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Finding Refuge

Water flooded into the Burleigh family home as rain from Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Southeast Texas town of Vidor.

What started as a flooded garage quickly turned into a flooded home with water up above the average person’s knees. As highways turned into rivers, La Shawn Burleigh thought about nothing but how to get her family out of the floodwaters.

La Shawn, along with her father-in-law Charles Burleigh and daughter Chrysten Burleigh, found themselves trapped in their Orange County home after Hurricane Harvey went back out into the gulf, only to hit the coast again “wiping out the city of Vidor,” she said. The Burleigh family is now staying with friends in Pilot Point where 16-year-old Chrysten is able to finish out her senior year of high school. where 16-year-old Chrysten is

“Thank God we’re blessed with such amazing friends and family and this town,” La Shawn said. “This town is amazing. The school took her in with open arms and they let her be on the cheer team here because she was a varsity cheerleader in Vidor.”

Looking back

As Category 4 Hurricane Harvey whipped the Texas coast on Aug. 25, the small city of Vidor was safe at first. Rainfall only caused minor flooding, which the ground had absorbed the next morning, and residents thought they had felt the brunt of the hurricane’s wrath on the city and went about their lives.

The Burleigh family took photos for social media of Crysten standing outside in a raincoat flashing a smile and giving thumbs up. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the family ever realized they were in danger.

After colliding with the coast Friday, Hurricane Harvey went back out into the gulf to regain some strength before bringing more devastation to other parts of Texas. On Aug. 27 the storm hit Houston brining nearly 50 inches of rainfall slowly making its way east toward Louisiana. As the storm moved west, the Burleigh family began to experience more and more rain, until their home was filled with nearly three feet of water.

“It only took a couple of hours to get up to a couple of feet of water, from around 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” La Shawn said.

La Shawn, 47, called her husband, Cory, who was in Washington, D.C., to tell him the family needed to be rescued.

“I think for me my experience was different than theirs,” La Shawn said. “Chrysten is a kid, so she thought ‘oh my God, this is the end’, but I knew we could swim. And then my father in law, he has COPD (and) he had triple bypass a couple of years ago. So my only priority was getting them out of there and you didn’t feel a lot while doing that.”

La Shawn dialed 911, and told them she and her family were trapped in their home. The 911 operators told La Shawn they would get to them as soon as they could, she said.

So, La Shawn and Chrysten gathered an overnight bag, the family cat and dog, and waited alongside Charles for help to come.

Meanwhile Cory, using a radio app, got in touch with some of his buddies in the Southeast Texas Navy for help saving his family. Since Cory was in D.C., he began the long trip to Texas — attempting to drive straight through and rescue his family.

“The one thing I want people to understand is that it’s not that people didn’t want to leave,” La Shawn said. “No one could have known that the hurricane was going to go out into the gulf, and come back at a direct hit to the town of Vidor and demolish it. If you wonder why people didn’t leave, it’s because no one had time. It didn’t really rain until the next morning and by then it was too late. It was rain, not 145 mile per hour wind like in Florida.”

When rescue crews arrived, Chrysten and the cat were up into a canoe, while La Shawn, the family dog, and Charles were scooped up by her neighbors boat. Once at higher ground, the family jumped into a truck and headed for Louisiana before making their way to the home of Matt and Denise Morris in Pilot Point.

“We had friends here that were from California that moved to Pilot Point seven years ago,” La Shawn said. “It was mostly about school, though, because her school was closed indefinitely. This is her senior year, and our friends have kids so we could put them in all together and they just opened their house to us, and it seems like Pilot Point has opened it’s arms to us.”

Looking ahead

Now safe from disaster, La Shawn travels back and forth from Pilot Point to Vidor in an attempt to collect belongings, and figure out how to rebuild while Chrysten attends high school.

“To look back at it, it seems like a movie, not like it happened to us,” Chrysten said. “I always say you didn’t feel a lot. No one felt it until you were out. You didn’t feel anything until it was over. And now I’m happy to be at this school. It’s amazing and I love it.”

La Shawn said they plan to rebuild their Vidor home but will stay in Pilot Point until Chrysten graduates. Once their home is rebuilt, they aren’t sure if they will stay there.

“We’re going to rebuild but we’re not going to stay,” she said.“We’re probably going to head back up here. We reunited with our friends a couple of years ago in California when we all lived there, and now we’re reuniting with them again, so maybe it is meant to be. Sometimes there is good that comes from a hurricane.

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