ORANGE COUNTY, Texas – Joyce Romero doesn’t know how many times she’s cried in the past six months.
The effects of Hurricane Harvey are still taking their toll, though the storm has long been retired to the history books. In the months since Harvey flooded her home and forced both her and her husband to evacuate in a neighbor’s paddleboat, Joyce and Adam—her husband of 22 years—have lived as nomads as they’ve struggled to figure out how to rebuild their lives.
Although Joyce, 71, walks around with an upbeat attitude and a smile on her face, she has an exasperated tone to her voice. How many blows can one person take?
“I’ve worked and I’ve cried,” Joyce said. “It’s just one thing after another.”
Harvey sent nearly five feet of water into their home that sat stagnant for a week. She and Adam returned to walls covered in mold and nearly all their belongings soaked by water. Joyce lost nearly all her Elvis Presley memorabilia, while Adam lost his collection of John Wayne movies. Their home was deemed uninhabitable and would have to be demolished.
Sitting outside on his porch days before it was torn down, Adam stared solemnly into a trash pile filled with his belongings and said: “It’s kind of rough when you look at your lifetime going into the trash. I worked all my life and I got all this paid off.”
He, too, cried when he watched his home of nearly 60 years be reduced to rubble.
They evacuated to their daughter’s home in Louisiana, racing the storm as it flooded the freeway, where they stayed for two months. But every day they’d make the hour-plus drive home so Adam could be on his land. Joyce said in those early days Adam, a 91-year-old Army veteran who suffers from Alzheimer’s and COPD, developed a stress-induced knot below his bloodshot right eye. That lessened, she said, the more they returned home.
Their story caught the attention of a Cypress man who felt determined to help. Charlie Diggs donated $1,000 and a used camper trailer to help in their recovery. The trailer allowed them to move back to Vidor, but they couldn’t keep it on their property because of the health risks posed by the two large trash piles of their flooded belongings. So they moved the trailer to a friend’s property, where they’re currently living.
The trailer had problems of its own. There’s a leak in the roof of their bedroom they only learned about when water began dripping on Adam in the middle of the night. There’s a hole in the bedroom floor that’s causing the bed to sink.
As their daughter, Stormy, once said, “it’s like taking one step forward and two steps backward.”
All Adam wants, and nearly all he’s talked about the past six months, is returning to his land. Because of his age and health ailments—also the stressed caused by Harvey and seeing his home torn down—Joyce worries that she won’t get Adam home before he dies. In recent weeks, she’s woken to Adam saying goodbye to family members in his sleep.
Through all the stress and heartache, they’re making progress—they're almost home.
Joyce bought a 60-foot, three-bedroom trailer that now sits slightly sunken in the mud, the effects of days’ worth of rain that’s begun washing the dirt away. Their plan was to move in by Valentine’s Day, but an electrician who was supposed to set up power to the trailer fell through. It's another frustrating setback in the long list of others, because electricity is all they need to move in.
As Stormy said, one step forward, two steps back.
In the meantime, Stormy and family members are decorating the inside so when the power is turned on, Adam and Joyce can immediately come home.
You can help: The Romeros rebuild after Harvey
In a recent visit to the trailer, Adam found a wooden rocking chair in the living room his granddaughter brought over. The chair was supposed to be for Joyce, but Adam claimed it as his own. Rocking in a checkered shirt and overalls, Adam reached into a tin bucket on an end table filled with Tootsie Pops—his favorite. He grabbed a cherry flavor that he popped in his mouth.
“I’m going to be more than happy to be home,” he said. “I’m going to be at ease.”