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Flooded Lake Houston area families now face the cold

Chron logo Chron 1/5/2018 By Melanie Feuk, mfeuk@hcnonline.com

In the midst of record-breaking cold temperatures, warm clothes and heat are currently two of the direst needs for people whose homes flooded, according to Porter resident Sandy Adams, who stood next to a stack of space heaters and boxes of blankets and winter clothes at the Chick-Fil-A on Northpark Drive on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

"The need is really bad right now because people are still in the rebuilding process," Adams said. "So now, maybe they have walls, but they don't have anything else. That's all we keep hearing."

She is one of the area residents heading-up an initiative to provide Harvey flood victims with the items necessary to stay warm during the harsh winter weather.

"It's supposed to get into the teens tonight," Adams said. "We're collecting coats, blankets, hats, gloves, heaters, and then handing them out. They've done a couple pick-ups already. We've already handed out about 40 heaters."

Adams, Monica Moore and Kim Ducote-Benz connected on the Flooding Kingwood with Kindness Facebook page and teamed up to push this initiative forward.

They have been spreading the word about their efforts on the Facebook page, and setting up events where people can pick up the supplies they need. Adams said anyone able to provide their FEMA letter and a matching ID can be a recipient.

Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4. © Melanie Feuk Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4.

People interested in being either a recipient or donor, can contact any of the three women via Facebook.

Javier Martinez arrived at the Chick-Fil-A to receive a heater and gather some warm clothes for his child. He lost everything when his home in Jacinto City flooded during Harvey.

He showed a picture of his family huddled in the cold house, where he is still staying despite the damage it sustained.

"My house, the foundation, the water picked it all up and the concrete's broken up," Martinez said. "It's really a mess. If I put the sheetrock on there, it's going to crack again. I need to tear the house down, but I'll need help."

Javier Martinez loads a heater and warm clothes into his car to bring back to his flood-damaged home in Jacinto City on Tuesday, Jan. 2. © Melanie Feuk Javier Martinez loads a heater and warm clothes into his car to bring back to his flood-damaged home in Jacinto City on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

He said some people don't realize the continued needs of people who were affected by Hurricane Harvey and expressed gratitude for those who continue efforts to provide people with much-needed support.

Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4. © Melanie Feuk Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4. Sandy Adams provides Javier Martinez with a space heater and warm clothes at the Chick-Fil-A on Northpark Drive on a cold January day. © Melanie Feuk Sandy Adams provides Javier Martinez with a space heater and warm clothes at the Chick-Fil-A on Northpark Drive on a cold January day.

"It's a blessing," Martinez said. "Anybody who helps out, it's a blessing for us."

Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4. © Melanie Feuk Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4.

Separated

Sharai Poteet's family has been scattered - forced to reside in different locations until their flood-damaged Kingwood area home can be restored.

Poteet purchased her home on Dunham Road, in 1992, and until Hurricane Harvey, it had never flooded.

Her mother, daughter and two grandchildren lived with her for a couple years before the flood. That night, as waters began rising quickly up her street, Poteet realized there was a good possibility that their home would take on water.

"I evacuated my mother first, and then I got my daughter and grandchildren out of there," Poteet said. "I was going to stay because I wasn't sure whether it would come in or not, but I wanted to make sure they were all safe. While I was there, the water actually did start coming into the home, and within an hour it was a foot deep in the house, so that's when I got out."

Sandy Adams provides Javier Martinez with a space heater and warm clothes at the Chick-Fil-A on Northpark Drive on Tuesday, Jan. 2. © Melanie Feuk Sandy Adams provides Javier Martinez with a space heater and warm clothes at the Chick-Fil-A on Northpark Drive on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

The home ended up taking on about six feet of water. The family members have yet to be able to reunite under the same roof.

For many people like Poteet, the needs left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey persist and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Poteet cannot move forward with rebuilding her home while her family is living in different locations.

"We're all split apart right now and having to pay all this extra rent and stuff that could be going toward our home," Poteet said.

Circumstances seemingly started to improve at the end of December when the Federal Emergency Management Agency brought a trailer to her property. It would have allowed the family to live together again and Poteet could focus on repairing her home. But, Poteet said, FEMA came back hours later and took it away because of permitting issues.

Now, Poteet is struggling to navigate Houston's permitting rules, with which she is unfamiliar because her home had never flooded, in order to re-obtain a FEMA trailer.

Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4. © Melanie Feuk Ann and Russ Meili's home in Kingwood is still undergoing restoration work as of Thursday, Jan. 4. Sandy Adams, right, and her daughter load leftover heaters, clothes and blankets into the bed of their truck after distributing some of the items to people who were affected by Harvey. © Melanie Feuk Sandy Adams, right, and her daughter load leftover heaters, clothes and blankets into the bed of their truck after distributing some of the items to people who were affected by Harvey.

"It was really upsetting to go to my house and actually see the trailer there and think, finally, we're going to be able to come home and work on the house and actually have a place to live and eat and cook, and then, two hours later, come and rip it out from under us and just take it away," Poteet said.

Roni Hart, of Help From the Hart Handyman Service, works on restoring the flood-damaged home of Ann and Russ Meili in Kingwood on Thursday, Jan. 4. © Melanie Feuk Roni Hart, of Help From the Hart Handyman Service, works on restoring the flood-damaged home of Ann and Russ Meili in Kingwood on Thursday, Jan. 4.

