"It's still hard": La Grange continues to rebuild one year removed from Harvey
LA GRANGE, Texas -- For residents in La Grange, the past year has been one of waiting, hoping, praying, cleaning, building, and restoring.
It's been 12 months of ups and downs after Hurricane Harvey destroyed residents' homes, memories, and stability.
"It's amazing how water works. I mean you don't, don't mess with it,” said Kellie Smith, a La Grange resident.
The Colorado River in La Grange lies just above four feet, a vast difference from one year ago when it crested at more than 54 feet.
"I can't believe it got that high,” said Smith.
Flood waters ripped apart Smith’s home and six feet of water filled what was left. She lives in the mobile home park where flood waters from Hurricane Harvey destroyed more than 170 homes.
"Losing it all, just was hard, it's still hard,” said Smith.
After living in motels and staying with friends for eight months, Smith moved back to her lot and into a FEMA trailer. But that's not the case for everyone.
"At one point, this place was full and it's just weird looking around now and seeing it empty,” said Smith.
"Many of those we've lost to other communities because you know it's difficult to wait,” said Joy Cameron, the president of the Fayette County Disaster Recovery Team.
Cameron said Harvey impacted about 700 families in Fayette County and 150 reached out to them for help.
"It can be kind of overwhelming when you first begin this process. You look around and think 'wow I don't think we'll ever get this done',” said Cameron.
In the past 12 months, Cameron said they've helped 50 families get back into their homes.
Through partnerships with the Mennonite Disaster Service and Habitat for Humanity, they've built two new homes, are in the process of working on three more and have eight additional houses planned for the fall.
However, the Fayette County Disaster Recovery Team's biggest project will be the new Hope Hill subdivision.
"The Hope Hill subdivision is going to be our solution to some of the flooded areas,” said Cameron.
The 23-acre property is out of the flood plain, privately funded and scheduled to have about 60 homes, with about half of those already earmarked for flood victims.
Smith hopes to move in there.
"Hope, perfect name,” said Smith, referring to the subdivision.
But Cameron said the organization won't be ready to start building on the Hope Hill property for another year, and Smith has to give up her FEMA trailer in February.
"After that, not really quite sure,” said Smith.
Cameron said about 25 families are in the same boat.
"We're still trying to deal with what we're going to do with some of these families when that FEMA housing ends,” said Cameron.
For now, Smith is hopeful and believes even though the water was powerful, the people in La Grange are stronger.
"We're fighters, we're survivors and we're going to be okay,” said Smith.
"It's overwhelming the way people come help”: Time heals the wounds left by Hurricane Harvey
Time is supposed to heal and for many it has.
“The water was actually up here, which is six feet tall, so everything I thought I was putting high enough was not,” said Peggy Gifford as she showed KVUE the water line still visible on her car port.
Gifford lived in her La Grange home for 31 years before flood waters forced her out.
"The police were coming down the street, knocking on the door telling us we had to evacuate, so it was pretty crazy,” said Gifford.
The water soaked 31 years of memories, photos and furniture; it ruined just about everything.
"It's stuff, but you know it's stuff that you care about and you're sentimental about,” said Gifford.
After extensive renovations and months of staying with friends, Gifford moved back in June.
"I'm one of the luckier ones. I had insurance. A lot of people didn't,” said Gifford.
Throughout La Grange, you can see buildings that were once submerged in water back open for business. You'll find new home construction next to faded reminders of the devastation and clear pieces of land, since crews have started hauling away pieces of mobile homes that the water mangled and destroyed. Downtown is now dry -- a big difference from 2017, when water touched the roofs of some homes and businesses.
Seven feet of water, mud and muck filled Reve salon.
"Being a business owner, we're a small business it's your everything, literally under water,” said salon owner Donna Webb-Wessels.
Webb-Wessels gave KVUE a tour last year right after the water receded.
"I painted these walls, like this flower, I painted this flower,” said Webb-Wessels.
After two months of renovating and rebuilding, Webb-Wessels reopened the salon.
A wall of scattered paint replaced the neatly painted flower.
"I think I may have taken some anger out from Hurricane Harvey on the wall,” said Webb-Wessels.
For these survivors, even though the flood waters have disappeared, fear still floats in the back of their minds.
"Every time I hear about a rain possibly coming, and it's possibly stalling somewhere, I'm like 'oh my gosh, I don't want to go through this again',” said Gifford.
"Even whenever it rains now it's like 'oh no, stop now', you know even whenever we need the rain, it was scary,” said Webb-Wessels.
Webb-Wessels and Gifford push away these scary feelings with the memories of those who helped them recover.
"I guess it's rewarding and kind of humbling, you like cause everybody helped each other,” said Webb-Wessels.
"It's overwhelming the way people come help,” said Gifford.
The disaster recovery team still needs volunteers, and monetary donations. If you want to help, check out their website here.