For Some Texans, Imelda’s Flooding Was A Repeat Performance

“Living in Southeast Texas is not for sissies.”

By Michael MarksSeptember 23, 2019 9:45 am

Officials are still trying to tally the full impact of Tropical Depression Imelda. The storm brought over 40 inches of rain to some parts of Southeast Texas, causing at least five deaths and an untold amount of property damage. Recovery and repairs have already started – a process that’s unfortunately familiar to many of those affected

Nathan Purswell starts most of his days with the same routine – sitting on his porch with a Santa Fe Little Cigar and a cup of coffee. Saturday was no different, even if the last few days had been anything but routine.

“Right here on this sidewalk right here, the water was knee deep, but when you got to that fire hydrant yonder, the water was just about to the top of it,” Purswell says.

He lives in Liberty, a rural community of about 8,000 people, 45 miles east of Houston.

“I figured we might get some rain out of it, but I didn’t know it was going to flood,” Purswell says.

Purswell lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his little black mutt named Tinsey. Rain from Imelda filled the unit with about six inches of water. It’s mostly drained out now, but the doors absorbed so much moisture he can’t shut them, and the carpet in the bedroom is saturated. It feels like walking on top of a thin sponge. He’ll have to move out of the apartment by Friday so it can be repaired.

“Every time it floods, you have to move out and find a place to live, and then you’re gone for six months while they redo these apartments and then you get to move back again and wait a year-and-a-half and then it floods again,” Purswell says.

If it sounds like he’s done this before, that’s because he has. Purswell lived in the same complex during Hurricane Harvey. He says he doesn’t have anywhere else to go – he lives on a fixed income, and most of his rent is subsidized. Harvey filled his place with over four feet of water.

“I lost everything, I got out with nothing but the clothes on my back,” Purswell says.

This story is a common one in Southeast Texas, now that the region has suffered through two devastating floods in three years. Some longtime residents have endured even more though.

Brenda Hope and her husband Paul live in Liberty in a one-story house on Edgewood Street that has flooded four times since 1994.

“Living in Southeast Texas is not for sissies, I gotta tell you that,” Hope says.

She and her husband know what comes next: a seemingly endless to-do list including constant calls with the insurance company, replacing flooring and sheetrock, and buying new furniture.

“And so here we go again,” Hope says. “This is gonna be hard for us at our age but we’re pros, we’ve done it before.”

This is the price of regaining normalcy. Some are willing to pay it over and over, and some are not. Over the years the Hopes have watched neighbors pack up and move to higher ground after a flood. But they have stayed.

“Sometimes you just don’t let things beat you. You know and, this house is paid for. I’m fixing to retire, nobody’s going to want to buy it,” Hope says.

And, this is their home. Their daughter lives close by. Their roots are deep enough to keep them from being washed elsewhere by a flood. The Hopes didn’t lose all of their possessions because of Imelda – they’ve learned to keep things as high off the ground as they can. Others weren’t as lucky.

The smell of mud and mildew hung in the air around Patricia Burks’ apartment on Saturday, sludge sucking against the shoes of people helping clean up.

“The only thing that didn’t get wet is one bed and my hanging clothes,” Burks says.

Her apartment also flooded during Harvey. This time, the water was up to her waist when emergency responders picked her up in a boat. They took her to a Red Cross shelter in Liberty to wait out the storm. It was scary, she said.

“I asked for a Bible, and they couldn’t find a Bible so I just sat there praying, hoping everything would be OK,” Burks says.

For her, and for so many others in the region, everything being OK is a ways off. In the meantime, Burks said she’ll lean on her faith to get through this most recent hardship – and through the next storms that come her way.