Poteet is currently living in her boyfriend's Kingwood home, which also flooded during Hurricane Harvey.

"We do have heat, but it's just not enough because ... we don't have floors in, we don't have walls, and it's just not keeping up," Poteet said. "I'm wearing winter clothes - like hunting clothes, the thermal underwear and the thick jumpsuit - and still have a coat and a hat and gloves on, and I'm still just shaking and freezing to death in here."

Uncertainty

Both Poteet and Martinez are unsure of when their homes's restoration may be complete - an uncertainty Moore said is felt by others who flooded as well.

"Some of these people are a long ways from having any kind of solution as far as their houses and stuff," Moore said. "They're still fighting with FEMA or they don't have the funds, so they're doing it just a little bit at a time on their own. It's going to be a long time for a lot of people."

She said the severity of needs is being underestimated by some people.

"People think if you have a house, that you're warm, and I tell them, go sit in your garage overnight and see how warm it gets because that's just like some of these houses are," Moore said. "A lot of them don't even have coats. I've been doing the coat drive way before Christmas, and I've taken them up to the hotels. If it's not cold outside, you don't think you need a coat, and now that it's cold outside, people are realizing they have nothing warm to put on, or what they have isn't warm enough."

While some people may not fully comprehend the continued needs, Moore said the outpouring of support and donations from the community since Harvey has been tremendous.

"As catastrophic as Harvey was, it's built us up strong as a community," Moore said. "That's not going to go away."

Kingwood resident Ann Meili continues residing upstairs in her home that flooded during Hurricane Harvey as the first floor undergoes restoration. © Melanie Feuk Kingwood resident Ann Meili continues residing upstairs in her home that flooded during Hurricane Harvey as the first floor undergoes restoration.

Poteet was one of the families who benefited from Moore's adopt-a-family initiative through which people from near and far donated to provide Harvey-affected families items for Christmas. When Poteet's grandchild, who has special needs, required a new wheelchair, Moore said they were able to provide him with the wheelchair he needed just through donations from her neighborhood, Kings Manor.

"It's just amazing," Moore said. "I had many flooded families adopt other families, even though they were in the same spot, but wanted to give. That's what it's all about - everybody helping everybody else."

A community effort

Fosters Mill residents Ann and Russ Meili were among the flooded families who adopted another family for Christmas.

On Thursday, Jan. 4, Ann Meili was making chicken soup in a slow cooker upstairs, where she and her husband have been forced to live for months during the slow process of rebuilding their flooded downstairs.

"The first day of the flood, we were evacuated by boat and went to Kingwood Bible Church, where we spent the night in the shelter with our three dogs," Ann Meili said. "We spent one night there and a friend was able to get us a hotel room in Conroe. So we went to Conroe and we spent three nights there."

When the Meilis returned to their house and Ann Meili saw the piles of debris, her jaw dropped.

"I didn't know what to think," Ann Meili said. "We came here and they had gotten some of the furniture out, but we had nobody here to help. But, the street was lined with cars of people helping in all the other houses. I went out, sat on a piece of furniture out front and just cried. A neighbor came over that I didn't know and in two minutes we had our house full of people ripping it apart. We paid nothing for the demo, although we lost a lot."

Even with the money they received from FEMA, the Meilis have had to spend about $46,000 out of pocket so far due to flood damage. Ann Meili said she wouldn't be surprised if that becomes $100,000 by the time the house is fully restored, which she doubts will be before April.

Their out-of-pocket expenses are just one of the detriments Harvey imposed on the Meilis.

The senior citizens also grapple with medical issues. Ann Meili needs knee surgery, but must wait until the downstairs has a place to put a bed because stairs will not be an option as she heals. Her knee troubles also prevent her from being able to contribute much to the restoration efforts.

After returning to their house, Russ Meili launched into the demolition and remediation efforts.

"Then, because he worked so hard, he got internal bleeding and was in the hospital over Christmas eve," Ann Meili said. "I was here alone and of course everybody's with their family while I ate hotdogs for Christmas eve."

Brian Hart, of Help From the Hart Handyman Services, works on restoring the home of Ann and Russ Heili in Kingwood on Thursday, Jan. 4. © Melanie Feuk Brian Hart, of Help From the Hart Handyman Services, works on restoring the home of Ann and Russ Heili in Kingwood on Thursday, Jan. 4.

According to Ann Meili, some of the needs she sees for other families include things like space heaters and blankets, as well as microwaves, slow cookers or some means of preparing food.

As far as people like the Meilis, who are unable to do most of the rebuilding themselves, she said the need is for people willing to perform manual tasks. The couple hired Help From the Hart Handyman Services to do the skilled restoration work, which is currently underway. However, there are other things that will need to be done as well.

"There's stuff that neither I or my husband can do, but is menial, like washing floors, or washing down the bottom of doors, or cleaning out the fireplace, just that kind of stuff," Ann Meili said.

While work continues on their downstairs, the Meilis will continue living in their upstairs packed with whatever items they were able to save before the flood.

It hasn't been easy.

"It's just tough being senior citizens and living like this, but you do what you have to do," Ann Meili said.

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