For flood sur­vivors, Barry stirs up waves of anx­i­ety and painful past

Hous­ton likely spared from trop­i­cal storm, but trauma re­mains

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Shelby Webb STAFF WRITER

The early re­ports of a trop­i­cal sys­tem build­ing in the Gulf of Mex­ico this week was all it took.

Trop­i­cal Storm Barry likely will not have much im­pact in the Hous­ton area this week­end, but just the sight of the city in­side the “cone of un­cer­tainty” on the nightly news ratch­eted up the anx­i­ety for some area res­i­dents, bring­ing back memories of flood­ing and res­cues and piles of furniture and cloth­ing amid torn-out Sheetrock and car­pet.

Those memories were es­pe­cially fresh in King­wood this week, where heavy rains in May flooded about 400 homes in the Elm Grove sub­di­vi­sion.

When the stormwa­ter cov­ered the roads, fourth-grader Tea­gan Ludy could barely con­tain her anx­i­ety. She twisted un­com­fort­ably in the front seat of the fam­ily’s GMC De­nali, her mother said, oc­ca­sion­ally scream­ing when the car chugged through deeper wa­ter.

“Mom, you don’t know what you’re do­ing,” her mother, Jessica Ludy, re­mem­bered her yelling. “We’re going to get stuck!”

Tea­gan has car­ried the emo­tional scars of los­ing her home and nearly all her pos­ses­sions since the first grade, when the

2016 Tax Day flood filled the Ludy’s Con­roe home with about 2 feet of wa­ter. Days later, she watched as friends and strangers put her wa­ter-soaked fa­vorite toys and clothes at the curb.

The Ludys are far from alone. More than 204,000 lo­cal homes and apart­ments flooded dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Harvey, nearly 7,000 Har­ris County houses were swamped in the 2016 Tax Day floods and more than 6,500 homes and apart­ments were dam­aged in the 2015 Me­mo­rial Day floods. In pock­ets of the re­gion — in­clud­ing Mey­er­land, King­wood and parts of Sugar Land — some homes have flooded four times in the past five years.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice pre­dicted Thurs­day morn­ing that what now is Trop­i­cal Storm Barry will wash ashore around cen­tral Louisiana on Fri­day morn­ing and will drift north through that state be­fore weak­en­ing and mov­ing on by Satur­day af­ter­noon and evening. Me­te­o­rol­o­gists es­ti­mated be­tween 15 and 20 inches of rain will fall in cen­tral Louisiana and a few inches of rain may ma­te­ri­al­ize in the Hous­ton area and South­east Texas this week­end.

In New Or­leans, where be­tween 5 and 7 inches of rain fell this week, the Mis­sis­sippi River al­ready is at flood stage from spring­time floods in the Mid­west and South that have been slow to drain down­stream. Some homes and busi­nesses in the Cres­cent City have flooded, and me­te­o­rol­o­gists said the city could see a storm surge of 3 feet or more once Barry makes land­fall. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Ed­wards said Thurs­day that author­i­ties do not ex­pect the river to top the se­ries of lev­ees that pro­tect the city, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. A change in the storm’s strength or path, how­ever, could put the city’s lev­ees at risk.

There is a mar­ginal flash flood­ing risk in Beaumont and nearby ar­eas, but Hous­ton ap­pears to have been spared.

Resid­ual anx­i­ety

Even with the im­proved fore­cast lo­cally, ear­lier pro­jec­tions the storm could hit Hous­ton or Beaumont caused some of those who flooded be­fore to worry.

Like oth­ers who have lost ev­ery­thing to flood­wa­ters, the Ludys still have resid­ual anx­i­ety from their ex­pe­ri­ences. Heavy rains are a cause for concern. When wa­ter inches up to the curb near her Elm Grove home, Jessica makes a men­tal list of what needs to be placed higher in the home and what she would need to bring with her in case she, her two el­e­men­tary school-age chil­dren and her hus­band need to evac­u­ate. Their youngest daugh­ter, Tins­ley, still asks about what hap­pened in the floods three years ago, when she was not even 1 year old, and Tea­gan grows vis­i­bly shaken when wa­ter pools near their home.

“I think it both­ers her more than it both­ers my hus­band and me,” Jessica said of Tea­gan. “I mean, she watched her home get kind of ripped out from un­der her in the mat­ter of a minute. It’s still some­thing she copes with a lot, and storms still bother her a lot.”

Dr. Julie Kaplow, chief of psy­chol­ogy at Texas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, said hear­ing about a po­ten­tial storm, seeing rapid weather changes or watch­ing anx­ious ex­pres­sions grow on their par­ents’ faces can trig­ger memories of prior storms or floods, es­pe­cially if a child had a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence in the past. The more trau­matic ex­po­sures chil­dren have to floods, Kaplow said, the more se­vere their anx­i­ety may be.

She also said prior neg­a­tive storm ex­pe­ri­ences may not affect chil­dren un­til months, even years, later. She said her hos­pi­tal is treat­ing more chil­dren for Harvey-re­lated stress now than it did in the first eight months after the storm.

“I think for many of the kids, even hear­ing about another storm com­ing is a re­minder for them,” Kaplow said, adding that they pick up on their par­ents’ or care­givers’ stress. “They’re very sus­cep­ti­ble to that and pick up on cues eas­ily. That’s another rea­son why it’s so im­por­tant for care­givers to be sup­ported, too, and rec­og­nize how they re­act and be­have di­rectly im­pacts how their chil­dren will cope.”

Re­main­ing calm can be dif­fi­cult for par­ents who also were shaken by prior flood­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Dr. Rebecca Schwartz, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Fe­in­stein In­sti­tutes for Med­i­cal Re­search who has stud­ied the im­pact hur­ri­canes Harvey and Sandy had on adult sur­vivors, said the more neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences peo­ple had in the storms, the more likely they were to ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal health symp­toms and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. Those ef­fects were par­tic­u­larly acute among those who stayed in shel­ters or had to be res­cued.

“I do think there are pock­ets of peo­ple who are able to grow and be re­silient and be well pre­pared for fu­ture storms,” Schwartz said. “I think it runs the ga­mut — you’re ei­ther worse off due to pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences or grow re­silient for the fu­ture.”

‘Lots of pray­ing’

For Jessica, nearly flood­ing again in Harvey and in May after her Tax Day ex­pe­ri­ence did lit­tle to help her nerves. She said she and her hus­band “nearly had a heart at­tack” dur­ing Harvey, and the May floods brought memories of Tax Day 2016 to the front of her mind. She re­mem­bered rush­ing her young chil­dren out of their flood­ing house to a nearby car wash on higher ground. She and her hus­band took turns going back to their home to re­trieve each of the fam­ily’s four dogs, and each time they re­turned, the wa­ter would creep higher.

Fam­ily, friends and strangers helped them re­turn to rel­a­tive nor­malcy within a cou­ple of months, but the memories arose when the first Barry fore­cast splashed across her tele­vi­sion screen ear­lier this week.

“There was lots of pray­ing,” Jessica said of this week. “Lots of pray­ing that this house is high enough.”

Matthew Hin­ton / As­so­ci­ated Press

In­mate work­ers move sand­bags in Chal­mette, La., be­fore Trop­i­cal Storm Barry is set to move in from the Gulf of Mex­ico.

God­ofredo A. Vásquez / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

An elec­tronic sign on West Loop 610 casts a warn­ing for mo­torists to be ready for Trop­i­cal Storm Barry to pos­si­bly hit the area, but fore­casts pre­dict the storm won’t sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact Hous­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.