Brazos River flooding unwelcome tradition for family rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey

Koteras family rebuilding for second time in three years

RICHMOND, Texas – For a historic Texas community outside of Houston, Hurricane Harvey wasn't the first year that brought record flooding. 

The Brazos River came out of its banks in 2017 for the third year in a row, putting entire neighborhoods in Richmond underwater.

The Koteras family lives on the Brazos River, and they were among those forced out of their home after Harvey. 

Tiffany Koteras said when it rains, it now gives her family anxiety. 

Three years ago was the first time the river overflowed and flooded the family's yard. In 2016, during the Tax Day Floods, water came into the house.

"We didn't even get to finish completely rebuilding when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 and it took the house again," Tiffany said.

The Koteras family was better prepared for flooding in 2017, but the weeks and months that followed Harvey were still difficult. 

Koteras, her husband and their five children were forced to separate, temporarily living at the homes of different family members and friends.

"It definitely does put a major strain on the family," Koteras said. "There were a lot of times where it was like, 'Are we ever going to make it together?'"

The family was not able to return to their house for two weeks, and they weren't able to start rebuilding until November. When they finally got back, they had to rip out everything, from the floors to the walls and kitchen appliances. 

Koteras' garden in the backyard was also destroyed. That was a loss that upset the kids, especially Koteras' daughter, who had spent time tending to the watermelon vines.

"She was so proud because they were finally starting to produce," Koteras said. "We actually had three little small watermelons. They all went away with the flood."

Koteras' husband has taken steps to guard against future flooding. Metal panels now line the walls, and there is no longer any carpet in the house.

"It was a slow process," Koteras said. "Financially, it was us doing it on our own."

Koteras took care of her children while her husband worked several hours a day on rebuilding. The family was able to get back into the house on Christmas.

"It wasn't perfect, but it was to where we could actually stay here for a little bit," Koteras said.

Through the whole process, Koteras was surprised at the support the family received from the community.

"It's interesting because during that time, everybody came together," Koteras said. "Most of the people didn't know one another. They all live busy lives. They all live separate lives, but it was amazing how many people were just able to say, 'Hey, I'm here to help.'"

Koteras has lived in the same neighborhood most of her life. She said the river flooding issue has gotten worse over the past few years. It is a trend that has caused some of her neighbors to pack their bags and move. 

Koteras does not want to leave the place she knows as home, but there have been several moments when she has thought about it.

"Sometimes it's hard because you're dealing with a flood," Koteras said. "At the same time, it's like, is it worth continually going through this?"

For now, the Koteras family will continue to rebuild. They've made a lot of progress and their garden is now thriving, with watermelon vines taking over the backyard, but a lot of work remains.

"You get so frustrated at times, because you can't even find stuff," Koteras said. "You want it to be over and done, but at the same time it's just like, do we even want to finish it yet or do we just wait and see what's going to happen, because it's become a yearly tradition. It's really frustrating."

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