Imelda, bringer of floods and guilt

Tropical Depression Imelda ruined my weekend. I was supposed to be in New Orleans, but instead, Imelda felt the need to dump enough rainfall on Texas and Louisiana that they had to close all the roads. I even tried to make it through anyway, following alternate paths that zig-zagged parallel to I-10, but at one point, they shut down the back roads, too. All the planning and excitement was for nothing. I got stuck outside Anahuac and had to turn around.

As frustrating as it was to have my vacation plans ruined, I know that I got lucky. My house was fine, and my family was safe. All over the Greater-Houston area, people watched water rising into their homes. School children were trapped on buses. It was horrible.

We all remember Harvey. It’s not the kind of thing you forget. I got lucky in Harvey, too. My home wasn’t damaged, and again, my family was safe. My only frustration: my backyard flooded, and all my grass died, which left behind a mud pit that would cost thousands of dollars to reslope and landscape. This was annoying, but every time I got frustrated, I reminded myself that so many people lost everything.

The same goes for the Tax Day floods that caused damage to so many homes here. My home was unscathed.

I feel a sort of survivor’s guilt about it. It’s hard to see so many good people suffer so much loss, especially knowing I could easily have been in the same position. If my elevation were a couple feet lower, I could have had a lot more damage than an ugly backyard. If I lived closer to the reservoirs that were designed to protect us, it could have been my home that was destroyed.

I watched people evacuate, carrying their children and dogs to safety while I sat safely in my home, irritated that my children were restless and my dogs had to be cleaned up every time they went outside. I recognized this about myself and tried to maintain a sense of perspective, but I still found myself feeling a pang of frustration when I handed over a hefty check to my landscaper.

I assume a lot of people feel like I do. Many homes were destroyed, but many weren’t, leaving those of us who were on highground to wonder why we were the lucky ones. We feel shame, too, at our secret relief that our fates were different. We tell ourselves that our things are just “things”, but we’re human. We like our things. And I’m glad I got to keep my things.

You could argue that luck had nothing to do with it: we chose a house with a high elevation that wasn’t near a floodplain or reservoir, so I shouldn’t feel survivor’s guilt. It wasn’t fate that kept us dry, it was the fact that I used to work in insurance, so I know the importance of checking elevations before I buy a home. The same aforementioned non-sequitur job also made me keenly aware of the need for flood insurance. 

But watching the water rise in my backyard I knew, if the rains hadn’t stopped when they did, my home would have flooded, too. And comforted though I was by my insurance policy, I knew how FEMA operates. I knew I’d only see a fraction of reimbursement for my home and possessions.

Storms like Harvey and Imelda are like a game of blackjack. You can know all the statistics and the right moves to make and still lose. The difference is, if you win a game of blackjack you cheer. If you win the game of storms, you’re riddled with guilt.

I followed more side roads back home from New Orleans. To my shame, I have to admit that most of my thoughts were on how much I was going to be missing that weekend. I had big plans with my friends. I’d made reservations at all my favorite restaurants, and I was going to be staying at the Hotel Monteleone, (better known as the hotel with the spinning bar).

On my return trip, my GPS took me through small towns and neighborhoods. The roads were high, but the homes were not. Many of them were sitting in water. Just like the shame I felt over a ruined backyard in Harvey, I felt major guilt over the fact that ruined vacation plans made me lose sight of the real loss that many were suffering.

Seeing the partially submerged homes hit me with a sense of perspective that I hadn’t felt since Harvey. And it brought back the guilt, too.

Claire Goodman is the managing editor of Katy Times. She may be reached at claire.goodman@katytimes.com