boards. However, maybe I am in denial about how scary this was and maybe I really should recite the bracha.]
Six families, wet, scared, and in shock, along with several frightened dogs as well, spent the next 10 hours or so trying to make sense of what was happening, figure out what had to be done next, and give each other chizuk. Sitting on the front steps, watching the street you live on turn into a river is indescribable.
We have lived through hurricanes before in Florida, which in many ways are more frightening. But this flood was so unexpected. The flash flood warning signal on the TV that night for Harris County was ignored because 1) we see those often and it always just means a rainy night, and 2) Harris County is huge so you assume it means somewhere else.
Anyway, long story (and long night) short, by sunrise there were a few people in boats trying to rescue neighbors in trouble, and by about 10 a.m. you could see the tip of the fire hydrant sticking out. Sitting with my son on the front steps we talked about how the dove must have felt after the flood, searching for an olive branch on which to rest.
When the water receded to just above the knees I walked back and was surprised to find the water in the house only up to my ankles. It was, of course, a mess. Things floated all over, garbage spilled, there was a strong sewage odor, and everything was soaked. Ironically, though the real house didn’t do so well, the Lego house my kids had built stayed perfectly intact.
The next few days are a blur. Sweeping out the water. Throwing out furniture (beds, sofas, rugs, bookcases, dressers, china cabinets, desks) and anything else that got wet (clothes, toys, old baseball cards). Salvaging whatever we could by air drying with fans. Watching our front yard and entire street turn into a huge garbage dump.
At some point, I realized that there was more furniture outside than in, so I tried to cheer myself up by setting up this scene (notice the cheap rent sign):
Friends generously took us in to stay with them. In fact, our entire neighborhood is made up of families hosting others who have flooded. Someone else lent us a car (both of our cars had been paid off but are now goners). We took turns going to work while working on the house. We were so tired that each morning, when we woke up, our feet would still be hurting.
It took a couple of days until word started to get out about how big a disaster area this was, but when it did it went viral. I will write another post about all the great chesed that is going on, which is truly incredible and inspiring. For now, however, we have finally reached the point where we can come up for air for a minute (which is why I finally have time and energy to blog).
We have thrown most of our furniture and many of our belongings out. The rest we have placed in the kitchen, patio, or bathrooms. The walls of the house have been cut up to two feet and the wood floors all removed. Now we wait a few days for everything to dry out. We have many fans and dehumidifiers going.
There is not much else we can do for the house right now. Now the focus turns to dealing with car insurance, FEMA, and all that sort of stuff. Unfortunately, we did not know when signing up for our Renter’s Insurance that that does not cover flooding, but we have not really had time to process the financial side of this.
The bigger issue, even more important than money, or possessions, is the emotional well-being of our kids, each of whom has taken turns melting down in their own way. Aside from the trauma and fear, and the loss of special possessions, I think the biggest thing for them is the uncertainty. Which of my things survived? Where is everything? Where will we sleep/eat tonight? When can we move back home? Will this ever happen again?
Although this has been, and continues to be, very hard, we will get through this. I know this because 1) we have been through worse things in the past and gotten through them by supporting each other, and 2) we are in this together with our entire community who are all helping each other out.
It will be a long recovery, both physically and emotionally, but we are resilient and our family and our community will pick ourselves up and start over. And the next time we wake up in that house, our feet won’t hurt and we won’t be stepping in water.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.