BRAZORIA — As Hurricane Harvey’s destructive rains barreled down on her house, Rita Ellerd remembers stepping onto her back porch and seeing her own reflection in the water as the lake rose higher and higher in her backyard. Two years later, she, like many, is still reeling from Harvey’s effects.
“We didn’t just lose our house,” Ellerd said. “We lost our neighbors. We lost our street. We lost our community. We lost everything.”
Roughly 13,000 Brazoria County homes saw significant damage after the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in U.S. history made its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Ellerd stayed in her home when Harvey made landfall and thinks back to the moment she ran to her neighbors who were on higher ground, she said.
“We stayed and it was scary,” she said. “My neighbor’s lot is elevated so when we were underwater over here, she still had green grass. So we went over there, and the water kept coming up.”
When she returned to her property, the entire house was caked with solid mud, Ellerd said.
“We kept finding dead fish in here,” she said. “I mean, the river came up. We lost everything in the flood. The whole house was a total loss. We lost all our furniture. We lived in a motor home for over a year.”
The storm also affected her neighbors and the community, leaving a lasting impact, Ellerd said.
“The lady next door over here flooded and she’s not coming back,” she said. “The people next door on the other side flooded and aren’t coming back.”
When she started to focus on rebuilding her home, life hit her with another challenge: she found out she had cancer, Ellerd said.
“In November, I was diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 lung cancer that metastasized to the brain,” she said. “They removed the brain tumor on the sixth of December and just as of yesterday I did an MRI and that’s clear. I’m still going to chemo through the lung cancer.”
She expects her house to be back to normal soon and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the two-year journey nearly broke her, Ellerd said.
“I didn’t expect this to happen,” she said. “This has been a crazy thing. The health issues on top of the flood have been real difficult. It’s like it won’t stop.”
Many people in Brazoria County are still in Ellerd’s shoes, Saint Bernard Project Brazoria County Construction Manager Robert Willis said.
“There are still a number of agencies that are actively engaged and communicating with clients,” he said.
He recently talked to one group that still had close to 500 Harvey clients trying to get their homes finished, Willis said.
Willis himself is working on more than 10 houses and getting estimates for construction, he said.
“There are a lot of people that are still needing some final repairs,” he said. “There are just as many people that have very little if anything accomplished.”
The construction is widespread, with clients across the county, some in Rosharon, others in Alvin, Willis said.
“We have another house close to the San Bernard River,” he said. “We have a house we are working on in the city of Richwood. We are spread pretty broad across the county.”
Areas that have traditionally flooded were hit the hardest by Harvey, Willis said.
Willis understands people like Ellerd are still working to get their homes back to normal, he said.
“My own house is still under construction,” he said. “We got flooding.”
The damage isn’t just physical, however. It’s also emotional.
Someone called his office because they were upset it was raining and they were in tears, worried about flooding, County Judge Matt Sebesta said.
“Many people have recovered well but some have suffered PTSD any time it rains,” he said.
She’s seen that emotional trauma on a regular basis from people coming into the Dream Center and looking for any kind of help, said Terri Willis, executive director of the Brazoria County Dream Center.
“They don’t know where else to go,” she said. “They either got scammed or they ran out of money.”
Willis had a hard time herself starting repairs on her house, which had major flood damage, she said.
“It was hard the first year because we had to fight for insurance,” she said.
The biggest problem people are having is they don’t have enough money, Terri Willis said.
“They can’t make their money stretch, no matter how many hours they put in,” she said. “They just are out of funds.”
While many are still rebuilding, it has made the community grow together, Terri Willis said.
“I think we all have a common ground: Hurricane Harvey,” she said. “I think people need to be aware that there is still help out there. There is help.”
Many people have been affected by Harvey and while the community members are slowly piecing their lives back together, it’s going to take several more years, Ellerd said.
“Harvey is the gift that keeps on taking,” she said. “He doesn’t give. He just takes.”