“They lost everything”: Kingsport woman raising money for family members affected by Hurricane Harvey

Holly Viers • Sep 9, 2017 at 9:15 AM

KINGSPORT — When Kingsport resident Johnnie Mae Swagerty heard that Hurricane Harvey was heading toward Texas, her first thought was of her 18-year-old granddaughter, Khayla Lewis, and her family, who live just outside of Houston.

“When the storm started, I thought, ‘They’re going to be all right,’ ” Swagerty said. “It was getting worse, and I was trying to get in touch with them. … Finally at last, I got ahold of them, and when (they) were telling me what they’d lost, it just was devastating. I just started crying.”

Kenya Lewis, who is the mother of Khayla and five other children, said the storm made landfall in Texas on Friday, Aug. 25, and was expected to hit her city the next day. But after very little rain came through that Saturday, Lewis thought the storm was over.

It wasn’t until that night that Lewis realized she had been deceived.

“Later on that night around midnight, it started raining really hard,” Lewis said. “It started storming outside, thunder and lightning, and so at that point, something told me to get up and go look outside. So when I looked outside at the backyard, the water was already up to my deck.”

Her first instinct was to grab her children and as many of their belongings as she could and get to higher ground. But after trying to drive through the rapidly rising water with little success, Lewis decided to turn around and head to a neighbor’s house, which had not been affected by the flooding.

The next morning, Lewis was overwhelmed by the damage that had been done to her home and her neighborhood. She and her family decided to make another attempt to leave the area, and they eventually made it to a hotel in Texas City, where they are currently staying.

Five days after the storm hit, Lewis visited her home again to assess the damage. Realizing that most of her belongings had been saturated, she removed all of her furniture, sinks, appliances and school clothes, which she said she had just bought for her children.

In addition, all of her carpet had to be cut up and removed, and four feet of sheetrock had to be taken out. Many of her belongings are now sitting on the side of the road.

“Anything that water was behind had to be removed out of the house,” Lewis said. “It’s like basically the whole entire house had to be gutted out. So there’s nothing.”

To help the family rebuild their lives after the hurricane, Swagerty is holding a fish fry fundraiser Saturday Sept. 9 at noon at the Riverview Community Room on Wheatly Street. For those who can’t make it to the fish fry, a bake sale fundraiser will be held Sept. 16 at noon at the same location.

Donations can also be mailed to SunTrust Bank, 2060 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport, TN 37664 or to 950 Dale St., Kingsport, TN 37660. When mailing donations to the bank, write “New Vision Youth, in care of Argie Lewis” on the check.

New Vision Youth, of which Swagerty is the director, is also collecting containers of hand sanitizer to send to hurricane victims and responders. They can be dropped off at the V.O. Dobbins Center, the Riverview Boys & Girls Club and Girls Inc.

For more information, contact Swagerty at (423) 429-7553.