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Texas Schoolteacher Recounts Imelda's Force: 'We Were Terrified'


Tropical Storm Imelda dumped more than 40 inches of rain and caused widespread flooding in southeastern Texas last week. At least five people have died. Winnie, Texas, was especially hard hit. At one point, 80% of the town was under water. Elissa Jordan is a schoolteacher who lives in Winnie. She spent last Wednesday night hunkered down in her house with her husband, their 8-year-old twins and two dogs. In the very early morning hours of Thursday, the storm intensified. Jordan says it was the worst lightning she had ever seen.

ELISSA JORDAN: We were, you know, terrified because the weather took such a drastic turn. And we started watching the water rise on the street side of the house. And about 1 o'clock in the morning, the water started coming in underneath our fireplace and then it was pouring through the closed back doors, the bedroom walls, the bathroom. And it just started rising and kept rising.

BLOCK: It sounds really, really scary. And it sounds like it just happened really, really fast.

JORDAN: It was so fast we couldn't even - we lifted two chairs that were my grandfather's chairs. And we tried getting my grandmother, who passed away, her antique dresser up. And we couldn't get it. And the water kept coming up. And we were in the kitchen, and we had the two dogs. And we spent the rest of the night on the countertop.

BLOCK: So you had to just be hoping that it would eventually just stop.

JORDAN: Stop rising.

BLOCK: Yeah.

JORDAN: Mmm hmm.

BLOCK: How'd you calm down your kids? They must have been really afraid.

JORDAN: They were. They were terrified. We just had to be very calm and reassuring. And we just kept telling them that there were other people that have it worse. And we're lucky that we could still get on the countertop. Every time we would open the back door, stuff would wash out of the house. We had bullfrogs and fish in the kitchen. We had a snake in the cabinets...

BLOCK: Yeah.

JORDAN: ..A little snake.

BLOCK: Wow. When did it all stop?

JORDAN: I don't even know to be honest. It kept raining. It would not stop. And it was, I guess, maybe around 2, we finally ventured out and just kind of left the house as is. We went - that's when we went to my mother-in-law's.

BLOCK: So that's where you are now. And I understand you are a schoolteacher. You teach third grade. And I gather school is supposed to open up on Monday.

JORDAN: Yes. We are supposed to go back. Our superintendent has told us that we need to open. But I told him that mentally and physically, I can't go because I teach third graders. And they're not big kids. And you have to be there for them emotionally because they're going through the same thing. And I just - I'm not there. And I'm not ready to send my kids because we don't have a livable house.

BLOCK: Yeah. Have you been able to reach out to any of your students, get a sense of how they're doing?

JORDAN: I know - we have a homeless list that they've started for, I don't know, whatever information the school needs. And I know that several of our students are displaced or they've left, and they can't come back.

BLOCK: I think we can all hear how traumatic this still is for you, Elissa.

JORDAN: Yeah. Seeing my kids on the homeless list just broke my heart. And they're okay. They came to the house for the first time today. And they're OK. I think my daughter's happy because she knows she'll get all new stuff. But to know that our house is unlivable is horrible. And I know the holidays are coming up. And, you know, we don't have a home.

BLOCK: Yeah. So your plan is to fix it up and move back in?

JORDAN: Yes. We were - we're blessed because we actually had flood insurance. A bunch of the people that I work with do not.

BLOCK: Well, does any part of this make you think about moving? Or are you sure you want to stay there?

JORDAN: We will stay just because it's such a wonderful community. I have people I don't even know at my house tearing my house apart. I grew up in Galveston. And we've always lived off the ground on pilings. So I don't like living on the ground. But I think we'll stay because it's, you know - I could call and ask anyone for anything, and they'd be here in a second.

BLOCK: Well, Elissa, we wish you all the best in getting your life back together. And all the best to you and your family and your kids.

JORDAN: Well, thank you.

BLOCK: Elissa Jordan lives in Winnie, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.