By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 29, 2009
Dried mud still marks the bushes and trees where nearly six feet of water once stood. Chunks of drywall and broken appliances line the street. What was once the home and neighborhood of the Rodriguez family now looks more like the set of Hollywood’s latest disaster movie.
To Maria and Jose Rodriguez it is all too real. Their home of nearly 10 years was severely damaged in the flood that ravaged parts of metro Atlanta, and a month later they are still working to pick up the pieces of the mess it left behind.
However, even in this seemingly devastating scene, a smile still lights Maria’s face. The water only took material possessions and did not harm her family or her faith in any way.
“Nothing is forever, just the Lord,” she said humbly as she stood inside her house, the bottom half now reduced to its wood frame. “This is just an example.”
Rodriguez was one of the few people in her neighborhood who was home at the time of the flood. While her daughter was at Cooper Middle School nearby and her husband at work, Maria was at home with her 18-year-old son, Leo, and 3-year-old daughter, Venita.
The heavy rains didn’t seem of concern, at first, since the family had surely seen many storms pass through the area during their years in Austell. But on that day in late September, something unexpected happened.
As the family looked outside, they saw water rising, and very quickly. Leo, who is confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, immediately recognized the danger.
“Leo was scared. He said, ‘Mama, we are going to die,’” said Rodriguez.
It was only a matter of minutes before the water started coming in through the family’s garage. Maria called her husband who arrived shortly afterward. He had to park his car at the neighborhood clubhouse and wade through the street on foot since it was already flooded.
Firemen arrived on the scene in a rescue boat and came to the Rodriguez house to help them escape as soon as possible.
“In one hour, everything was lost,” Rodriguez said.
Three days later, she was able to come back.
“When the water came down, I saw the house. I was crying.”
Since the ordeal, the family has been living with Maria’s mother, Francisca, in Cartersville. They are grateful to have a place to stay, but driving one hour each way to drop off and pick up their daughter from school in Austell has added even more difficulty as the family tries to get back on its feet.
Maria said the family has now rented a nearby apartment and hopes to begin moving some of their things in soon. But, as Maria said herself, “The process is long.”
They are currently waiting to hear from Cobb County about the fate of their neighborhood. It is possible that the family could rebuild from what was left after the storm, or the county might decide they have to tear down the homes and condemn the neighborhood.
For Maria and her family, waiting is one of the toughest parts. But they feel blessed to have people helping out in several different ways.
The Red Cross showed up for two weeks after the flood, providing food and water. Maria said the local Baptist church had been helping with food and supplies as well, and others have been bringing clothes to the neighborhood clubhouse. The family also applied for aid from FEMA, which was recently approved.
But their need is still great. The family lost clothes, furniture, appliances and much more. Even the family van, specially equipped to transport Leo, was ruined.
One of the many uplifting signs Maria received since the flood was when she returned three days later, after the water receded. She walked in the house and saw her framed picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was under the watermark, but still on the wall and in perfect condition. It was one of the only things not damaged by the water.
“That was a miracle,” she said.
Members of the Rodriguez family, who have been parishioners at St. John Vianney Church in Lithia Springs since they moved to Austell, continue to thank God for the things they do have and pray they can soon create a home once again.