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After the storm: Recovery: Ground Zero after Harvey

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The PGA Tour returns to Houston this week, seven months after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area. In a three-part series, senior writer Ryan Lavner writes on the continued efforts of recovery, including how a local high school golf team is trying to move forward after the storm.

ROCKPORT, Texas – The worst day of their lives began with brilliant sunshine.

On the morning of Aug. 25, 2017, it was 81 degrees, unseasonably cool, with conditions so calm that the water in this small fishing village looked like glass. From the third story of their townhouse, Jay and Lacy Seibert scanned the abandoned streets, saw no ominous clouds over Aransas Bay and wondered, if only for a fleeting moment, whether the ferocious storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico had wobbled off track, away from their charming hometown.

The news, of course, suggested otherwise. A direct hit to the Coastal Bend was certain; the only question was the severity. All along the Seiberts had planned to hunker down at home with son Ace, 13, and daughter Belle, 10, but now, with the hurricane rapidly intensifying to a Category 4, that seemed reckless. Local TV stations aired a dramatic plea from Rockport mayor Patrick Rios, who warned that those foolish enough to stay should write their name and Social Security number on their arm in Sharpie – that’d make it easier for authorities to later identify them.

Begrudgingly, the Seiberts called a family friend, J.D. Medrano, and told him to meet at the house at 9:30 a.m. They would head 25 miles inland, to Portland, and ride out the storm at Jay’s sister’s place. They gathered only pajamas and face wash, locked up and piled into their Ford Expedition.

The sun was still shining, and the wind still light, when they finally turned onto the empty highway at noon.

It was about six hours before Hurricane Harvey changed everything.

Weather map of Hurricane Harvey making landfall, courtesy the National Weather Service

EVERY ROCKPORT RESIDENT, YOUNG and old, has a story to tell from that night – the sights and sounds and sensations as their community was decimated by the worst U.S. storm in more than a decade.

Lacy Seibert’s harrowing tale began in her in-law’s backyard, during what started as a hurricane party. The local high school girls’ golf coach, she amusedly watched her family take turns smacking iron shots into the fierce wind gusts, only to see the balls boomerang toward them. “It all starts out fun,” she says, “and then everybody’s scared.” By nightfall, Lacy, Jay and the kids were huddled in the living room, watching the merciless destruction of homes and businesses unfold live on social media, until it was too much to bear.

They both work at Rockport-Fulton High School – Jay as the athletic director and head football coach, Lacy as a technology teacher and first-year golf coach – and recoiled at the reports that the school had been totaled. They’d tried to keep in touch with co-workers and students and team members who stayed in town, but soon cell service was dropped, then the electricity went out, and all they could do was hope.

They were staying in a brick home built to withstand a hurricane, and yet from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., it felt like the house was on the verge of being torn apart. And it was: The National Weather Service reported that the peak wind gust was 132 mph, with the slow-moving hurricane eye pummeling the Rockport area for two hours. In the middle of the night, as Harvey raged outside, Jay and Lacy took the kids into the center bedroom and shamed themselves for not taking them farther away.

“A scary night,” Jay says now. “It was like a train was 2 inches from the house, hauling ass.”

Adds Medrano, “You think you slept that night, but you really didn’t. Your mind is working a million miles an hour, just wanting to go home.”

And so they did the next morning, at dawn.

Rockport was supposed to be blocked off to incoming traffic, but the Seiberts and Medrano navigated their way back home, driving through flooded roads and dodging power lines. Sirens blared in the distance. The air was cool and gray, as if Mother Nature had draped an Instagram filter over the town.

“It looked like a nuclear bomb went off,” Jay says. “It was a war zone.”

Their first stop was the high school. Turning down Enterprise Boulevard, they saw utter destruction: 200-year-old oak trees uprooted, streetlights downed, roofs and vinyl fences scattered. Dozens of tornadoes left a random path of destruction near the school. On one side of the street, the insides of homes were visible; on the other, the football stadium remained largely intact, save for the missing scoreboard and goal posts.

Before the storm, Seibert and Medrano, his assistant coach, had told players to prepare to return to practice at 4 p.m. Monday, as they readied for the season opener. Their focus quickly shifted elsewhere, to the massive cleanup efforts, with their field littered with baseball helmets and volleyball uniforms, roofing from the press box, and slabs of concrete from the gym that had crumbled nearby.

“Everything was everywhere,” Medrano says. “You didn’t even know where to begin. You’re just trying to take a breath and not break down.”

