Harvey and Irma Wiped Out Our Kitchens. Still, We Cook.

“What else am I going to do?” he asked.

Though no one keeps an official count of such things, it’s a safe bet to say that never before have so many American kitchens been taken out of commission at the same time.

In Houston alone, officials estimate that floods have damaged more than 100,000 homes. Harvey destroyed tens of thousands of other houses throughout South Texas. The wreckage in Florida and other parts of the Deep South from Irma has yet to be tallied. Between the two, the cost could run as high as $200 billion, according to early estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

For many, the emotional and cultural impact is most keenly felt at mealtimes. The kitchen is the heartbeat of a home and, by extension, of a community. It’s where the day begins and often where it ends.


Hundreds of homes in the tight-knit Nottingham Forest neighborhood in Houston flooded after officials made a desperate decision to open the spillways of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to keep earthen levees from breaking. Many remained flooded more than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.

Daniel Borris for The New York Times

Gone to the storms are the kitchens where the woman who made the best tamales on the block perfected her craft, and grandmothers churned out the pans of macaroni and cheese that kept the family together. Gone, too, are the ones where homesick college freshmen bounded through the door, young marriages began and a child first tasted peas.

“It’s where I spent most of my time, not only cooking but reading, living and catching up with my son when he comes home from school,” said Francine Spiering, a Houston food writer and recipe developer whose home sat in water so long that she didn’t get back inside to start cleaning up until last week.

The list of what she lost includes her favorite knives, 40 cookbooks and countless plates and platters. Her kitchen was her office. Salvaging what she can and rebuilding may take six months. “It’s a nightmare,” she said.

Some people have already started to recalibrate life in new kitchens. Others will spend the next weeks and months cooking in upstairs bedrooms and mucked-out garages — anywhere they can MacGyver a place to make a meal.


Dana Karni with two of her children, David Ilovz, 16, left, and Michal Ilovz, 14,…

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