A year ago Thursday, Neal Mckenzie and Richard Rogers were rescued after floodwaters swept away everything they owned.
This week, two reflected on the fallout from Hurricane Harvey that affects them to this day. They also recalled the Waxahachie colleagues who rescued them and provided a life here when they had nothing but each other.
On Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, Rogers evacuated his one-story home that already had a history of flooding. He vacated to his co-worker and friend of 15 year's —Mckenzie — two-story house, located in the same Bear Creek Village subdivision. The 40-year-old, middle-class neighborhood is located in west Houston on the edge of the Addicks Reservoir.
The two men and Mckenzie’s roommate along with two dogs and three cats slept on the floor of the upstairs bedroom over that weekend, waiting for the rain to end.
Circumstances around the oncoming hurricane only grew worse.
“On Monday night [water] came into the house. All weekend it had rained up and drained off, so we thought we were okay,” Mckenzie explained.” On Monday night it just kept coming up and coming up. We thought it would be like the year before and come in ankle-deep and then it just kept coming.”
According to a report by The Washington Post, the Addicks Reservoir began to spill over for the first time in its history from the rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey. Officials with the U.S. Army Corps decided to release the water rather than let it spill over. Over a six-to-10 hour period, 4,000 cubic feet of water per second from both the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs was released.
“Our houses did not flood because of the rain. Our houses flooded because they released the water from the reservoir,” Mckenzie emphasized. "It wasn’t just one or two houses. I would say at least 2,000 houses that suffered from that.”
The Post also reported that Bear Creek Village was affected by the Addicks Reservoir.
On Aug. 29, the guys woke up to three feet of water downstairs.
“We came down and just saw how bad it was. Up the cabinets in the kitchen and everything was floating in the house the next morning. It was really bad,” Mckenzie elaborated. “Our cars were flooded over the seats.”
Rogers' immediate thought was, “not again,” since he was no rookie with floods. Mckenzie was in misery to see his antiques and piano ruined.
“I didn’t know what to think. We were all kind of stunned at the amount ruined. I walked downstairs, and my piano was covered in water. The recliners were kind of floating. It was just bizarre,” Mckenzie recalled.
In that surreal moment, the three knew they had to evacuate.
Mckenzie sent a photo of the flooded home to Sherry Dickens, who runs the customer relations department at the Waxahachie location for Local Government Solutions.
“And those morons still had the air conditioners running, the electricity was still on, the water was above the plugs in the walls,” Dickens explained. “They just weren’t thinking, and I’m begging them to leave.”
Back in Waxahachie, Dickens collaborated with two other co-workers on a solution to help their Houston work family. The director of the prosecutor division, Abbye Hazeldean, and the vice president of technology, Sandy Randall, found a quick resolution to help the guys.
Hazeldean was raised in Houston and had friends, Kara Dent and Jenna Morris, that lived close to Bear Creek Village. Dent and some friends took two boats to the Mckenzie residence to relocate the three stranded to the Houston office, about a mile and a half away.
“About the time they were putting them in the boats we got a call from the property owner for the office in Houston that it had flooded and they had to cut the air and power off, and they couldn’t stay there,” Dickens said.
At that point, Hazeldean, Randall, Dickens and her husband, Rickey, made plans to drive south to rescue them.
“They are family — our work family,” Dickens emphasized.
On the boat ride, Mckenzie noticed an abundance of boats at houses in floodwaters that were four feet high. Rogers noted the distress in people, as they decided on what they could retrieve only to realize nothing would be recovered.
“When the boat was unloading us there were just cars and cars of people trying to leave and figure out a place to go, but the hotels were fast filling up, and there was no place to go," Mckenzie said. "People couldn’t get to their banks to get money out. Everyone was kind of lost."
The group arrived at the office and with other co-workers and slept on blow-up mattresses. The stress continued as the basement and garage of the office flooded. The building was closed down. The Houston office had served as headquarters since 1999. Since Hurricane Harvey, the headquarters have relocated to the Waxahachie office.
