By Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross
Houston residents Xiaodi Lin and her husband Robert Raphael were surprised when a group of Red Cross workers knocked on their door while they were in the midst of hauling out water-soaked drywall from their flood-damaged home. The Red Crossers where going door to door checking on residents of the neighborhood and making sure they had information about Red Cross assistance. A Red Cross Emergency vehicle came by and provided lunch.
“The information they provided about dealing with a house after a flood was great and really helpful, and the food was delicious,” said Robert. “But the best thing was just having people with whom we could share our ordeal…They came at a good time; the monotony of hauling out ruined furniture and drywall was really beginning to get to us. Having them here lifted our spirits…It was a godsend that they appeared when they did,” Robert concluded with teary eyes.
Robert spoke eloquently of what a good neighborhood theirs was and his fears that it would never be the same. Some of his neighbors have already made the decision to leave, and their houses are now sitting empty. “It’s really dark around here at night [since the flood],” said Robert. He and Xiaodi are still considering options. They have not yet made a decision on what they will do with regard to their heavily damaged house.
Although Robert and Xiaodi have insurance, they still qualified for a small amount of financial assistance from the Red Cross to help with their recovery in the immediate aftermath of the flood. “I almost cried when they gave me a cash card,” said Xiaodi. “They don’t do that in Communist China, [Xoaodi’s home country]” commented Robert.
Robert and Xiaodi’s ordeal with the flood began in a surreal manner. It was one o’clock in the morning and it had been raining really hard in Houston for three hours or more. Robert was up late, watching a History Channel program about the World War II invasion of Normandy. As he watched the men slosh through the water and onto the beach, he suddenly realized that his feet are also sloshing in water.
“It’s bizarre, am I dreaming?” Xiaodi remembers him saying afterwards. They quickly realized this was no dream. “We got a flood,” said Xiaodi.
Robert and Xiaodi began grabbing their valuable items —documents, clothes, electronics, some items of furniture, whatever they could—and securing them on top of tables.
Their two German Shepard dogs, Paw and Suzy, became more and more nervous as they splashed around in 5-6 inches of water. Robert and Xaiodi managed to get the dogs in their crates and then lifted each crate, with dog, up on tables. One of the dogs panicked and caused the crate to tip over and fall back into the water. They put the crate and dog back up out of the water once again, only this time on a more secure table.
“I thought the water would stop rising after it reached a few inches,” said Robert. “I looked out back, it was dark and I couldn’t see. When I opened the back door to get a better look, this wave of water came rushing into the house. That’s when we knew that we were really in for it….The water eventually reached 25 inches inside the house.”
By about 5:30 a.m. Xiaodi and Robert were exhausted. They live in a one story house, so there wasn’t a second story where they could retreat from the floodwaters. Instead, they crawled up into their attic. Thank goodness that Robert had some time earlier to bring up one sheet of plywood to cover a small area of the bare joists that crisscross the attic floor. “That sheet of plywood was our bed,” said Xiaodi. They managed to get blankets and pillows up into the attic to help with the discomfort of their plywood bed.
The next morning, according to Robert, the water was going down inside the house, but outside, everything was still flooded. Xiaodi, noted that “rescue people were coming down the street in kayaks, to check on everyone,” prompting Robert to quip, “maybe we should put a kayak in the attic for next time.”
Both Robert and Xiaodi are grateful to some very good friends who have helped them clear out sodden furniture and the bottom three feet or more of drywall from all of the interior walls of their house.
Xiaodi is from Beijing, China, and came to the United States in 2002 with her husband and daughter. Her husband decided not to stay in the United States, and they split up when he returned to China. She met Robert some time later through a matchmaking friend who was both a friend and work colleague of Robert. “My life changed a lot…. I’m much happier now,” said Xiaodi.
The Houston flood is not the only disaster Xiaodi has experienced. At age 16 she was living in Beijing when a level 7.5 earthquake struck. “I’m not so afraid of an earthquake,” she said, “Just get under something; it will soon stop….But a flood, there is no where to go…. I worried, didn’t know when the water would go down.”
Xiaodi works at Baylor University College of Medicine, in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, where she is a Research Assistant studying the neurological underpinning of traumatic brain injuries in combat veterans.
Robert is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University where he studies the molecular mechanisms of cells involved in the inner ear that lead to hearing loss.
It is interesting to note that Robert suffers from a familial hearing loss due to a mutation in a specific protein involved in hearing, similar to the very thing he studies at Rice University. He has a cochlear implant, which is critical for his ability to hear. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, the electronic instrument that controls his implant was not working, and he was using a backup device that required batteries to operate. However, the batteries were giving out. He ransacked the house looking for batteries, taking them from the television remotes and other devices to keep his implant, and his hearing functional.
Mimi Teller, the Red Cross Volunteer Caseworker who knocked on their door, remembers them well. “When they met us at the door their first question was ‘would you like a beer or wine.’ They were so gregarious and welcoming, even in the midst of their disaster,” Mimi continued. “They actually helped us too, as we had just come from dealing with a [emotionally] difficult case where a life had been lost…. They just enveloped us in their joy.”