What it’s like to go home after Hurricane Harvey and realize you’ve lost everything

MILES O'BRIEN: According to the latest estimates, about 100,000 homes were damaged by Harvey. But today in Houston, the skies are clear and the water is receding.

It was the first time many were able to see the destruction firsthand.

Our William Brangham joined some on their journey back home, and he is back with this story.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This is your place?

This is Jonny Silva's first day back home since the flood. The waters have receded, and now he and his wife are here to see the damage.

How high was up the water?

JONNY SILVA, Home destroyed in flood: It's about here.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jonny's a pipe fitter for the oil and gas industry. His family evacuated in the middle of the night when the water kept coming in their apartment.

JONNY SILVA: I have got two kids, one boy and one girl.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This was their room?

JONNY SILVA: Yes.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jonny says he doesn't want his son and daughter to come and see this. He thinks it'll be too tough for them to see how bad things are.

So, what are you going to do?

JONNY SILVA: I don't know. We called numbers for help. So, you know, we got to wait. I don't know, for real.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Silvas live in an apartment complex in a lower-income minority neighborhood, and everyone here is going through the same process: coming home, assessing the damage, and just wondering how to rebuild.

PHYCLICIA JOSEPH, Home damaged by storm: Now I see how the people in New Orleans really felt.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Phyclicia Joseph, like most people here, was evacuated by boat. A few residents rode out the storm up on the second floor of the complex. Phyclicia spent the last two days crowded in a relative's apartment.

PHYCLICIA JOSEPH: She has a one-bedroom, 20 of us in a one-bedroom.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Twenty people in a one-bedroom?

PHYCLICIA JOSEPH: Mm-hmm. We made it to her house, and we went from there. We just made it home today. Today. We didn't have clothes, nothing. But we did the best that we could. But it's really sad.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Phyclicia has an apartment here. So does her sister. So does her aunt. They have all lost nearly everything they own.

PHYCLICIA JOSEPH: It's all gone. It's damaged. But I'm glad that we are alive. I'm not really worried about material things, because we can always get this back. We can't get our lives back.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of her neighbors wasn't so lucky. The woman who lived in this apartment here had come back to check on her two dogs, but when the local bayou overflowed, its surge of water, strong enough to knock over these fences, swept her off her feet, and she drowned.

Neighbors are now looking after the dogs.

It's estimated that 80 percent of the people in the hardest-hit parts of the Houston area don't have any flood insurance. Everyone we spoke to here were renters, and none of them had coverage.

Victor's a chef at a local hospital. He saw the body of his neighbor who was swept away. He initially evacuated with his wife and mother and two daughters.

VICTOR, Home destroyed by storm: I jacked up all — everything that I could on to some cinder blocks here.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: His apartment is now a soggy, stinking mess. He has no flood insurance either. He lost replaceable things, like beds, a fridge and furniture, but irreplaceable things too.

And how long do you think — how long before you think you can…

VICTOR: Get back to normal?

Man, I don't know. To be honest, I really don't know, because, man…

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I'm sorry.

VICTOR: Kind of sucks.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He's also upset because, while he was evacuated, he says someone stole his tools.

You think it's just people taking advantage of a disaster?

VICTOR: Quick buck.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The people here are doing what tens of thousands are doing across Houston and Southeast Texas today. It's the same all-too-familiar ritual after almost every natural disaster: assess, grieve, and start the long road back to normal.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm William Brangham in Houston, Texas.

Recently in Nation