One San Marcos resident and his family watched helplessly May 24 as his childhood home filled with water. Carlos Cortez was awakened around 4 a.m. by the sound of water coming through the window of the master bedroom.
“We have a one-story house and the windowsill sits about a foot and a half to two feet off the ground,” Carlos Cortez said. “The water sounded like a fountain as it came in through the bedroom window at a pretty good rate, which is what woke me up.”
As Carlos Cortez began to wrap his head around what was happening, he realized he needed to quickly wake up his wife and three kids.
“I looked down and realized my slippers were floating in about two to three inches of water, and I got out of bed to kind of assess the situation and wake the kids and my wife up,” Carlos Cortez said.
Kandi Cortez, Carlos Cortez’s wife, said she raced to call 911 after waking up and noticing the sheetrock in the house was moving in toward the family.
“I called them and I asked them to please help us, and they told me they already had over 100 people to rescue and they would send someone as soon as possible,” Kandi Cortez said. “This was when the water was at my stomach and it rapidly started to rise.”
The water quickly went from being a small nuisance to a life-threatening situation, Carlos Cortez said. His 13-year-old son Daniel Cortez had already been woken up by the sound of water. He was making his way toward his parents’ bedroom when he witnessed the doors leading to the family’s backyard burst open under the pressure of the water.
“After that moment, the water was up to our chests in about two minutes,” Carlos Cortez said. “I started to grasp that I needed to get some stuff together, so I went around the house and grabbed a couple of things and put them up high in my closet.”
That is when Carlos Cortez discovered his king-size bed was floating.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first,” Carlos Cortez said. “At this point the water was up to my chest and getting higher, and I stopped to think, ‘Wait a minute, what am I doing? Why am I gathering things when I need to get us the heck out of here?’”
As the family gathered to hang on to the doors leading to their backyard, Kandi Cortez said she struggled to keep their two dogs above water. “We were able to hold Amber because she is a small Chihuahua, but the Lab was panicking when I was trying to hold her and she eventually broke free,” Kandi Cortez said. “I was just listening to her splashing and then all of the sudden it went quiet, and that’s when I started freaking out because I didn’t want to lose my dog.”
Kandi Cortez said she quickly had to shift her focus from her dogs to finding a safe place for her three children.
“I thought that maybe I could get myself and my family to a tree, but when I got off the porch area the water was up to my chin and I knew there was no way I could get the kids out of here safely,” Kandi Cortez said. “So I went back inside and I just held them and told them it was going to be OK, even though I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Kandi Cortez said her biggest concern was always keeping her family out of harm’s way.
“The whole ordeal wasn’t so much thinking, ‘Oh my god, we are going to lose the house’—it was more like, ‘Oh my god, are we going to die?’” Kandi Cortez said.
Carlos Cortez said the house never lost power, which was both comforting and scary after the family realized nearby outlets were electrocuting them.
“We were floating there for a long time, seeing our furniture and all of our belongings bobbing in the water and knocking us around,” Carlos Cortez said. “The lights were on and we were getting electrocuted a little bit every once in a while when we brushed up against the power outlets.”
As the sun began to rise, Carlos Cortez said he decided to move his family to the roof to await rescue.
“It was obvious that help wasn’t coming anytime soon because everywhere you looked there was water that was so high it was just insane,” Carlos Cortez said. “I knew tons of people were in the same position we were and I couldn’t expect that rescuers were coming right along just to save us.”
When daybreak finally came, Carlos Cortez said his son spotted what looked like a news helicopter. Shortly after that, a search and rescue helicopter began circling the neighborhood.
“They circled around for a few minutes and then started swooping in and picking people up,” Carlos Cortez said. “The neighbors across the street and next door to us were on their roofs and one poor lady didn’t make it to her roof and was just trying to stay afloat in the water.”
The family watched their home fill with water for about four hours before being rescued. Carlos Cortez said he injured his leg during the rescue when he lost his grip and fell from the roof into the water.
“When I was underwater and felt the pain in my leg, that was the only moment when I started to think maybe this was how it was going to end,” Carlos Cortez said. “But it didn’t and the rescuer was down there in the water by the time I came up for air to bring me to the helicopter.”
Heavy rain fell in the area for six hours, damaging thousands of homes and causing many people to abandon their cars on flooded streets. Despite losing everything to the floodwaters, the Cortez family remains optimistic.
“You’ve got to keep a positive outlook in this type of situation, or at least I want to,” Carlos Cortez said.
Carlos Cortez said he has seen the home flood before, but it never came close to the amount of water that filled the house this time.
“When I was a kid—somewhere around 1984, when I was around 12—there was a flood, and my dad said we had about 4 inches of water in the house,” Carlos Cortez said. “That was considered to be the ‘great flood’ at the time, and we had to make some major renovations to the house even though it was only a few inches of water.”
Carlos Cortez said the family plans to stay in San Marcos and rebuild their home.
“I grew up in that house and I actually moved back into it about a year ago,” Carlos Cortez said. “I just love it so much here in San Marcos. This is where I’ve always wanted to live and raise my family, and I never for one second thought about leaving.”
The family lost almost everything to the floodwaters but they are just happy to be alive with their two dogs. They Cortez’ are staying with family members while they begin to clean out their home.