The evening of April 17, 2016, a slow-moving storm moved into the Houston area, causing historic flooding.
Though only four to six inches of rain fell in north Houston (compared to 23 inches in parts of Waller County), the area was a focal point of rescue efforts as the rising water stranded thousands of people in apartments.
“My sister woke me up and she said, ‘It’s flooding outside,’” remembers Clarence Osby, who lives at the Arbor Court Apartments.
He, like most tenants, was fast asleep when the water started to rise just after midnight. Once Osby realized what was happening, he says he didn’t have to think about what to do next. He and his buddies blew up air mattresses to help get his neighbors to safety.
“Don’t have no time. Just get ‘em out. Go,” he said.
Cleo Joseph was one of those tenants who needed help getting out. After suffering three strokes, she uses a cane and scooter to get around. The water, she says, was rising faster than she would be able to move on her own.
“My neighbors knocked on my door and got me out of here,” she said.
First, they took Joseph to the second floor of the apartments. Then, she says, it was clear they were all going to have to get out of there.
“It was terrible. I was scared,” Joseph said.
The storm damaged every first-floor unit, according to the Arbor Courts property manager Junior Trevino. In the year since, crews have repaired or renovated all of them, replacing the floors, sheetrock, paint, cabinets and appliances.
“They redid everything,” said Raymond Holden, Joseph’s next-door neighbor. “They did what they could and fixed things, you see?”
Holden says watching the tenants coming together to help each other during and after the floods made him appreciate his neighbors.
“That was a trying experience,” he said. “People could have lost their life, but they didn’t because of a lot of help from the community.”
The Tax Day Flood was the first of its kind for Holden, but not for 19-year tenant Joseph. She says it’s happened multiple times during her nearly two decades at the complex.
“They need to do something with that bayou,” Joseph said.
Robert Fiederlein, the VP of Strategic Planning and Development for the North Houston District, agrees, which is why the district hired a local engineering firm to study the area’s flood potential.
What researchers found was that the problem has two parts. Arbor Court was built in the lowest-elevation location in the area, so water from up to a mile away flowed down to that point. Couple that with spillage from neighboring Greens Bayou, and the result was waist- and neck-deep water in parts of the complex.
Since the problem is two-fold, so is the solution the engineers presented.
“They’ve made some recommendations for infrastructure improvements in the area, including providing local detention and building new stormwater infrastructure in the roads,” Fiederlein said.
The Harris County Flood Control District is in the process of building two large detention ponds in the area, which should be done by 2018. Work won’t start on those proposed by the North Houston District until after Harris County divvies up the roughly $51.5 million it will receive for disaster recovery and the projects get approved.
In the meantime, tenants like Joseph hope no other flood-generating storms hit Houston.
“I’m going to be here forever,” she said. “I’m not going nowhere.”