Family works to rebuild couple's home after storm
Jan. 13, 2018 at 9:30 p.m.
BLOOMINGTON - Every Thursday evening, the home of Eva and Daniel Ortiz was filled with a variety of food and family members.
Eva Ortiz would greet family members from her small kitchen as they arrived at her home. Her grandchildren would dance to music on the radio. As many as 20 relatives would gather in the living and dining areas of the home for a weekly dinner.
Those who lived out of town or couldn't make it were dialed in, with family members passing around a phone to catch up with the absent relative. Discussions ranged from how the Dallas Cowboys would play to the latest twist in national politics.
The last time the Ortizes had a family dinner was August.
"Those were the good ol' times," Eva Ortiz, 74, said. "And then it shut down after the hurricane."
The home where so many memories were made was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in August. Though the 60-year-old home had stood up against other storms, Harvey did more than just ruffle up shingles.
Daniel Ortiz, 81, and his wife evacuated their home a couple of days before Harvey hit and took refuge at their son's home in Victoria.
Eva Ortiz said their sons went to check on their home the Sunday after Harvey hit. She knew something was wrong when they returned with sullen faces and tears in their eyes.
Parts of the roof were hanging down, with the roof in one of the bedrooms barely hanging on. Water and dirt found their way into the three-bedroom home, and their mattress was saturated with water. Most of the furniture and their belongings were also ruined.
"We couldn't accept it at first. We cried. We had never stayed away from our home before the hurricane," Ortiz said.
The couple have been staying with their children since Harvey destroyed their home.
The rebuilding process has been tough, Eva Ortiz said. The couple live on a fixed income, and Daniel Ortiz struggles with polio. They didn't have insurance on their home, and though they received some funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it wasn't enough to pay to repair the serious damages to their home.
Ultimately, their house had to be demolished in early October.
It was sad to see their home go down, but signs of altruism appeared quickly for the family.
"We were having trouble with the equipment, and a man driving to Tivoli stopped at the house to see if we needed any help," said Cynthia Ortiz, 45, the Ortizes' daughter-in-law. "He helped us clean and everything that day."
Soon, family, friends and neighbors started pitching in to help the Ortizes get back on their feet.
The boards of the new home went up the week after Thanksgiving. It was a turning point for the couple, who for months had no home to call their own. The reconstruction project has been a collaborative effort between family, friends and neighbors, with Cynthia's husband, Hector, the Ortizes' youngest son, leading the effort.
Family members have donated appliances and household necessities, such as toilets, to the couple, while neighbors and friends have volunteered their time to work on the house.
Local businesses also worked around the family's budget, Cynthia Ortiz said.
"Once those boards went up, everything just started happening so fast," Cynthia Ortiz said as Tejano music played while several men worked on her in-laws' new home. "It's good, though. It's refreshing, and they get to move forward."
The new house will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms and will feature wider doors so Daniel Ortiz's wheelchair can easily fit through. He said he looks forward to coming back to his house and thanks everyone who has helped.
"It looks real nice now. I'm ready to come back. They're doing a real nice job," Daniel Ortiz said. "I really appreciate everything everyone has done for us."
It took a long time for Eva Ortiz to not cry when she thought about their former home. When she has trouble sleeping at night, she starts thinking about how their new home might look once it is completed.
The plan, Eva Ortiz said, is for the home to be ready later this year.
"God willing," she said.
Eva Ortiz said she's excited to continue the family tradition of Thursday dinners in the new home and make new memories.
She said she appreciates the generosity of her family, friends, neighbors and others who have helped them rebuild.
"I never knew there was such good people with such beautiful, generous hearts," she said. "We're starting the new year fresh with our whole family."