The Seiberts' townhouse

After assessing the damage, they checked on the townhouse. Part of the roof was missing and one of the walls had retracted, soaking every floor. Lacy pulled up the rugs, elevated furniture and opened the windows. She filled every bathtub with water. She hooked up a generator to power the fridge and some fans. For the next two weeks, she cooked meals on the gas stovetop, hollering, “Get your Whataburger!” when her homemade bacon, egg and cheese biscuits were ready.

The only spot where Lacy could get cell service was in the corner of the top floor. That became her office, her command center, her refuge. From there she tapped out a short post on Facebook: She was safe, and she was home, and friends could send her a note if they needed her to check on a house or dog or relative.

Within hours, she was flooded with hundreds of desperate messages. After prioritizing the requests, she screenshot the addresses on her phone then scribbled handwritten maps for each 10-house mission. She returned downstairs to divvy up the tasks.

Reinforcements were on the way. At 4 p.m. Monday, just like they promised, a handful of kids arrived at the practice facility. They began cleaning the fieldhouse, gathering items on the practice field and making debris piles. Tuesday, more kids showed up. The same on Wednesday, and by Thursday, there were more than 100, a small army of students, all ready to pitch in.

Lacy posted that anyone with donations should drop them off in the fieldhouse weight room. Before long, she had collected hundreds of items, organizing them in aisles: clothes and blankets, towels and sheets, baby food and canned goods, water and medicine, mosquito spray and feminine products. Good Samaritans from out of town arrived with flatbeds and stock trailers and 18-wheelers, all stacked with supplies. Pitmasters set up in the student parking lot and handed out free barbecue in the afternoons.

At the end of an exhausting day, and with the high school closed indefinitely, the Seiberts and a few friends would climb into the beds of their trucks, swill beers and swap survivor stories until the 7 p.m. curfew.

“Hurricane Times!” they’d sarcastically cheer, clinking their bottles.

Indeed, the Seiberts spearheaded this recovery effort while staying in their waterlogged townhouse for 12 days, without electricity, often falling asleep to the faint sound of an alarm.

“If we didn’t stay here and experience it, when you know that your students are stuck here, it would have been really hard to live with yourself,” says Lacy, 38. “It’s survivor guilt, even though no one died. There’s a moral responsibility to do the right thing.”

But those few weeks at home took a toll. Seeing so much destruction. Taking water-bottle showers. Coordinating everything for everyone. It was all so overwhelming – the messages, the calls, the cries for help – that she eventually deleted the Facebook app from her phone.

Their townhouse was condemned, and the Seiberts and Medrano had no choice but to return to Portland, where they lived for the next four months with Jay’s parents. The family of four had packed just two suitcases apiece; the rest of their lives were scattered among three storage units.

One night, the adults went to Pep’s restaurant for dinner. Lacy was still sweaty and disheveled from a long day in the 100-degree heat, but she wanted to feel normal, to drink a cold beer and decompress. Then she walked in and immediately bubbled with anger.

It was karaoke night. The joint was slammed. Women had their hair and makeup done.

“Fifteen miles away is totally destroyed,” she stewed, “and they’re just going on like nothing happened, like they didn’t even remember.”

Must be nice, she thought.

The members of her high school golf team won’t ever forget.

Photo gallery: Images of Rockport, Texas after Hurricane Harvey

IT WAS ABOUT 1 A.M. when they decided to move. The doors to the Fulton Volunteer Fire Department were thrashing back and forth, each wind gust roaring like a fleet of jets. Water was pouring down the walls, into the training room and bays. A metal pipe had just ripped through the side of the station.

“This thing’s gonna go,” Caleb Way said, “and we don’t want to be in it.”

A junior at Rockport-Fulton, Way, 17, has volunteered with the fire department for the past six years. He was initially interested because of his stepfather, Jackie, the president and a 40-year veteran of the department, but he signed up to fight fires and help people. Hurricane recovery wasn’t in the job description.

And yet there he was in the early-morning hours of Aug. 26, with 14 other volunteers, planning their evacuation. The eye of the storm was passing over, and the clock was ticking – they had maybe 25 minutes to reach the Fulton Learning Center, about a half-mile away. They’d spend the rest of the night there.

Ready to roll, they opened the station doors and …

“I can’t even explain it,” Way says now. “It looked like …”

He rubs his eyes.

“I’m sorry. My bad.”

He readjusts his gray Fulton Strong trucker hat.

“Sorry. I can’t. It’s just ...

“You had to be there. It was devastating.”

Houses flattened. Two-by-fours everywhere.

