COMFORT, Texas -- Tree-lined Cypress Creek flows along the south side of Comfort, part of the attraction of living here. But on several occasions, life here has been anything but comfortable. The night of Aug. 16, 2007, was a perfect example of one of those times.
Tropical Storm Erin was making its way north through the Texas Hill Country and Cypress Creek could not handle the deluge. At its peak, the tributary of the Guadalupe River was an estimated 25 feet above its normal level, several hundred yards wide, and some homes were flooded with four to five feet of water.
This time, the homes of Alfredo Arizola, and his sister-in-law next door, that of the Rios family three houses away, and three other homes in the next block were spared. All six are elevated 10 to 12 feet above their lots. The water simply swirled beneath them as the occupants and their belongings remained high and dry.
Arizola had been through it before and this time he and his family were prepared.
The worst was in 1978, regarded as an epic flood in these parts. Arizola said the home had 8 or 9 feet of water in it that year. The flood of 2002 was only about half as deep. For that flood, thanks to the National Flood Insurance Program managed by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Arizola had flood insurance.
He was offered a buyout - sell the flood-ravaged home to Kendall County, which manages the flood-susceptical area near Cypress Creek, and move elsewhere. Or he could stay on that property but raise the home above the level of a 100-year flood, according to Tom Pahl, Kendall County's development manager, who also is a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM).
Arizola's single-story wood frame home is shaded by pecan trees and features a wide veranda that wraps around two sides. It is the kind of home that makes for easy living in hot, humid central Texas summers. That's why Arizola hasn't abandoned the property despite periodic floods.
Because Arizola chose to stay and elevate his home, the federal flood insurance not only paid for repairing the flood damage, it also paid extra to elevate the house. That benefit is known as Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC), and its purpose is to bring a home into compliance with the current Floodplain Management Ordinance. The end result is that an owner gets to keep the property and the government avoids paying for future damage.
Arizola said the ICC benefit paid $20,000 in 2002 and he added another $3,000 to hoist his home 12 feet off the ground. Pahl describes the system of concrete pilings that Arizola installed as the best way to do the job. There are 12 concrete columns, each going down 18 feet below ground, where they are bell-shaped to provide a much larger weight-bearing surface. A concrete pad covers the ground under about half of the home and gravel under the rest. Arizola uses the open areas as a car port and for temporary storage.
Next door to Arizola lives his mother-in-law and her daughter. Their house is virtually a copy of the Arizola residence, turned 90 degrees, and is raised with the same concrete piling system.
A third home on the large property is a ground-level home, owned by Arizola as a rental. The tenants had recently cancelled their rental flood insurance, against his advice, Arizola said. They lost everything and had to move elsewhere to start over. Arizola said he plans to eventually raise that house, too, and rehabilitate it.
There are other methods to elevate a house. The nearby Rios residence was raised on stout, angle-braced steel I-beams. They chose to install false walls that hide the beams and make the home look like a two-story dwelling. However, a closer looks reveals that there are no windows in those lower walls. Not only that, large sections of the walls on opposites sides of the house are hinged so that water can flow in on the ups...