Story and photos by Ekland Durousseau, Red Cross contributor
Henry Fountain and Christie Bates are no strangers to cleaning up flood-damaged homes — it’s what the couple does for a living. They moved to Houston to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey repair and rebuild their homes. They never considered they would one day need the very same services they offer.
Their days are often long and when they come home, a hot shower and some rest are all they can think about. “We are constantly working. When we go home, we go to sleep,” said Bates. “We didn’t know there was a tropical storm or that it might flood. We just heard it was going to rain for a few days.”
Three weeks ago, after a long day working on flood damaged homes, a strange noise roused them from a sound sleep.
Fountain was the first to wake up, “We are all about it being cold in the house and when I woke up it was hot.” With residual light coming in from the window he saw a glimmer on the floor and rolled out of bed to take a closer look, landing in water that came up to his knees.
With a little laugh, Fountain exclaimed, “I went from the bed to water!”
Floodwaters inundated their air conditioning unit, causing it to shut down.
Fountain shook Bates awake and at first, she didn’t believe him — until she put her foot down and realized he wasn’t joking.
They waded to the front door and in the dim light saw fast-moving, swirling brown water that would turn out to be chest- deep.
They could hear voices in the distance and Fountain immediately began shouting for help. Moments later, they heard a muted humming and twin beams of light as two motorized life rafts maneuvered around the corner of the garage. First responders were out in their neighborhood rescuing people who were trapped by rising water.
Fountain and Bates only thought to grab one thing in the harrowing escape – Saint, their snuggly brindle-coat Pitbull. Saint takes up a lot of space and there was a concern his nails might pop the raft, but Christie put her foot down and refused to leave until they allowed him onboard.
Shivering and cold, the little family were taken to a high-water rescue site and then to a shelter, having escaped with only the clothes on their back.
Although they have been through a lot, the couple formed quick friendships with volunteers at the shelter. “I don’t know what we would have done without Brian, Renee, Patty, Betty, and Scott,” said Bates. “They have done so much for us. It went far beyond expectations. I actually gave up on people until this. The people at the American Red Cross have definitely, definitely changed my heart and my mind.” Fountain nods in agreement, “We have a new piece of hope now.”
Fountain and Bates are optimistic about what it will take to get back to normal.
“We are going back to our place to try and fix it up and we’re not too worried about what we will find,” said Bates knowingly. “Since we know how to rebuild, we know we have hard work waiting on us and will use our skills and patience and willpower –”
“And hardheadedness!” Fountain interjects, waving his arms in the air. “Only this time, we plan to lift the house up. We used to laugh because our neighbors have their homes 15 feet in the air. Now, I’m thinking about going to 19.”