Hurricane Harvey did not consider age as it brought its flood waters throughout the Houston area, as both young and old scrambled as best they could to find a safe place to stay. Many seniors, some with slow gaits, aches and pains, and confused thoughts, were forced to leave their flooded homes, seeking shelter. Fortunately for some, Conroe’s Carriage Inn Retirement Community welcomed new residents with open arms.
Carriage Inn Marketing Director Terri Lisenbe shared that a week before the storm, she and other staff members were getting ready to take care of their 90 residents by stocking water and food while communicating with them and their families. But even those precautions and preparations could not prepare them for what was about to happen.
“I came in on Monday, August 28, and that is when they let the water out of Lake Conroe Dam,” Lisenbe relates. “I was evacuated from my house and actually spent the night at Carriage Inn. On Tuesday, August 29, we were still making sure that our residents were okay, and by Wednesday, August 30, we knew that we had gotten through the worst.”
When senior flood victims started looking for new homes, Carriage Inn answered the call. Initially, Carriage Inn took in eight displaced flood victims, started working on accommodation for three more, and discussion ensued about housing more in need as time passed. Each of the displaced senior citizens came to Carriage Inn with their own horror story.
JOAN DANIEL | Age 87
Eighty-seven-year-old Joan Daniel, a former accountant, was a resident on the second floor of a senior living community in Spring when water flooded her apartment. “The power went off, and it was completely dark,” Daniel lamented. “Men came with lanterns, and we were put on boats. From there, they put us on a bus, and we were taken to another senior living community in The Woodlands. I have never seen anything like it in my life.” She added that she left with only the clothes on her back and that all of her belongings remained in her former apartment. “Fortunately, some helpful people gave me a sack full of clothes.”
CINDY & KEITH KERN | Ages 85 & 86
Cindy and Keith Kern spent their adult lives as Houstonians. Keith worked as a senior financial executive for a Houston-based national energy company. Cindy began her career as a teacher, for five full-time years, before getting married and leaving to raise her two children while still supporting the local education system through substitute teaching. The Kerns were visiting North Carolina when Harvey hit,and were unable to prevent the loss of their River Plantation home of 45 years, which quickly flooded with nine inches of water inside. They were also unable to return home to Texas at the time, as the storm stood in their way.
“A neighbor called and said that our precinct constable came by and said that it [flood] was going to be worse than the flood in 1994,” the Kerns shared. “No one could get into the house the next day to determine the extent of damage. We had no beds and tried living upstairs for a week, which was not possible. All the furniture on the first floor was junked, but we salvaged our upstairs furniture. We were overwhelmed with volunteers and very grateful for them.”
Cindy, like many others affected when the city released the dams, felt angry that releasing the waters caused such extensive destruction of their neighborhood. Keith says that he went online in search of retirement homes and called Carriage Inn, committing to a lease in less than an hour after he completed a tour of the premises. Lisenbe confirmed that when the Kerns arrived, they were in need of furniture and an immediate place to live.
JANET LANDRY & BOBBIE ZINNECKER | Ages 84 & 80
Janet Landry, 84, and Bobbie Zinnecker, 80, were also River Plantation residents. After their children finished college and were off on their own, the two women decided to become housemates for economic and financial reasons. However, when Harvey hit, their shared home ended up a total loss with ten feet of water in their home.
Many years ago, Landry worked with payroll for Franklin Life Insurance Company in Houston. In 1973, she and her husband moved to River Plantation in Conroe from Beaumont. Twenty-one years later, the couple endured a bad flood; with the help of neighbors and friends, they managed to salvage some things back then. But Harvey’s devastation would far surpass what she experienced in 1994.
“This time, I lost everything, including my clothing,” Landry said in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. “I did have flood insurance, and we were kind of used to it by going through the other one [flood]. My daughter is cleaning and re-styling all my clothes and shoes. I pulled out insurance papers on the house, but right now we are looking for the title to my car.”
Zinnecker, a school teacher for 26 years, said that the two women were not afraid because they had insurance. They had even previously discussed moving to a retirement facility. “I’m glad Bobbie was there,” Landry commented. “She saved all her stuff.”
Initially, Landry and Zinnecker stayed with good friends before temporarily moving to Landry’s daughter’s house in Houston. Landry’s two sons, along with many volunteers worked to gut the home and get in touch with someone about potentially buying it. Meanwhile, Lisenbe shared that the two women along with their children worked as a team to create a beautiful Carriage Inn apartment for the ladies.
ED & SHIRLEY WIGGINS | Ages 84 & 85
Ed and Shirley Wiggins were in a position to move out of their River Plantation residence before the flood hit. Ed, a current minister, and Shirley, a retired elementary school teacher, had lived in their house fifteen years before the hurricane flooded it with six feet of water.
“We went to our son’s house, and he has helped,” Ed shared, in the days shortly following the disaster. “I have been back once and looked at the house; Shirley has not been back. We knew that it was time to get out, so we left. Members of our church came and cleaned everything out, and they are having the house sprayed and sanitized, getting it ready to be re-built.”
The Wiggins were considering going to a retirement home when Hurricane Harvey hit, an event that finalized the decision for them. “Our children were doing too much, and we wanted to be independent. Our testimony is different, in that we see a very positive thing. I look at it as if I am entering a new phase of my ministry,” Ed explained.
Lisenbe said that the Wigginses came to Carriage Inn the Tuesday after the flood, the first of the evacuees. “I was with them when they heard the news that they lost everything when the river went through their house. I watched them and saw all. I said ‘God is with us and we are going forward.’ We began preparing their apartment immediately, and they were able to move in by noon on Friday.”
Carriage Inn, Conroe, and RCM Senior Living Management Group made every effort to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its 90 residents before the flood ravished the Houston area, and will do the same going forward for the new residents post-Harvey. Executive Director Rosetta Day, Marketing Director Terri Lisenbe, and Executive Chef Tony Martinez worked in shifts, along with supporting staff, during the storm so that there would be someone to provide continual care for the residents.
“The thing that we are most concerned about are the residents and taking care of them,” confirmed Lisenbe.