The symmetrical white house on seven-foot cinder-block stilts somehow doesn’t look quite as incongruous as some other Lake Katherine homes that have been raised from their foundations. To picture it down the road with brick columns, lattices and greenery, it could almost appear as if it were meant to be that way.
Beside it are two empty lots where neighbors’ houses recently stood. The lakeside cul-de-sac, home to Nelson and Clara Weston’s stilted home on the north side of Lake Katherine, is a picture of the extreme lengths of recovery dozens of families have gone through in the six months since the historic rain-driven floods of October.
The lake-area community in east Columbia has transitioned from destruction to construction at varying paces.
The Westons’ nearly 40-year-old house was raised about two months ago, and Clara Weston is getting used to the new elevated views from her front door and her back deck, which overlooks the lake and a few remnants of flood debris. Lake Katherine is one of the few lakes that withstood the onslaught of water in October, its dam intact and its waters remaining.
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“It almost looks like nothing ever happened if you look across the lake, so peaceful and beautiful,” she said.
The neighborhood, we’ve weathered this, and I think it’s going to be better than ever, stronger and closer.
It’s a starkly contrasting scene from the one six months earlier, when rushing floodwaters let loose by a chain of failed dams upstream swirled around the Westons’ house.
In the aftermath, friends and strangers helped the couple clean and pack up their flooded house and begin what’s become the long recovery process.
And still, the generosity continues, Weston said.
“Now that we’re in the rebuilding process, almost every day it’s incredible,” she said. “The merchants, when they realize, oh, you’re a flood – I hate to use the word ‘victim’ – but you’re a flood survivor, they said, ‘Oh, we’re offering discounts.’
“Local people have just been amazing. We feel very blessed.”
They’re pushing forward, but the house is still a shell, and it’ll be another six months or longer before they move back in.
The Westons are a year or more ahead of some neighbors who plan to return to the neighborhood but took another extreme recovery route: demolition.
Floodwaters violently gushed between Bert and Amy Louthian’s house and their next-door neighbor’s, which sat beside the Westons’.
Their chimney was sheared off by the water. The Louthians could hear their house falling apart.
Related: Facing fear and floods, Lake Katherine men rescue neighbors in jonboat
As they were driven to safety in a neighbor’s boat and looked back at the home they left, “right away we knew we couldn’t save our house,” Bert Louthian said.
“Our grieving period was pretty short,” he said. “I really don’t envy those people who were in between trying to figure out the cost of elevating (or demolishing their houses). ... I feel like it was probably a lot more stressful for them.”
There was no question they would tear down the house, which they did in November. But the Louthians wavered about whether to sell the lot or to build a new house and return to their neighborhood.
Rebuilding is “probably the most financially irresponsible decision, but it’s the only one that feels right.”
They put the lot up for sale and nearly closed on an offer. Then they took it off the market, thought a bit, put it back on the market and nearly accepted another offer. But the neighborhood was calling them home.
“We looked at other nice houses (to buy), but nothing felt right,” Louthian said. Rebuilding is “probably the most financially irresponsible decision, but it’s the only one that feels right.”
It could be a year or a year and a half before the Louthians move into their new house in their old neighborhood due to “all these hoops” that stand in the way of building so close to water.
But, “I’m not really worried about it,” Louthian said. “The flood was kind of good for me in a lot of ways. ... I just don’t worry about as much stuff as I used to because I’m not in control.”
Clara Weston looks forward to her family, the Louthians and their neighbors all finally making their way back to the community.
“The neighborhood, we’ve weathered this, and I think it’s going to be better than ever, stronger and closer,” Weston said. “It’s going to be so great to have everybody home.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.