A roof in the driveway of the station. A radio tower swaying. A hotel reduced to rubble.

Then came the screams from across the street.

A telephone pole had crushed an elderly couple’s trailer. They were trapped. Carrying their rescue tools, Way and a few other firefighters sprinted over to help. They popped open the door and dragged the couple into the truck.

“They couldn’t speak,” Way says.

After arriving at the elementary school and shutting off the gas line, they set up cots in the entryway and waited out the storm, the back of the eye wall wreaking even more havoc. As soon as they were given the all-clear sign in the morning, they headed out in their waders and military brush trucks and airboats.

Caleb Way

Over the next few days, they went house-to-house, checking for survivors in once-glamorous Key Allegro and spray-painting black Xs on houses they’d searched. Surveying the damage with Texas Task Force 1, they discovered the body of an elderly woman. She had left a note, saying she had heart problems and refused to evacuate: If I’m going to die, I’m going to die in my house. I’m not going to die anywhere else.

For Way, that was the worst part – knocking on doors, getting no answer and wondering what horrors awaited inside.

“You would dread each stop,” he says.

Way experienced that same sick feeling as he approached his parents’ house for the first time after the storm.

Years ago, Way’s stepfather had bought the old church from his parents – they even kept the pulpit – and slowly converted it into the family’s home. They had worked on the house for two years, proudly doing everything themselves, but now it was in ruins. Debris blocked the front entrance, so the only way Caleb could get inside was by hacking his chainsaw through the back door. There he found his dogs, Merle and Skippy, standing in a foot of water.

“I broke down,” he says. “It was hard to catch a grip.”  

The only area Way could get service was atop the overpass near Highway 35 and Pearl Street. That’s where his mom, Yvonne, connected with Jackie, who at the time was working in Australia. She explained that they were OK, but that the situation was bad, and that they’d lost just about everything.

“I don’t think I’ll ever move past it, because I have all of these memories,” Way says. “It’s like PTSD. A few weeks ago, a storm blew in and we could hear it outside the station. It got scary. You’re looking around like, ‘It’s about to happen again.’”

Way decided against playing football this season – he figured his time was better spent helping his parents and the fire department – but over the winter, with more downtime, he began to get the itch to play golf again.

Before Harvey, he’d made significant strides, shooting in the 80s and competing in summer tournaments. He was ready for his best season yet … and then the hurricane hit, and he shelved his clubs. So he called the coaches and asked whether they’d have a team. He launched shots into a net in his backyard. On slow days, he chipped around the fire station and putted on a sliver of carpet – a stark contrast to that terrifying night there seven months earlier.

“It used to be a distraction, but now I’m getting back to normalcy,” he says. “It’s been a way to get my mind on something else. It’s been a way to put it past me.”

Rockport-Fulton High School

THE SCHOOL YEAR WAS only four days old when the announcement came over the intercom. Senior Daniella Lovett heard “significant wind storm” and didn’t think about a major hurricane or the potential danger. She thought about surfing.

So at 4 a.m. the next day, she and her family drove three hours to South Padre Island, near the Mexican border, where they surfed and shopped and built sand castles. “We had the best time of our lives,” she says. For four days they avoided the news, and her parents didn’t say a word, either. Lounging around La Copa Inn, they were oblivious to the devastation just 200 miles away.

On the final day of their vacation, while packing up, her parents casually mentioned that the eye of the storm had pounded Rockport.

“In our heads we didn’t realize how bad it was going to be,” says Daniella, 18, “and it was apocalyptic.”

The roads were so flooded that it took an hour just to drive into their neighborhood. Standing water made their place uninhabitable, so they grabbed their pets and as much as they could fit into their Lexus SUV and Volkswagen sedan. Daniella’s father, Dean, threw a tarp over their leaky roof and headed to his sister’s house in Hutto, about 30 miles northeast of Austin.

The high school there had started three weeks earlier, and Daniella, just months from graduating, didn’t want to fall even further behind. She enrolled right away.

“I didn’t think I would put my roots down so far there,” she says. “But I created a whole other life.”

She joined the student council, bypassing the elections because of her past experience. She made noisemakers and bought pompons and organized themes for the football games, winning best dressed four times. Through the Texas University Interscholastic League she received an exemption to play fall golf for the Hippos, and she immediately became the team’s No. 1 player. “She never seemed to have a bad day,” says Hutto coach Michael Holladay. “I miss her very much.”

Daniella and Sean Lovett

But Daniella’s younger brother had a more difficult transition.

