ROSE CITY, Texas—Six weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit, on a humid evening in early October, mold was growing up the sides of houses. Workers had stripped the town hall down to its studs, tossing out the soaked paper, ruined electronics, wet drywall, and warped boards. Outside, bottles and bottles of water were stacked near gallons of soap and lotion. Inside, Mayor Bonnie Stephenson surveyed the empty shell of the municipal building, leaning on a post where the court verdicts used to be given out. A few feet away, an elderly town resident, Carroll Lee, sat down on a camp chair to talk to a nonprofit worker who had arrived in town in Harvey’s wake. Her predicament was plain: “I evacuated to my son’s house and now we have nothing.”
Perhaps no place was hit harder by Harvey than Rose City, a tiny community tucked between the sprawl of Houston and the Louisiana border, where Lee has lived for about four decades. The town’s families are mostly older and mostly low-income. When the Category Four storm stalled on the Gulf Coast, it dumped roughly four feet of rain onto the area. Levees straining and the ground soaking, authorities released water from a nearby dam, flooding the town. Houses were submerged up to their eaves; trailers and sheds floated like rubber ducks; cows and goats were washed miles away; people, unaware of the dam release and the imminent danger to their lives, were evacuated by their neighbors in air boats. Stephenson estimates that 268 of the town’s 270 structures, including all its houses, were damaged or destroyed. Lee, along with all her neighbors, found herself homeless.
“How long were you at your son’s house?” Steph Palla, the aid worker, asked.