01 Sep The Magic Gate
So here’s the way it went: I’d decided to handle this year’s 100-year-plus flood event the way I handled last year’s 100-year-plus flood event. My wife and kids went to stay with her sister and brother-in-law about 15 miles away in what historically has been a dry area during major floods. I would hang out in the house with the dogs while the world went all Noah’s Ark, until the deluge ended. I would use my generator to maintain power and thus the food in our freezer and fridge, and work to keep outside damage at a minimum.
Then, the National Weather Service decided the river was going to crest at 59 feet. Last year, the river crested at 54.8 feet. At 54.8 feet, the house was high and dry, and so was our carport in back. At 59 feet, pretty much all bets were off. And in case I still hadn’t made up my mind, the city ordered a mandatory evacuation.
So on Sunday, in a driving rain, my wife, son and brother-in-law helped me move valuable stuff to the second story of our house. Then we took a minimum amount of clothing, and a bunch of racks of ribs and other good things from the fridge and freezer, and two confused dogs, and took off for rural Fort Bend County.
My brother-in-law lives in a great, secluded subdivision, engineered with very wide grass ditches along all of the houses, the benefit of which was obvious after about 25 inches of rain fell and yet the yards kept draining. However, a body of water called Jones Creek soon raged up and covered a bridge and a separate roadway on one side of our subdivision, while a man-made lake at what some would call an upscale development flooded its banks and was cascading over the roadway in the opposite direction.
For the first two days, local residents with jacked-up pickup trucks could get in and out, and thus did we all build up our food and water supplies. The power went out for a few hours, but came back on, so we never needed the generator I’d brought from home.
Then the water rose. Soon, we were locked in place. My wife’s parents, who also were staying with us, were anxious to get to their property east of Houston, and my wife and I wanted to see what we could of our neighborhood, but we were trapped. It was a benign trap, all things considered, but still a trap.
Until the magic gate.
On Wednesday, my wife and I rode bicycles to the high-water points of our new world. When we stopped at the now-underwater Jones Creek bridge, we met two young couples in a four-wheeler vehicle. We talked awhile, then they said they had to get back. “Do you live around here?” I asked. They said they lived on the flooded road we were looking at, on the other side of the high water. Huh?
So how were they going to get back home? They told us about the magic gate. You drove back to the “upscale development,” see, turned in, then followed the road until you saw a drainage ditch on your right. At that point, you turned left and continued until you found a second drainage ditch on your right. And again, you turned left. Then you drove to the end of that road, into a cul-de-sac. Then you looked for a driveway that had a gate at its rear. An open gate.
My brother-in-law, son and I followed the instructions, found the house, drove up the driveway, saw the open back gate, and drove onto a county road on the other side of the high water. Free at last.
In a relative way. Now we had access to bigger county roads and highways we hadn’t been able to get to, however, we still couldn’t get to my house in Richmond, due to a web of other flooded and closed roads. But we could get to Interstate 10, which meant I could get to our farm, 100 miles to the west. Even that far away, it had been inundated by 15 to 20 inches of Hurricane Harvey rain, and the “dry” creek between my farm road and my farmhouse had for three days pretty much raged across the land.
But my farm neighbor said the coast was clear. So we went back to the subdivision and told the news of the magic gate. I took the dogs and checked out storm damage at the farm, which is where I am now. The next day, my wife, her sister and their father used the magic gate to make their way east of Houston to check on my in-laws’ house damage. Unfortunately, it is severe, as the house took on about 4 feet of water. They will have to live in an apartment until the extensive repairs are made.
In Richmond, meanwhile, the Brazos River has crested, at 55.2 inches, a few inches higher than last year. A kayak-toting neighbor sent pictures showing that our Damned Old House has survived its second hurricane and third flood without taking in any water.
But the rest of the neighborhood (and much of the rest of Southeast Texas) is going to need lots and lots of help. Some of my neighbors had just finished rebuilding after their homes took in up to 7 feet of water from the 2016 flood. Cruel fate has just forced them to start over again or leave for good. Their stories are being repeated across Houston, to Galveston and all the way down the Texas coast.