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Families In Houston Begin Cleaning Up After Devastating Floods

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The rain just keeps coming down in the state of Texas. More evacuations have been ordered as rivers in the state swell. Meanwhile, residents are trying to clean up from the massive storms that passed through last weekend. In the city of Houston, thousands are dealing with flooded homes and cars. Carrie Feibel from Houston Public Media followed one family's grueling cleanup.

CARRIE FEIBEL, BYLINE: Rebecca and Roy Sillitoe live in a four-bedroom ranch home in Houston's Meyerland neighborhood.

ROY SILLITOE: Welcome to our devastation.

FEIBEL: The house faces Brays Bayou. Early Tuesday, the river rose over its banks and crossed the dark street. As their two kids slept, the Sillitoes watched water spill under the doors. At first, they were in denial.

REBECCA SILLITOE: We thought we could stop it with towels and blankets, and we were doing our best. He had buckets and was trying to fill up the tubs. But all of a sudden, just the water came in fast.

FEIBEL: Rebecca started grabbing photos and artwork and other family treasures.

REBECCA SILLITOE: And I just went into super save-our-stuff mode and our kids' stuff. I just thought, if we weren't going to be living here anymore or if it would be a long time, I wanted our kids to have their toys and their stuffed animals and their books. So I just started putting everything up as high as I could.

FEIBEL: The water came up about two feet and stayed there until dawn. The family left. Roy said when they came back home, they weren't sure what exactly to do.

ROY SILLITOE: I guess dry it out. To be honest, I'm really not sure. We grew up in Canada, and floods is not really a thing in Western Canada.

FEIBEL: Roy is a neuroscientist who loves the outdoors. He was using his camping knife to rip up the soggy living room carpet.

FEIBEL: Rebecca was walking around in rubber boots, balancing an open laptop on her arm. They're lucky. They had flood insurance through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

REBECCA SILLITOE: The FEMA program is very bare-bones. We have to fill out a full spreadsheet with make, model, year we bought the piece, what the replacement cost would be for every single item. I've been doing that all morning.

FEIBEL: Friends began arriving with suitcases and boxes. Rebecca showed them what was dry and needed to be taken away before it got moldy.

REBECCA SILLITOE: Oh, these are saved. Again, more pillows that can be saved.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK, I can go get garbage bags.

FEIBEL: The worst part was losing family heirlooms. Rebecca pointed to a wooden cabinet in the living room, its bottom half swollen and buckled.

REBECCA SILLITOE: I - unfortunately, I think I lost my grandparent's cabinet, which is - we don't have much of value, like monetary value. But I couldn't save that, and that's an emotional piece.

FEIBEL: Could it be fixed? Rebecca just didn't know. There's no road map for a natural disaster, no app that tells you what to do first, then what to do next. Rebecca said it was hard to feel organized when she had no answers. She wasn't even sure when she would get answers.

REBECCA SILLITOE: Is FEMA going to pay for us to paint that drywall or do we then have to hire painters? And how long is all that going to take? And the house dried out and restored to move back in? I don't know. Is that, like, two weeks, six weeks, three months?

FEIBEL: Roy believes eventually, the family will be fine. His kids had lots of questions about the flood, but he said witnessing all this is good for them.

ROY SILLITOE: They can see how we respond to it and stay positive and be with friends. This is good for them, I think, in the end. It'll happen to them in their lifetime, sometime they'll have to suffer something tough. So this is good.

FEIBEL: The Sillitoes, one family of thousands here, sorting out what recovery really means and what's next. For NPR News, I'm Carrie Feibel in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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