Despite his family’s objections, Sean, a freshman, began plotting his exit strategy after only a week in Hutto. He missed his pals and his daily routine. One of his friends’ parents had only minimal damage to their house, so he invited Sean to live with them for three months after the storm.

This wasn’t an unusual arrangement – many students separated from their parents and bunked with friends, or whoever had a dry room to sleep in – but Sean’s setup was unique. After throwing out the moldy mattresses, the boys slept in camping hammocks. “His mom wasn’t the happiest,” Sean, 15, says with a sly grin.

His family had its own reservations. “They were hurt and disappointed,” he says. “They didn’t want me to go because they wanted us to stay together.”

The entire family finally returned to Rockport on Jan. 3, after four months apart. No one seemed more relieved than Daniella, who feared that she wouldn’t graduate in her hometown, with the rest of her 187-person class.

“To be able to walk with the names of survivors here means a whole lot more,” she says. “I feel like we have a legacy now.”

Since the new year, she and her brother have grown even closer. Been more open and honest. She’s off to Southwestern University soon, and she wants to cherish their last few months in the same house – even if that house still needs new flooring.

“It was hard not being there for him,” she says. “It was supposed to be the one year we’re together.”

At least they’ve been together all spring, intense sibling rivals and two of the top players on their respective teams. For both, the rhythm of the golf season has been therapeutic.

“It really just helps me keep my mind off things, because I don’t like having downtime,” Sean says. “That was my biggest problem after the hurricane – if I wasn’t busy, then I started thinking about what went wrong and what I’d lost. Golf became a way out of it.”

Rockport, Texas, September 1, 2017 (Getty Images)

BY THE TIME IZAK Martinez reached his house, his parents were already up on a ladder, hurriedly boarding the windows. Their trucks were backed into the garage, doors open, ready to go.

Their plan was to drive west, until they felt safe. They stopped one night at Big Bend National Park, where Izak, 17, slept in his 2001 Dodge Ram with his chocolate lab, Leo, and then they continued on to Alpine, in the southwest corner of the state. They rented a cabin there and contemplated their next move.

A family friend checked on their house and reported little damage, just a destroyed garage door. But a different story soon emerged: The back of the house was gone, hammered down by the 14-foot storm surge. The entire first floor was underwater, and all of the items they’d brought inside – lawn chairs, the outdoor couch, even the lawnmower – were floating around the living room, crashing into walls.

“Reading through those messages,” Martinez says, “it made me sick to my stomach. It really hurt.” Their house had been built just two years earlier. They were finally getting settled.

Returning home wasn’t an option, so a few days later, he and his two younger sisters flew to Buffalo, N.Y., to stay with their uncle. Izak had no luggage, and no clothes, other than what he was wearing and a bag of button-down shirts he’d kept in the back of his truck. For months he relied on the generosity of others.

The damage to his Rockport house was so extensive that his parents lived out of his tiny bedroom. Martinez had worked all summer as a construction hand, his first real job, and he asked his mom if she knew how to access his bank account. “Take it all,” he said.

With their short-term future uncertain, Izak and his siblings enrolled at Nichols, a prestigious prep school in the area. It required a massive adjustment – students wore shirt-and-tie uniforms, and the overall enrollment was about half the size of Rockport-Fulton – but Martinez, a junior, didn’t mind. He enjoyed the structure. Liked his teachers. Made friends easily. Even landed a girlfriend.

As he basked in the crisp autumn weather, he thought about leaving Rockport behind, about attending the University of Buffalo, where he could study architectural engineering and real-estate development. Maybe someday. They all flew back earlier than anticipated, in early November, to pick up the pieces of their broken home.

For three weeks, Izak’s parents and youngest sister crammed into his bed while he and Aubrey, a sophomore, slept on foam mats on the floor. “It smelled like cat pee so bad,” he says.

They hope to move in, again, over the next few months, but for now they live in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As temporary housing goes, it’s decent, but still riddled with problems. The electricity flickers. There are gaps in the laminate tiles. The trim around the door pops off. The metal doorstops are curiously attached to the floor, not the wall, so everyone stubs their toes. It beats sleeping on a foul-smelling foam mat, though, so Martinez doesn’t complain.

“You get used to things,” he says.

So much was different when he returned home that golf was an afterthought. But Martinez had been an integral part of Rockport’s squad last year, and Way, his firefighting teammate, asked after the holidays if he was interested in playing again.

“I needed to get back to normal,” Martinez says, “and golf immediately gave me a sense of purpose.”

