On February morning, 2017, Armando and Sandra Lopez and their adult daughter Samantha left the family apartment for work, leaving behind 12 year old Esmeralda with her grandfather who was visiting from Mexico. As Samantha left, she noticed water in the streets, but felt assured by the presence of police and water district officials at the corner.

At 11am, Esmerelda started texting Samantha, worried about the rising water. San José firefighters rescued Esmerelda and her grandfather a few hours later, and they went to the house of friends, where Samantha, Sandra and Armando met them after work. That night, the family waited anxiously as Armando Lopez disappeared to brave the flood to retrieve his life savings and secure the family’s abandoned apartment. He had to give up, unable to navigate chest-high dirty waters in the dark.

The family stayed with friends for three months. Armando spent hours every day demolishing and replacing the sheet rock and flooring in the first floor of the apartment. When family returned, they had to throw away destroyed family photographs, personal documents, and ruined electronics.   

The emotional and physical toll of the flood lingers for the Lopez family. Esmerelda had nightmares of the flooding for many months. Samantha’s Lupus was exacerbated by the stress of not knowing what would happen to her family. She endured intense pain in her neck and shoulders and went without medicine for days. Samantha remains in disbelief that with three different agencies, not one person was able to perform their duties assigned as to prevent so much loss. Esmerelda and Samantha watched their parents lose everything and suffer the indignity of their lifetime of hard work vanish in one night. 

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