Mother's ashes swept away in hurried clean-up from Houstonarea






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By Cindy George | April 29, 2016 | Updated: April 30, 2016 6:03pm


Mother's ashes swept away in

hurried clean-up from

Houston-area flooding


Of all she's been through in less than two weeks - watching floodwaters rise swiftly in her apartment, evacuating by boat with her toddlers and husband, then returning to a nearly empty home - it's the loss of her mother's ashes that distresses Ashley Freilich the most. The cremated remains, along with almost everything else she and her family possessed, were cleared out earlier this week by contractors.

Freilich, who turned 25 on Thursday and is seven months pregnant with her third child, said officials with Commons at Vintage Park apartments in northwest Harris County had given them until Monday to clear out their unit.

But when Richard Freilich returned Wednesday afternoon for an appointment with a


Richard and Ashley Freilich and their children Cole, 3, and Rebecca, 15 months, evacuated their apartment during last week's flood. When Richard returned to collect some of their possessions, cleaning crews ... more


Federal Emergency Management Agency inspector, he found that all of their things were gone.

The 34-year-old bowling alley manager said complex officials had assured him on

April 22 that his family did not need to hurry to remove their items, which had been placed up high to keep them dry.

"When we came here once the water had receded, they said that if we needed anything thrown out to let them know

and they would do that for us, but they wouldn't throw anything out without us authorizing it," he said. "I told them they could throw out the couch and the bed - and that was it." Richard Freilich had the unenviable task of informing his wife that their belongings -including a vial that contained a portion of her mother's ashes - were gone. Peggy Estes Sullivan, 59, of Houston, died in September while under hospice care in Wimberley. "I had an urn necklace that was given to me by my sister who took care of my mom and the letter that she wrote me before she passed away," Ashley Freilich said while surveying their former home this week. "We cherished it and we made sure that we put it up high to be saved, and they treated it like trash."

On Thursday, the family returned to salvage the few material goods contractors left behind in the two-bedroom apartment. They found one TV in the breezeway. There were clothes in the washer and dryer. Pots, pans and plastic containers in lower cabinets remained. An expensive bottle of wine Richard Freilich said he placed up high is "magically gone," he said.

Appliances had been pushed to the middle of the living room.

The toddlers - 3-year-old Cole and 15-month-old Rebecca Lee - scampered around the stripped-down apartment. The plastic Red Flyer wagon given to the boy by his maternal grandmother was gone, but plants and some leftover Legos were still on the patio.


"It's just appalling," Richard Freilich said, adding that the family had enjoyed living in the complex. "We thought we had stuff and now we don't."

Quick work was necessary

Emergency conditions and the well-being of tenants who will continue to live in the complex compelled quick work on the repairs, the property management company said in a written statement.

The complex, in the 9700 block of Cypresswood near FM 249, was formerly known as Cypress Commons, and the name remains on the entry sign. Adara Communities, a new owner-management company, took over April 1 and renamed the development.

Tina Rivera, who works in legal and resident relations for Adara, released a statement Thursday that said management made "diligent efforts" to contact all first-floor residents by phone, email and social media about the company's "intentions" for their units and to provide additional time for residents who needed longer to collect their belongings.

The complex "did not receive any response or communication" from Richard Freilich and "proceeded as we notified we would," the statement said.

"As management, we must protect the property and the residents that remain from adverse conditions. Due to the amount of water the property sustained, mold is a serious threat and we must be diligent in preventing it," the release said.In a brief phone conversation, Rivera declined to discuss a timetable for repairs to first-floor apartments at the complex.

Richard Freilich said that if he had known which of the half-dozen dumpsters to search on Wednesday, he would have taken that dangerous dive.

The flash floods that struck the Houston area April 17-18 devastated homes in northwest Harris County near Cypress Creek. Many of those residents lived in low-lying apartments off Cypresswood.

A few dozen people from some of the hardest hit areas remained in American Red Cross shelters Thursday, said Harris County Community Services spokeswoman Cindy Gabriel.


Officials canvassed devastated communities Friday with fliers offering recovery

information, and those who need a Red Cross appointment to address emergency financial, food, medical or housing needs are asked to call 866-526-8300.

Gabriel said organizations such as Northwest Assistance Ministries and Catholic Charities also were operating in the area.

FEMA likewise has initiated efforts to assist in Harris County after Monday's federal disaster declaration. Agents are headed to the Houston area to establish disaster recovery centers, FEMA spokeswoman Debra Young said.

Left by boat

The Freilichs realized they were in trouble when water began to fill their apartment on April 18.

"When water started rising at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, we started gathering supplies, moving things up high - appliances, the cable boxes, the kids' toys, her mother's ashes, pictures," Richard Freilich said.

The family left by boat Tuesday. Both of their cars were destroyed.

This week, the apartment complex appeared more like a construction site than an established development.

A forklift dropped sodden mattresses and upholstered furniture into dumpsters. The

parking lot was smeared with white, chalky residue from drywall and debris. Almost every first-floor apartment had a water heater on its patio and its windows open. Salvageable wooden furniture had been set out to dry under the week's hot sun.

Wreckers removed cars in the parking lots while other vehicles had grease crayon markings on their windows indicating that adjustors had stopped by.

Ashley Freilich takes some comfort in knowing she still has two bottles with a portion of her mother's ashes. But the loss remains.


"I took those with me because I didn't want to leave my mom, but I forgot about the necklace. All of my siblings have one so that we can carry her with us," she said. "It feels like a part of me is missing."

Cindy George Reporter, Houston Chronicle



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