Lacy Seibert (seated, right) in class at Rockport-Fulton High School

NO GROUP GALVANIZED this heartbroken community like the high school football team.

Seventy-six of the 130 players were displaced, but those who stayed returned to practice a week after the storm, putting on their pads in a fieldhouse that was illuminated only by the Christmas lights they’d strung along the walls. CBS News, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times all covered their season opener. Students at Wylie High School wrote letters, collected donations and traveled six-and-a-half hours in charter buses to support kids they’d never met. Jay Seibert and Medrano even guided the Pirates to a playoff win.

“This will be a year,” Medrano says, “that no one will ever forget.”

As for the golf team?

They had no rallying cry, no unifying moment, no spirit buses. They sorted through their own devastation individually, anonymously. When they met for their first informal practice last fall, most had no idea that Caleb Way experienced horrible flashbacks and that the Lovett siblings split up for four months and that Izak Martinez was still living in a FEMA trailer.

They had no idea that Logan Bardin walked three miles in 100-degree heat to receive daily military rations.

No idea that Candyce Dominguez rode out the storm at home, doing homework by candlelight at 1:30 a.m. to keep from freaking out.

No idea that Kayla Walker and her parents had to sell their destroyed RV for $100, and that sometimes she’d come home from school and her mom would be in a heap on the floor, sobbing, because more water had come through the roof of their mobile home, rendering all of her hard work useless.

Heck, they had no idea that the boys’ coach, Jerry McDermott, dragged his recliner onto his outdoor patio and slept in it for three nights, because he figured it was cooler there than in his house.

That was the thing about Rockport and Harvey – no two stories were the same.

No one was spared.

And now everyone is somehow trying to move forward.

“It sucks, and I’ll give them a hug, but you just have to keep going,” Lacy Seibert says.

Even getting a team together proved a challenge.

Initial estimates had the high school closed for the entire year. The AC units on the roof had ripped off, creating massive holes that funneled water into the building. The auditorium and administrative offices were unusable. The back wall to the cafeteria collapsed. Only one of the three gyms remained standing.

With speculation swirling about when Rockport would reopen, Aransas County superintendent Joseph Patek instructed students to enroll somewhere else until the high school was ready. Most went to Gregory-Portland, about 30 minutes away, but there was little incentive to go once Patek later announced that any grades at those schools would not transfer to Rockport. That’s why junior Quinn Marr shopped at the mall, shot on the busted hoop at the school and went to the beach, hitting golf balls into the bay. “It was like a six-week break,” he says.

When Rockport-Fulton finally reopened, on Oct. 11, everyone’s patience was tested. Teachers were missing materials, and most classes were housed in two hallways and portable units. The school didn’t have AC or heat, so students bundled in parkas and ski caps when a rare December storm dropped 4 inches of snow. With no cafeteria, kids routinely ate lunch on the hallway floor. A physics teacher decided not to issue any homework for the rest of the year, because not everyone had access to a computer or internet.

To make up the seven weeks they’d lost, students had a longer school day, but the new 8:10 a.m.-to-4:20 p.m. schedule left little time for golf practice.

Not that they had anywhere to go.

The team’s home course, Rockport Country Club, lost more than a thousand oak trees in the storm, the wreckage stacked 15 feet high along the side of the road. Without power or water, the course didn’t have irrigation for two weeks in the hottest part of the year, torching most of the greens. And the club could only retain 20 of their 45 employees on salary; the rest were furloughed, leaving head pro Thane Emerson to book times in the temporary shop, assist the food and beverage staff, and hose down carts.

With Rockport’s range and course closed until January, the coaches were forced to make other arrangements. So after school, McDermott set up a makeshift practice facility outside his office at the Fulton Learning Center, laying down hula hoops at various distances, setting up a turf mat and net, and whacking limited-flight balls around the playground. Early Saturday mornings, they loaded onto a bus and traveled 45 minutes to Sinton Golf Club for their lone practice of the week.

The girls' and boys' Rockport-Fulton golf teams

Others chipped in to help. Dick’s Sporting Goods wrote a $25,000 check to each varsity sport. (McDermott plans to use that money to build a real teaching facility.) REPu Sports developed an app so parents and students could track the golf team’s progress. Darren Bailey, the coach at Flower Mound High School outside Dallas, sent 15 boxes of Titleist Pro V1 balls and 10 logoed bags.

“We just felt like they deserve something like this,” Bailey says. “Watching them try to move on and keep fighting through it, it’s inspiring.”