On Aug. 30, the men were rescued.
The Waxahachie crew loaded up Mckenzie, his roommate and five pets while Rogers’ father picked him up and took him back to Austin.
“Driving in and we drove in down Highway 6, not too far from the office," Dickens recalled. "It was like business as usual. Life was moving on — the Wendy’s and Dairy Queen was open. Life was hustle and bustle like there was nothing wrong."
She continued, “And there at the red light by the office, everybody was doing a 'uey.' From that point on, lives were destroyed. Everything was gone. It was so sad.”
When Dickens caught the first glimpse of her fellow colleagues, she saw defeat on their faces.
LIFE AFTER HOUSTON
Rogers stayed with his father for two days in Austin before getting settled into a Waxahachie hotel. He stayed there for six weeks while he worked and found an apartment. Mckenzie’s boss, Randall, temporarily moved in with another co-worker and allowed Mckenzie and his roommate to live in her home until he found a rental house. Mckenzie now resides in a rental home in Midlothian.
“We are still displaced,” the two said simultaneously.
About two weeks after they were rescued, Mckenzie and Rogers returned to the devastation. In the meantime, they contracted personnel to empty their homes. When they arrived for the first time after the disaster, they stayed three days to retrieve personal items and took inventory before the water remediation process began.
“There was a layer of mud on everything,” Rogers said.
Mckenzie was able to salvage some electronics, while Rogers left empty-handed.
They each have about $65,000 worth of damages to their homes. Rogers had flood insurance since his property had a history flooding — Mckenzie did not. FEMA granted Mckenzie $27,000 and $2,000 to Rogers.
“It’s not okay,” Rogers stated.
Mckenzie regrets not having flood insurance.
Upon their return to Houston, the two recalled the streets lined with mountains of furniture, clothes and debris from the soaked homes. “The sewage system had failed and dumped their contents into the water, so there was human waste in the water. There was a foul smell,” Mckenzie emphasized.
He then explained how people would place their refrigerators taped up on the street with the rest of their belongings. Scavengers would take the fridges but first dump the contents inside. In the dead heat of September in Houston, the streets smelt like “dead bodies,” said Mckenzie.
Their homes are now nearly remodeled and are currently on the market.
Mckenzie and Rogers have known each other for 15 years, and both of their perspectives on humanity have changed since the hurricane.
“It’s a bonding experience to go sit at the top of an attic with your friend through a flood like that and both lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of your property — everything you own. You’re going to bond a little,” Rogers said.
“We do take care of each other,” Mckenzie piggybacked.
Local Government Solutions was engaged with the rescue and provided housing, cars and clothing when they had nothing.
“We had been very well taken care of by the people we work with. Really it’s a family. It’s been kind of amazing,” Mckenzie said.
The two disclosed they did not expect the help.
In the past year, the guys experienced some depression, anger and jumpiness, and even a few spells of low temperament.
“I’m 64 years old, and I never thought I’d be starting over in this part of my life, and I find that very frustrating,” Mckenzie said.
“Now, being up here when I hear the rains and storms, I’m relaxed compared to down there. It was very stressful to stay in Houston,” Rogers said.
Mckenzie admitted he’s never been the type of person to accept nor ask for help. “I found people are more charitable that I have given them credit for that,” Mckenzie said. Rogers strongly agreed.
“The one thing that surprises me is how quickly everybody is ready for it to be over,” Mckenzie said and then paused. “For us, it’s ongoing — on and on and on. But, everyone who doesn’t experience it is waiting for it to be over.”
“I was surprised to see you here today. I’m surprised anyone would care a year later,” Rogers stressed.
The two are deeply grateful to their co-workers with Local Government Solutions. “If we didn’t have this place, this year, I don’t know what we would have done,” Mckenzie said.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450