Ike floods elevated house, brings new neighbors

When Rick Winstead built his elevated house, he ensured his family’s survival from Hurricane Ike. 

Still, he was surprised at how high the water got, and the wildlife that moved in at the far east end of Dugas Addition in Bridge City. 

After the storm, the Winsteads found some new neighbors: several gators and turtles living in a nearby swampy inlet. 

They keep their distance now, but during the storm with power out in the house, Winstead says they appeared to “fly by” the windows of the home’s middle deck.

“The gators are very bashful; not confrontational at all,” he says. “If you get a little close to one you’ll scare him and he’ll just run away.”

While working in radio, for a railroad company and selling cars, Winstead, 47. picked up building tips. Now he takes odd contracting jobs in the community, and lives with his wife Lori, son Derek and some pets including a German Shepherd puppy, two chihuahuas and several cats.

“I was working for Charlie Wickersham and I had a house all paid for,” he says, “But working for Charlie, it got me wanting to build a house. I learned so much from conversations with him.”

Rick decided he wanted “ … a large property view on a poor man’s budget.” He paid $7,000 for his Dugas property, and says the house is still in progress. The ceiling fans all match, yet were bought at different times on clearance sales. Not by design, he has several wall clocks that don’t work, one a replica of a 17th-century French design.

“In this place, it’s whatever time you need it to be,” he says.

The first floor / deck area includes a kitchen, living room, bedroom and restroom; and comes up about 13 feet over his garage / workspace. The second floor has a recreational area and bedroom, plus another deck. From there, one can vaguely make out some areas of the Intracoastal Canal and Sabine Lake. The home is elevated by custom-cut beams that go about eight feet down in the ground. Rick used a “gas-powered beaver.”

“Some call it a gas auger,” he says. “You go down to where you hit red clay, then about another foot; then you stop. The clay is there to tell you you’re on solid ground.” 

One thing missing from the property since the storm is Rick’s ‘91 Firebird, ruined very quickly by the rising water.

“The gators were swimming by, probably looking for something dry,” he says. “The snakes were thick. Water moccasins, and there was a grass snake too. The turtles, what they did after the storm was burrow down into the mud. I’m guessing its an instinctive thing, maybe like hibernation, because of all the saltwater.”

The family camped on the second floor, certain the rising water on Deck 1 would collapse the windows.

“The water did come in though, but the house is more sound than I thought. It’s basically a box, with everything connecting through right angles. It’s just a theory I have, by talking to various contractors over the years. I can’t really prove any of it.”

The Winsteads watched as a neighbor’s work shed floated into the man’s main house wall, and that was after the wind had died down to 70 mph. Rick was without power for eight days. Derek Winstead, a 2008 graduate of Bridge City High School, says it was about a week “ … before we heard any kind of human activity in the area.”

“There are a million reasons to build an elevated house,” Rick says.

“I think it’s really the future of how all Gulf Coast homes will be someday.”