Especially since no one here holds tour aspirations. Many of them are beginners, just happy to make consistent contact. The lowest individual score of the year is Way’s 86, and heading into next week’s district tournament – held at Sinton, their Saturday home – the boys and girls have combined to finish first or second in five events.

But the length of their postseason run won’t be the measure of success this season, anyway. The two teams attracted 29 players this year, the most ever, and there’s no consensus why.

Maybe it’s because they want to skip school on Mondays or Fridays.

Or perhaps it’s because Lacy Seibert coaches the girls, and everyone tends to gravitate toward her.

But many of them just wanted to clear their minds, to get out of the house, to do something – an ongoing recovery that’s as much emotional as physical.

“Golf has almost been a release,” says sophomore Molly Frost. “It gives me peace of mind. It allows me to get away from everything that has gone on here.”

Devastation remains in Rockport, more than half-a-year later

IT’S A COLD, DREARY February morning, and remnants of Harvey are everywhere.

Traveling east on Texas Highway 35, six miles from Rockport (pop. 8,766), the billboards start: An urgent-care facility. A law firm. E&J Land Clearing. D&C Fence Company. One simply reads: “Be Strong and Courageous.”

Glance left, and it’s washed-out farmland that after the storm was lined with dead, upside-down cows stuck in the fencing. To the right, trashed RV parks and oak trees bent at 45-degree angles. The four-lane road is separated by mountains of debris – by tables and couches, fridges and small boats, dressers and TVs – that stretch for two miles. Crews will incinerate it, eventually.

The high school remains a microcosm of the entire city, a sleepy coastal community now a constant whir of generators and chainsaws. Orange construction fencing accompanies the front entrance. Portable trailers sit in the parking lot. Massive heaters pump air through the doors and into the hallways, turning classrooms into 79-degree ovens. And it’s quieter, almost eerily so, with 15 percent of the student body displaced. Those left still have scars.

“They’re not kids anymore,” Jay Seibert says. “They don’t have the responsibility of kids. They’ve had to grow up. They’ve done and seen things they aren’t supposed to at that age.”

Those delirious Hurricane Times in the school parking lot? They’ve given way to the cold, harsh reality that this city and its residents are forever changed.

As of late March, Harvey has wiped out a quarter of Rockport’s homes, shuttered 36 percent of the 1,300 businesses and scattered 2.8 million cubic yards of debris – enough to completely fill more than 20 football stadiums.

The mom-and-pop businesses have closed. The street vendors haven’t returned. And the downtown, normally artsy and vibrant, is now dark, silent and barren.

Even with 6,500 workers descending on the area, the long-term recovery plan will take at least three to five years to fully implement; in the meantime, the county stands to lose $100 million a year in tourism spending revenue.

Downtown Rockport, Texas, February 2018

That’s necessitated a few lifestyle changes for the locals, too.

Kids can’t flip off the Key Allergo Bridge and swim for hours with friends – there’s too much wreckage in the water.

They can’t spend a Friday night at Hu-Dats Asian restaurant and then head to the movie theater – both were destroyed.

They can’t cruise around Port Aransas with their parents – the marina sustained catastrophic damage.

“There’s a lot of sadness still, and there’s going to be for a long time,” Lacy Seibert says. “There’s just too much tragedy.”

A few days after the storm, HBO producers contacted the Seiberts and inquired about them being featured on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” They’d send a crew to Rockport and shadow the family for a few days, even planting a microphone in their bedroom. The Seiberts briefly considered the offer but Lacy declined, because she was too busy, and now it’s become a running joke whenever they’re stressed: See, I told you we should have done that HBO series! We could have been famous!

Instead, for the past seven months, her days have often been long, and hard, and frustrating.

She’s had a few breakdowns.

She’s driven around side streets and wondered if it’ll ever get better.

Living amid the destruction she’s felt depressed, and that surprised her, because she prefers to exist in an alternate universe where nothing is ever as bad as it seems.

Only now does it feel as though each day actually gets better. They lined up around the corner when Panjo’s Pizza reopened. They flocked to Rockport Beach once the weather improved. They turned out for the annual Oysterfest celebration. They’re all signs that their lives, and their hometown, are no longer at a standstill.

“You have to find those small victories,” Lacy says. “There’s something every day.”

And so she tries to remember that while driving along Loop 1781, the warm morning sun peeking over Aransas Bay – the start of another beautiful day in what used to be paradise.

“After everything, we still have the most amazing sunsets and sunrises here,” she says, before pausing.

“Just don’t look around.”