Cleanup begins in houses along path of worst La Grange flood in a century

People near the river in La Grange start emptying out their homes on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey brought the worst flood in 100 years. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
People near the river in La Grange start emptying out their homes on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey brought the worst flood in 100 years. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

LA GRANGE, Texas (KXAN) — Dozens of people in La Grange began the process Wednesday of cleaning up their houses and businesses near the Colorado River after Hurricane Harvey brought the worst flood the town has seen in more than 100 years.

Neighborhoods close to the river were almost completely underwater as the river rose to more than 54 feet, more than twice its flood stage in the Fayette County town.

County Judge Ed Janecka estimated the damage to houses alone in the area to be at least $10 million; the damaged businesses, he said, would add considerably to that total.

Right now Fayette County is the only county in central Texas currently included on the federal disaster declaration; that means homeowners there can apply for individual aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

They’ll need it.

“I went in this morning,” Brenda Smith said, giving KXAN a tour of her home about a quarter-mile from the Colorado River Wednesday, “and I couldn’t get in.”

The water rose above the upper hinges on her doors. The floors are warped, caked with mud and who knows what else. Smith, who doesn’t have flood insurance for the house she rents, gathered what she could salvage on the lawn.

“Oh, thank you, dear Lord! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she cried out as she discovered a tea set she had gotten as a Christmas gift so many years ago was still intact — albeit considerably dirtier than before the flood.

In times like these, it’s the little things that count: the tea set, a couple birdhouses passed down from family members, a great-grandmother’s China. In times like these the little things are all Smith can count on.

“When I came in this morning and saw my grandchildren’s pictures gone, I cried,” she said, tearing up again at the thought. “It’s going to really hit me in a couple days how much I’ve lost.”

Smith’s home is one of dozens that flooded with several feet of water. Dumpsters placed around her neighborhood north of State Highway 71 Business were already full just a few hours after people there were able to get in to see the damage.

Some roads in the city were still closed Wednesday.

“Everything here is gone,” Brandon Nowak, in the neighborhood to help a friend clean up, said.

A lot that was here last week is gone now.

“Everything inside the house is gone, pretty much,” Lathan Staal said. He picked up pieces of wood, a metal filing cabinet, a kids’ goal from the bed of a trailer and threw them in one of the dumpsters. They once belonged in his former coach’s house.

“It’s gone,” Smith said, tears brimming again. Her father renovated the house she was living in just a couple years ago. “I look at everything he’s done for me, and it’s gone.”

The neighbors, they’re still here.

“We’re all getting together and helping each other,” Nowak said.

“I just went and talked to Robert down the street, and I’m seeing my neighbor here, and I’ve already talked to my friend down the street, Roger, and he’s lost his home, too,” Smith said, “and my heart just pours out for all of them.”

Her faith and her resolve, she promised, aren’t going anywhere, either: “I have started over so many times in my 60 years of life, I can’t even count,” she said. “So no. This is stuff.”

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