Northern Wyoming News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy
Editor 

Surviving and rebuilding

Worland graduate displaced from Hurricane Harvey works on repairing damage

 

September 14, 2017

COURTESY

RJ Christensen stands waist-deep in flood water in his Houston, Texas, neighborhood after returning to his home Tuesday, Aug. 29, to retrieve more necessities including food, clothing and the dog's bed after Hurricane Harvey hit the state last month.

This is part one of a two-part story on the RJ Christensen family from Houston, Texas, how they survived Hurricane Harvey and how they are dealing with the aftermath.

WORLAND -"It was a river from our door to our neighbor's across the street," RJ Christensen said, remembering when Hurricane Harvey's wrath reached his doorstop two-and-a-half weeks ago.

RJ, a graduate of Worland High School, is the son of Ron and Rhonda Christensen, formerly of Worland and Lovell, and the grandson of Keith and Helen Kay Grant of Lovell.

Hurricane Harvey first hit landfall in Texas on Friday night, Aug. 25. By Sunday evening, while their neighborhood had never flooded in the seven years they lived there, the RJ Christensen family in Houston saw waters rise all the way up to their porch.

On Saturday, Christensen said he noticed the water had filled the neighborhood's retention pond. He also realized there was nowhere else for the water to go.

When the water reached the porch, "We [he and his wife Emily] knew and we thought, uh-oh, it's probably going to keep coming."

The family of five went into frenzied action, RJ said, getting all the little stuff off the floor, moving one mattress up to the top bunk, moving as much furniture as they possibly could.

The moved photo albums, scrapbooks and other priceless items into the attic.

They packed up a rubber raft with food, clothes and the dog food.

They woke up to an inch of water in the house.

"We got on our clothes, got the raft out and headed down the street," Christensen recalled. He said neighbors were asking where he was going. He replied he didn't know but they were headed first to a nearby Walgreen's where friends were going to pick up him and his family. Roads were passable to the Walgreen's but not in Christensen's Twin Oaks Village neighborhood.

One family asked them to send someone back to help remove an elderly couple, one with a heart condition.

Christensen as they moved through the water it was up to his waist at times, especially at the intersections.

"It was raining the whole time," said RJ, who had on a surfing wet suit to try and stay dry and warm. "The baby, 11-month-old Isla, fell asleep in the raft. In contrast the oldest, Grace, 7, was cold and wet and put a hat over her face to try and keep the rain at bay. Their other daughter Cecily, 4, was also in the raft. The dog, Denali, walked and ran alongside RJ and swam where it was too deep. RJ said the 8-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback was happy to be going with the family.

"Everyone asks me, 'Did you get any photos of you and your family when you evacuated?" And I answer, "That was the last thing on my mind. It was raining and very wet. We sealed up our cell phones in plastic baggies and got out of there!'," he said.

They arrived at Walgreen's without incident. His friends were also picking up another family. RJ stayed behind with the raft and he and two friends went back for the elderly couple. He said there was also an elderly neighbor who lived alone that he wanted to make sure was safe.

The friend took an air mattress as well as the raft to help rescue people.

He said they arrived back and the elderly couple could barely stand in the rising water rushing down the neighborhood street. They got them into the raft, with the wife ending up lying crosswise in the raft.

As they approached the Walgreen's again, tired, dragging the raft in shallow water, two young men, whom RJ said were dressed in attire that stereotypically you wouldn't think would be the first to help. But help they did. They were the first to rush up to the raft and help the elderly couple out and get to a dry place.

He said his friends in Texas welcomed his family and another family. For a week at his friend's house there were three families with nine children and two dogs.

On Tuesday, RJ returned to the family home to retrieve more belongings including the dog's bed, food, clothes and the "Pack-n-Play" for Isla to sleep in. When he arrived at the house water was at least four inches deep in the home.

One family was staying put and they agreed to contact RJ when the water had receded, which ended up being the following day.

After a week with at the one friend's home, the Christensens moved to another friend's house the next week and this week RJ and Denali are at yet another friend's home.

His wife Emily and the three daughters have gone to stay with Emily's family in Arizona until the house is livable again - which is completely uncertain at this time.

Monday, RJ returned to work as the AP ceramics and sculpture teacher at Elsik High School.

The Christensens lost their whole kitchen, will have to replace flooring, doors and they removed two feet of drywall on all walls.

PROVIDING HELP

RJ said they have had overwhelming support. His sister sold some bracelets she made, wanting to sell 10 at $10 a piece to raise $100 and ended up raising $1,000. A friend who couldn't come help started a fund account through youcaring.com, at https://www.youcaring.com/emilyrjchristensenandtheirthreelittlegirls-939235.

Part II in tomorrow's Northern Wyoming Daily News will focus on the work the Christensens did after the flood waters subsided and the work that is left as they work to rebuild.

 
 

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