It has been more than a month since Hurricane Harvey hovered over Houston, inundating the city and its suburbs for more than three days with a record 65 inches of rain in some places.
Insurance experts estimate the damage at more than $80 billion, with tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed — including the Friendswood, Texas, home of travel agent Janis Peel.
“The entire bottom floor was damaged. The only thing standing is the toilet. Everything else had to be removed,” Peel told Travel Market Report by cellphone in mid-September. “Our kitchen appliances were brand new. They all had to be thrown out.”
Peel’s two-story home is two houses away from Cowards Creek in Northern Galveston County. Normally a quiet, picturesque stream, on Saturday, Aug. 29, it overflowed its banks.
Peel (left) at her Houston home.
An inch of rain every ten minutes
“It just started raining like crazy that Saturday night,” Peel remembered. The family monitored a rain gauge outside the home. “We were getting an inch every ten minutes for a couple of hours. Then an inch every 15 minutes.”
At one point Peel went to her front door, and could see water was seeping underneath. “I said to myself, ‘I have to get a towel and keep this water out.’” Literally, as she turned to find something to hold back the trickle of water, Peel, her husband and her son realized, towels weren’t going to help.
“It came through the garage, into the kitchen, living room, right behind me, like a wave,” Peel said.
The family did their best to either move furniture and valuables to the second floor or stack them on counters and in other places above the waterline. But in minutes, they lost her husband’s grandparent’s dining room set. Also lost was a cedar chest Peel had inherited, where she had stored Christmas decorations and items from her children’s childhood.
The family retreated to the second floor, hoping the water would not rise up the stairs. The first floor of the Peel home filled with 28 inches of flood water. It did not stop raining until Wednesday afternoon.
“So many single floor homes were completely destroyed. I have friends in Dickinson, Texas, who had to retreat to the attic with two dogs. We are blessed. We were able to come upstairs.”
Getting back to business
The Peel family was forced to evacuate to a friend’s home for 15 days, where Janis Peel, a travel agent for two years now, set up her business on the dining room table. “I had my computer, my files. I took it all with me,” she said, grateful that she owns a home-based business. “We can do what we do from wherever we are.”
Peel’s single-person agency, Believe it Custom Travel, had a few clients in transit. “I called on other people to help me. I’m part of the GIFTED travel network, and I have a close friend who operates their own agency in League City, Texas, who wasn’t impacted like me.”
Most of Peel’s clients were preoccupied with their own flooding issues, so she could concentrate on her family, her dogs and her home. But within days, two separate clients, not knowing her situation, emailed her requests for cruise bookings. She was grateful for the prospect of income in light of the financial losses at her home.
When Travel Market Report contacted Peel, the trash from her home and her neighbors’ homes still lined the streets, and she said you could look straight through the bathroom walls to the front door. But she had just received a Home Depot gift card from an auction held by her GIFTED network peers – to provide her with recovery funds.
She recently spoke at the Rogers Middle School, where she had worked many years as a school counselor and was beloved for her inspiring morning messages before the start of every school day.
“I had no idea what these children individually experienced, and whether they had fared worse or better than me. But I spoke about having strength, and how the only way to get through events like this is to pick ourselves up and get back to living,” she said.
Today, the Peels are living on their second floor. The first floor of their home had to be completely gutted due to the possibility of mold. Their kitchen will be replaced sometime in January.
Peel remains optimistic, in great part due to her travel agent friends. “There’s strength in numbers. I know without a doubt in the world, that they have my back. We are a family. If I didn’t recognize that before, I know now.”