There are tens of thousands of stories of destruction, of hope, and recovery from Hurricane Harvey. The stories of Pearl Smithers and Lee Jordan and the battle with the Hurricane Harvey floods they are still fighting but also slowly....winning.
One year ago, it was one hell of a day on the Dickinson Bridge. We were there with both professional rescuers and regular Joes in their own boats bringing thousands of Hurricane Harvey survivors to higher ground. Among them at an apartment complex on Deats Road swallowed by the rising flood of Dickinson Bayou, was a woman named Pearl Smithers.
"I don't even have words to say. I don't know. I just don't know," she told me as we reached dry land on I-45 after a group of electricians and tow truck operators ferried her and a dozen other apartment residents to the freeway on their own personal boats.
"I'm just thankful to God that they're getting the people out and that we're alive," she told us standing in the rain with her only belongings: the soaking wet clothes on her back. She and her adult son had walked in chest-deep water from their first-floor apartment to the relative safety of a second-floor stairway, where they were eventually rescued.
I went looking for Pearl a year later and found her 15 miles away, on slightly higher ground, in Texas City. "You don't look like yourself," I joked as she opened her new apartment door.
"Well thank God," she laughed, now with her hair and makeup in picture-perfect order --a far cry from the "drowned rat" she says her family saw on television during the hurricane a year ago.
"It was hard," she said when we sat down for an interview. "Because I lost everything. And I left with the clothes on my back, you know, and it was hard."
"Even now this far down the road almost 11 months now, it's still tough to talk about that," I asked her.
"It's very devastating," she said. "Because you never think you will find yourself in that situation."
Like an estimated 7,000 people in Dickinson alone, she found herself with nothing, homeless and afraid.
"When it rains, I panic," she admitted. "Every time I hear a thunderstorm or anything, I panic. I've even gotten to the point sometimes where I just want to go in the closet and shut the door when I think it's gonna rain."
And her fear was still evident when she asked to see our original interview from one year ago. Members of her family had seen it. She never had.
"It's difficult, it is," she said while beginning to cry while watching the interview on a laptop computer. "But I made it, and I hope and pray that others will too."
"But here you are," I told her.
"Yes. I survived," she said.
I wondered if Lee Jordan, had been a survivor too. I first met him on that same Dickinson Bridge. He'd walked there in waist deep water from his home, his left hand sealed as much as he could in a plastic bag after severely injuring it while trying, unsuccessfully, to hook up his travel trailer to a vehicle to tow it to higher ground. He lost both and several more vehicles and most of the contents of his home. His house sits along Dickinson Bayou. And a year ago, as I walked through the house with him, furniture floating in up to four feet of water, his house had become part of the bayou.
"When we left that night, I was wearing a pair of slippers, gym shorts, a shirt, I had my wallet and a phone. That was it," Lee Jordan told me on our return to Dickinson nearly 11 months after the devastating flood. "The last 10 months have been the hardest months of our life, it really has."
But Lee Jordan had flood insurance to get him through those 10 months. His business, Bay Area Raceway Family Entertainment Center with its arcade games and go-carts is up and running again at the same location where Dickinson Bayou runs under I-45.
His house, however, with extensive delays in permitting, the slow process of finding building materials and a reputable contractor, he decided to sell as is. It has since been repaired and put up for sale by the new owner. And on his cul-de-sac only about half of the families, the ones with either the money or the nerve to live along Dickinson Bayou again, have returned.
"You know when you go home and you step into your shower, what do you call that big silver thing in the middle of your tub," he jokingly asked.
"The drain," I said.
"No, that's Dickinson. All the water came to Dickinson. And it just stayed here."
As for Pearl Smithers, she agreed to make a trip back to Dickinson to see what's left of the apartment complex she was rescued from a year ago. When we visited, it was still vacant and still under renovation.
"I'm facing my demons, and I think that's what we have to do. So I'm OK.," she said.
"At least we're not in six feet of water this time," I said while we walked on the same road we’d boated through together a year ago.
"Thank God," she laughed.
And also she thanks God that Hurricane Harvey showed her the good in people too. Money from FEMA, family, friends, and strangers helped her survive. She's in a new apartment. She's back on her feet.
"When it first happened, I didn't ever think I'd get my life back together. I cried all the time," she said. "But I think I'm gonna be OK. I think I can wade through this and be OK."
"You realize you just said 'wade' through this," I told her.
"Yeah, I know," she laughed.
But just in case she has to wade again, this time her Texas City apartment....is on the second floor.