WEST COLUMBIA — When Traci Copeland noticed her 89-year-old neighbor was living in his twice-flood-damaged home, she knew she had to help.
In the month after Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Brazoria County, Copeland turned to Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods, to urge other neighbors to help Leroy Diggs. Copeland specifically sought the assistance of neighbors familiar with demolition work so Diggs’ home could be brought “down to the studs.”
Days later, an early morning call woke Copeland. She was told to visit the Diggs’ residence.
“I thought something horrible had happened,” she said.
But when she arrived, she saw something wonderful had happened instead. More than 20 men were working to demo the house. The work was complete in half a day, she said. Then the rebuilding began.
For more than four decades, Diggs and his wife called the house off County Road 25 home, he said. But the 2016 flood left the building primed for mold growth. While the aging couple continued to live there, mold managed to grow from floor to ceiling, Copeland said. Volunteers went through the mold-stripping process six times, she said.
Harvey’s flooding caused water to rise about 5 feet outside of the house, Copeland said. The Diggs were rescued. Their cows and bull huddled together on a dirt pile to stay above the water, Copeland said.
“It happened back to back, and that’s what messed us up is that last one,” Diggs said.
Since Harvey, the couple has been staying with one of their children in Sweeny.
Diggs said he was thankful for all the volunteers who came to carry out heavy things he can’t, like the “ice box.” The home is still a work in progress, but it is a lot better than it was, he said.
Volunteers started from the ground up with the new house, Copeland said. The house now has sheetrock, floors, some painted walls, new siding and a new roof.
Brian and Courtney Kelley helped with demolition, Copeland said. David Kelley donated dumpsters and the Brazoria County Long-Term Recovery Committee donated a dresser, bed and more, she said. Many more people helped, but Cornerstone Church of the Nazarene in Lake Jackson has organized youth groups to come from all over the country and help rebuild.
Ron Marshall is coordinating the youth groups. So far, they’ve restored enough kitchens, bathrooms and master bedrooms to move 30 families back into their flood-damaged homes, he said. The Diggs are one of the 11 families they have left, Marshall said.
“Their eyes light up when they come back home, it’s a neat feeling,” he said.
Coordinating for and working on homes is a way Marshall and his wife fill their time during since their retirements. It’s fairly easy for them to find volunteers for manual labor and carpentry, but volunteer plumbers, electricians and sheetrock specialists are harder to come by, Marshall said.
On Wednesday, a group from Carthage, Missouri, helped with the manual labor. Youth Pastor Terrin Garber said it was an 11-hour drive on their church bus.
The youth group is here all week, helping out with different homes damaged by the floods.
Brandon Reeves, 17, said he volunteered with his youth group because he wanted to help the people who still haven’t recovered from the storms. Plus, he said, he has some skills with tools his youth pastor thought would be useful.
Copeland said the work is a great story of community with members coming from near and far to help a couple return home.