Priscilla Crain was living on a blowup mattress in a rented jeep after Hurricane Harvey. Her home was flooded during the storm, and she was one of many Harvey victims who did not have flood insurance that would have helped her rebuild. She was basically left homeless.
The night of the storm, she was in her home with her dogs when two feet of water came rushing in.
“I got my Bible and what clothes I could get and put it in a garbage bag,” said Crain.
Crain eventually got her house back, thanks to Operation Blessing, an organization that rebuilt 40 homes of Hurricane Harvey victims without flood insurance.
Thousands of homes were destroyed after the hurricane’s destructive path through the Gulf Coast. But the ones without flood insurance were basically left with nothing.
Leaders of Operation Blessing said they wanted to help those in most need.
“We wish we could help hundreds rebuild their homes but it just cost a lot of money. So we handpicked 40 families from nominations that were given to us,” said Jody Gettys, vice president of Operation Blessing.
The 40 families are in dire financial situations and could not afford to rebuild on their own, said Gettys.
In Jefferson County, Texas, where Crain lives, only 23 percent of residents had flood insurance, according to the county’s emergency management. Many residents in the county are low to moderate income, retired or close to retirement, so flood insurance was out of their budget.
And so is rebuilding.
Crain lives on her own but keeps a close relationship with her grandchildren. After Operation Blessing found living in her jeep, they got her a bed. But she couldn’t sleep in her gutted home because there were so many spiders and insects inside.
But now she’s back sleeping in her own bed. She was surprised with an “Extreme Makeover” style reveal last week. Her home was completely refurbished and she got new appliances and furniture.
“It doesn’t feel real. It feels like I’m visiting,” Crain said as she sat down in her new rocking chair for the first time. She’s lived in the home for close to 30 years.
Army Veteran Allen Abshire also did not have flood insurance. He’s elderly and lives on his own and was rescued by boat during the storm.
The organization also helped him rebuild his home.
“I would have tried to do it myself cause I’m pretty handy, but I know I couldn’t have done all this,” said Abshire.
Abshire had also been living in his gutted house with the studs visible on every wall. He said it was demoralizing to see the home in disrepair after the storm. The walls, floors and furniture were soaked and falling apart.
The renovations made the home look practically brand new.
“Good Lord, this is beautiful!” Abshire proclaimed when he first walked in. “I expected my walls and maybe my floor to be fixed. I didn’t expect all this furniture and appliances and everything. It’s real wonderful.”
One of the first things Abshire noticed was a picture of himself with his late wife. There were reminders of her added to the house, including the words: “goodnight, God bless you, I love you” printed above his bed.
The couple of 55 years used to say that to each other every night before they went to sleep.
“I still feel that her spirit’s still in the house,” he said.
The house was decorated with mementos from Abshire’s time in the Third Armored Division post WWII. There were old photographs, certificates of service, badges and pins.
Other organizations and donors also gave money to the effort, including Home Depot and former Cleveland Indian Jay Bruce and his wife Hannah, which raised money through the team’s foundation and matched the first $100,000.
Bruce grew up nearby in Beaumont and said it was difficult playing baseball during the season while seeing what was happening to his hometown.
“For people that have been here their whole lives and have made this place home and done so much to give back to the community, for a lot of them to get their homes and really their lives completely shattered, it’s something that really hit home with me,” said Bruce. “I’m so glad that they’re getting their house back and I’m glad I could at least be a little part of the help.”
Hundreds of volunteers also helped rebuild the home.
“We don’t know how good we have it until something like this strikes,” said Larry Moore, a volunteer with Operation Blessing.
Moore drove 17 hours from the Four Corners area of New Mexico to volunteer. He said a friend who volunteered inspired him.
After the volunteers were done and Abshire and Crain were preparing to enjoy their refurbished homes, they were both given one last surprise.
The volunteers decorated their homes for Christmas with lights, wreaths and a tree.