AUSTIN, Texas-It rained so hard, marveled one person, even the gators and water moccasins sought refuge-unfortunately, in the homes of some of the flood-ravaged victims. Last month's torrential rains in Houston and parts of southeastern Texas are now a muddy page in a history book. However, to many in the area, the painful memory of bloated rivers, lakes and streams that submerged homes and businesses is still as close as a bucket, mop and paintbrush.
John Fisher is among them.
The owner and president of Dollar Tire Co. Inc., a Houston-based commercial dealership doing business as Tire Pro Service, saw the flood gods give and take away.
His business-a service center on the city's north side with 35 service trucks, and a warehouse south of Houston-was relatively unscathed during the ordeal.
But the turbulent waters practically washed away the ``dream house'' he and his wife had built and only lived in for eight weeks.
The Fishers are having a hard time finding the silver lining in the recent storm clouds.
The good news-if there can be any-is that the house is salvageable, although it was under four feet of water.
The bad part: Repair bills will top $75,000. The waters rose so quickly, the Fishers had scant time to save anything inside their home. Consequently, they lost at least $50,000 in clothes and personal belongings.
Because the home was located five feet above a federally-designated 100-year flood plain, the Fishers didn't carry flood insurance. Unfortunately, none of their losses are covered by their homeowner's insurance.
``We won't get anything-not a nickel,'' Mr. Fisher lamented.
Water entered areas where historically it had never gone before, as rivers and streams surged over their banks and inundated thousands of acres.
Some 15,000 homes and 75,000 residents were affected by flooding that caused millions in damages and claimed at least 18 lives.
Recouping a loss like the Fishers' will take time.
``You just take it a little bit at a time, do the best you can and pay as you go,'' he said.
``...We've paid taxes all these years, but at a time like this, it doesn't seem to be doing me any good.'' In his case, neither the Small Business Administration nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency were much help.
The Fishers have had to seek a bank loan and a second mortgage on their battered dream house.
Judging from calls TIRE BUSINESS made to several tire dealerships in the area, many, like Tire Pro Service, experienced some disruption in business-and leaky roofs-but little else. Most said getting around the city was difficult for a time due to high water.
In Austin, Texas Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association Executive Director Kay Knapp said, to her knowledge, no dealers lost their establishments, though many in the affected areas may have sustained water damage.
She said the flooding elicited warnings from police and highway departments about potential damage to motorists' cars, especially to tires, caused by objects propelled by rushing waters.
With its many highway underpasses susceptible to high water, Houston for a time became a tangle of submerged cars and trucks.
Gary Jensen, manager of a company-owned Goodyear Commercial Tire Service Center, said one of the outlet's drivers tried to make it through a flooded underpass but was forced to abandon his service truck. It was later towed out and repaired. The driver was unhurt, wet-and embarrassed.
As for the Fishers, they're temporarily living with a daughter, but spend every evening at their home cleaning up.
What Mr. Fisher has found ``amazing,'' he said, is ``how our friends and church people came around and helped us.
``They donated more food than we can eat. They helped us clean the house and dry out our belongings. But that's what America's all about, isn't it?''
He remains unwilling to bemoan his predicament. ``That's life. You just charge ahead,'' he said.
``But then, I can't help but look at things that way. I'm a tire dealer. It's a business that kind of prepares you for the worst.''
At least it appears his sense of humor isn't waterlogged.