UTSA Freshman Kaylee Trevino
UTSA Freshman Kaylee Trevino Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

One year ago Thursday, University of Texas at San Antonio freshman Kaylee Trevino saw her home in Conroe, just north of Houston, for the first time since the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey rose to 14 feet and submerged the house. The water had since receded, but it still wasn’t safe to enter her home.

Peering in from the outside, Trevino’s parents Tara and George smashed a few windows to get a sense of the damage within.

“The insulation in the ceiling had soaked to the bottom of the floor and started to dry,” said Kaylee, who was 17 when Harvey hit. “It was hard, but still soft and squishy at the same time, and it smelled so bad.”

The house Kaylee had lived in for most of her life was ruined. During the storm, rescuers drove boats over the one-story house to rescue neighbors. The roof collapsed from hurricane force winds, and the water ruined everything that remained inside.

Hurricane Harvey forced Kaylee into a new normal – living in unfamiliar circumstances and adjusting to limited resources. But it also forged new relationships and eventually led Kaylee to find a sense of comfort in new places.

An aerial view of Kaylee Trevino’s old neighborhood in Conroe, Texas. Credit: Courtesy / Apple Maps

Days before Harvey arrived, after Conroe Independent School District canceled classes and Tara’s job as a medical biller was put on hold as the storm passed through, Kaylee and her mom went to get their nails done, not yet knowing the extent of Harvey’s wrath. The family was familiar with flooding – the Trevino’s house is located close to the San Jacinto River and a neighborhood lake.

Harvey forecasts were grim, and the Trevino’s house had a history of flooding. Water rose four feet in the family’s home during the 2016 Tax Day floods, leading the family to renovate the bungalow. They knew what to do when flooding came.

“You cut a foot above where the water line is in your sheet wall and then you just replace it from down under. You have to have somebody who is really good to make it look seamless,” Kaylee said. “That’s all you can do. You replace everything, and you disinfect it all, and you replace all of the insulation.”

Kaylee and her mom checked with the San Jacinto River Authority and came to realize Harvey’s potential for damage. They knew they had to leave their home and take what they could.

Acting quickly, the Trevinos called friends and family to help them move their belongings to a storage shed, and within six hours, their home was almost emptied. The family sought refuge at Kaylee’s grandmother’s house, just next door, but built up 15 feet from the ground.

They spent the night, listening to the storm rage outside, and soon realized their haven would not be spared from the flooding. The family moved even quicker now – in 30 minutes, they brought what they could with them and took a boat to higher ground.

“When I woke up, I was being told that we had to leave Nana’s house, and I thought this is going to be really bad, and how are we going to fix it this time?” Kaylee said. “With Tax Day, we remodeled our whole house…[with Harvey] there is nothing you can do, so you just kind of feel helpless.”

The Trevinos ended up moving into temporary housing about an hour away where someone they knew had a rental property that wasn’t in use at the time.

Kaylee shared a room with her younger brother Tommy, her parents took a room upstairs, and her aunt and grandmother split a bedroom downstairs. The family’s combined six dogs stayed in the laundry room, which the Trevinos nicknamed the “animal shelter.” Their two cats stayed with family friends.

When the Trevinos were finally able return to their home in Conroe, they saw the extent of the destruction inside. Nothing was salvageable. Kaylee called friends from her high school drill team, the Golden Girls, and about 20 people showed up to help gut the home. The next day, the group gutted another house, and then another.

“During that week, we saw each other every day, so it was like being in school, except you were working a lot harder than being at school,” Kaylee said.

Eventually, Conroe High School reopened and Kaylee and Tommy returned to class. They still lived in temporary housing – for the first month at the condo, but then the person who lent it to them had tenants moving in, and the Trevinos were forced to move again.

The family relocated back to Kaylee’s grandmother’s house, which had been partially renovated one month after the storm hit. Harvey had left about one foot of water inside, so with new floors and beds – but no other furniture – the Trevinos again had a place to stay.

“Doing homework was hard, doing projects was even harder, and then on top of all that, it is your senior year, so you are making your senior mum…and we do spirit overalls,” Kaylee said. “During the whole time we are having to do [mums and overalls] at different people’s houses with different supplies so it was different than we normally did it.”

Kaylee Trevino wears her senior mum. Credit: Courtesy / Kaylee Trevino

Eventually, life got a little easier. The Trevinos found a new home located at the highest point in Conroe, the insurance claims process began, and mail began arriving.

On Sept. 18, about three weeks after Kaylee returned to her home post-Harvey, she collected her mail from their still-standing mailbox and opened a letter saying she had been admitted to UTSA.

The Conroe senior tweeted photos of her holding a UTSA sign in front of her uninhabitable home saying, “After everything we’ve been through I’m excited to say I will be attending UTSA!”

One year later, after two weeks on campus, Kaylee said she has settled in to college life.

She is excited to join a sorority and has two Quidditch practices under her belt. Kaylee is one of the team’s beaters – the same position the Weasley twins played in the Harry Potter series – and her job is to peg opponents with a dodgeball.

The UTSA Quidditch Team plans to travel to a collegiate tournament in Huntsville, about a half hour away from Conroe this year. The team will stay in Kaylee’s new home.

Visiting her Nana’s house is still sad for Kaylee, who finds it hard to see her longtime home next door waiting to be demolished. But, in the year since Harvey, Kaylee also feels a sense of security.

“We have got flooding down to a science now,” she said. “We know how to fix it when it happens. We know how to clean everything up after a flood now.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.