01:39 - Source: CNN
Widow determined to stay in hurricane-hit home

Story highlights

Family's concerns rose as the powerful storm flooded neighborhoods in Houston

The 80-year-old widow must now decide whether to stay in her home of 50 years

CNN  — 

As Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters recede, 80-year-old Frances French is left clinging to five decades of memories made in her modest Pearland, Texas, home.

She recalls family gatherings, her children playing in the sunny front yard and the dream she had of growing old there with her late husband.

Hurricane Harvey couldn’t wash those memories away when it barreled into Texas, but French’s home and neighborhood were hit hard. The destruction has left her facing an agonizing choice. Should she stay in her flood-damaged home or should she go?

Her house is filled with precious memories – especially of her late husband, Lew. She says if she continues to live there it will be because of him. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 58 after battling a form of leukemia. He is buried in a cemetery just two miles down the road. Friends and family accompany French on her frequent visits to his grave.

Frances French (right) pays a visit to her husband's gravesite.

But the strong ties that bind her to the house and neighborhood may eventually become a burden, her family fears.

“She has a lot of good memories of the home. And I think that will wear on her health,” said French’s daughter Lewanne Palmer.

A long road to recovery

French and her family were well aware of what trouble Harvey might bring as the powerful storm wrapped its deadly grip around Houston, just 20 miles north. “We were listening to all the meteorology and knew … that we were going to be in trouble,” she said.

This was by no means her first experience with the chaos of flooding. She has witnessed six floods, including this year’s disaster, since she and her late husband bought their home in 1967. But the damage done on previous occasions was much less severe than the calamity caused by Harvey. French said she had bought flood insurance every year except for this one.

Frances French and her husband are pictured at their 1959 wedding. (Correction: An earlier caption for this photo contained an incorrect wedding date.)

Now Pearland, like so many other communities across the region, is taking its first steps on the long, hard road to recovery. Piles of debris litter neighborhoods. Churches and faith-based international relief organizations are working hard to repair homes that were damaged – including French’s house.

It was inundated as the floodwaters rose.

“We knew we could come, but the water was so high we had a full week before we could get access,” said Palmer.

French’s home served as a hub of family life for decades. “The grandchildren all met here at the house from infants to adults. Nathan Palmer, my grandson who lives with me, said family vacations with distant cousins were the best memories,” said Palmer.

‘Good memories’

Samaritan's Purse volunteers and a local church group hold hands in prayer in Pearland, Texas.

Now the sickly smell of mold and mildew lingers throughout the house. Volunteers have begun work to repair the damage – and get rid of the mold.

A group of friends, family, and relief organizations has come together to restore the house. She is amazed at all the help she’s received.

“I didn’t believe that many people were willing, able (to help),” French said.

If French were to leave, she would stay with one of her three children, but she hasn’t yet been able to decide.

Volunteers gather outside Frances French's flood-damaged home.

And although funds for repairs are available from several sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, it’s still unclear whether it’s practical for her to stay. For now French has been living on the second floor, which escaped the worst of the damage. She intends to apply to FEMA for aid.

Meanwhile, as the team of volunteers and French’s family work to put her home back together, she struggles with a decision only she can make. Should she stay or should she go – which would mean leaving part of her family’s history behind.

“We ate and slept in this house. Good memories,” Palmer said.