Residents in Harvey's path return to find devastation

CROSBY, Texas — Silvia Casas' eyes welled with tears Friday as she surveyed the damage from Harvey to what once was a working class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood near Crosby, Texas.

Large trees with their roots reaching into the air were pulled from the ground by Harvey's floodwaters. Recreational Vehicles were crumpled like tin cans. Entire houses were picked up and moved 20 or 30 feet from where they once sat, leaving piles of wood and splintered debris and PVC pipes sticking from the ground as the only reminder of once-familiar structures.

Near a 30-foot high pile of debris, once houses and treasured belongings now stacked against a telephone pole, someone had hung a painting of the Virgin de Guadalupe from a tree branch. Around the corner, a sinkhole had swallowed two cars and was filled with brown, mucky water.

A neighborhood stray dog, fed by everyone, weathered the flood by standing on the Casas' roof. Their cinderblock house was one of the few structures that wasn't thrown by floodwaters, but inside, a pile of furniture and splintered belongings sat in the middle of the floor, under a ceiling pocked with peeling paint from the floodwaters.

Silvia stopped to survey the outdoor kitchen that used to stand on the side of the house where several generations would gather.

"This is where we gathered as a family..." Silvia said before choking up. "We're going to miss this place."

A week after Hurricane Harvey roared into Texas, the Casas are among thousands of people seeing their devastated homes for the first time. An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County, or more than 10 percent of all structures in the county where Crosby is located, were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district.

The community where the Casas family lived doesn't have an official name. It is about 6.5 miles southwest of the Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby that flooded earlier this week, causing a fire and explosion that evacuated a 1.5-mile radius around the plant.

Silvia and Rafael Casas said their family got no official evacuation warning when the floodwaters came last Friday. They were told to leave when they lost power, but the lights stayed on. Their home was in the area that was affected by the release of water from two dams that were in danger of overflowing.

"On Friday, someone, maybe with the city, came and told my parents they were going to open the dam, and that's it. They were supposed to come back and alert people when they opened it (the dam) up, but they never did," Rafael Casas said.

He said the person told him that someone would return and let them know whether to evacuate or cut off the power to this whole area, which would be a sign that they should leave.

"But they never came back and they never cut the power."

Luckily, the family decided to leave anyway.

Around the corner from the Casas' place Mary Ann Avila surveyed her destroyed home in the flood. The only room left standing was her daughter's bedroom.

She sobbed as she walked around picking up items left behind from the flood.

"It's completely gone," she said. "I don't know what else to do. Rebuild? Probably not. In 2 years it'll be the same thing again. I don't think I can start over, not here," she said through tears. "I have a house, I just don't have a home."