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Houston’s flood zone, by boat: Guinea pigs, guns and despair

Mike Stamps stands in his home in the Kingwood Greens Subdivision flooded from the San Jacinto River due to Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Kingwood, Texas. Stamps was there to retrieve his two cats , who had to be left behind, as he was evacuated on a jet ski Tuesday. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

KINGWOOD, Texas (AP) — Stewart Lawrence stood on a bridge that barely cleared the raging floodwaters below. He held two guinea pigs in a cage and seven rifles he’d rescued from his ruined home, and waited for a boat to come by and deliver him to dry land.

He’d been evacuated Tuesday after feet of water from the Harvey-fueled San Jacinto River washed through his home in the tony northeast Houston community of Kingwood. In the scurry to get out, he’d left his son’s prized pets and had to come back for them.

“My son was a little devastated when I told him I’d left them behind. They’re a little traumatized,” the 56-year-old retiree said of Jenny and Penny, the guinea pigs huddled together under straw in their cage. He wore shorts with Crocs on his feet, and he lifted the pets into the boat along with his guns.

“I’ve got one for every occasion,” he said of his arsenal, which he worried would have been found by looters. “This is Texas.”

As the boat chugged down Kingwood’s main street, the large trees that provided a charming canopy from the now-missing hot Texas sun moved overhead slowly. The ghosts of normal daily life lined the street: Radio Shack, Wing Stop, Whataburger, the bank, a library, doctors’ offices — all were underwater with cars in their parking lots, many of the trunks open and filled with household items that never made it out.

It was eerily quiet, except for the ringing of home security alarms that sounded like cicadas or a roar of airboats in the distance. The air smelled slightly sour from the floodwater, which had a rainbow-colored oily sheen atop it along with family photos, a Christmas card, a framed diploma and other keepsakes now lost.

Dave Hurd was in a kayak checking on the family psychology office where his wife worked as a doctor. Hurd wanted to check on her prized painting hanging in her office, and on the computer system. A couple inches of water sat on the floor, which was littered with wet file folders, soggy carpets and damaged furniture. Still, the office smelled of incense, which the doctor used for calming atmosphere.

“It was a very dramatic scene here a day ago; it’s a little calmer today,” Hurd said, shuffling through the water. “There were rapids going down the street.”

The painting, a still life of books on a table, made it unscathed, but the computers were destroyed.

Down the street, Patrick Tobias stood at the edge of the road, wide eyes watching the muddy water flow like a river down what was once his community’s Main Street.

The 53-year-old welder approached a boat being loaded into the water, and asked for a ride to his apartment to retrieve medications and family belongings. Tobias lumbered into the boat and it buzzed down the street, navigating the currents at the community’s main intersection, with streetlights and signs sticking out of the water.

“Make a right here,” Tobias said, and the boat passed more submerged cars, coming to a stop in his apartment’s parking lot.

Tobias waded through waist-high water and climbed the steps up to his apartment, which he hadn’t seen since evacuating. Inside, it smelled of rotten food. The living room was filled with left-behind inflatable toys that were blown up to protect his wife and daughter as the floodwaters rose.

Tobias walked into his bedroom and found his medication, and loaded keepsakes and belongings into a massive garbage bag. He hiked it onto his shoulder like Santa Claus and waded back to the boat.

A neighbor came out onto his stairwell across the way, wearing a bathrobe and looking shaken. He stared blankly at Tobias. He went back inside, not answering calls to him asking if he needed help.

Tobias grew quiet. When he did speak, his voice cracked:

“Where do we go from here?”

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Follow Jason Dearen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen .

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This story has been corrected to give the proper spelling on second reference of Dave Hurd’s last name.

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