Houstonians continue long recovery from Harvey one year later

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Saturday will mark one year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category Four storm on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The storm dropped historic amounts of rain and caused flooding from Corpus Christi to Rockport to Houston to Beaumont.

According to FEMA, the storm caused more than $125 billion worth of damage in Texas and Louisiana during its week of destruction.

In Houston, flooding continued as reservoirs filled up and water had to be released into neighborhoods.

The Sotolongo household is one of many families in Houston still trying to recover. Their home is like many others with three young kids: toys are abundant down low and precious mementos up high. If only this was actually home.

The Sotolongo home is still a mess from Harvey. It’s carved out from what it once was down to the studs. Even those have to be replaced, too.

“It’s been a year, and I don't have walls. I don't have a floor,” said Maria Sotolongo. “I don’t have anything still.”

Harvey cut deep. It forced the Sotolongo family to start a complete rebuild, repairing damages both visible and those less so.

“My little guy, he's 7,” Maria explained. “He looks at me, and he's like ‘Momma, how do you know we're not going to flood?’ And I just tell him to hug me. That it’s going to be okay. That we're not going to flood.”

The Sotolongos’ home sits just south of the Buffalo Bayou and less than a mile from the Barker Reservoir Dam.  Officials released water from the dam to relieve pressure. It eventually ended up in several surrounding neighborhood homes and stayed there for two weeks.

Despite some of the homes literally backing up to the Buffalo Bayou, many of them were not in the federally-regulated 100-year flood plain. In fact, data shows in Harris County nearly three-fourths of the homes that flooded during Harvey were not in the flood plain. It means many of them did not have flood insurance.

“There were no mandatory evacuations for our area,” Maria said. “There were all kinds of neighborhoods listed on the news, but none for this area in West Houston.”

The difficulty of the rebuilding process shows in Maria’ West Houston neighborhood. Many neighbors have decided to move out and sell their home instead of trying to rebuild.

With the rebuild difficult, Sotolongo began collecting photos and videos of her own story.

“I deal with things sometimes through the camera lens,” she said.

Maria has captured intimate moments. Some are inspiring while others are heartbreaking, including talks with neighbors who lost loved ones.

The collection of interviews and videos will be part of a documentary telling the story of a storm still taking a toll one year later.

“People thing Harvey came and left. Harvey's not left. It's here,” Maria said. “It kind of tried to break us. It's flooded us. But I always say it hasn't broken us. It’s made us stronger, but it just doesn't take away the hardship. It’s still going on.”