Margaret M. Chong Chenier lost the photo album when her home was flooded with four feet of water

By Jason Duaine Hahn
September 07, 2017 08:24 PM
Courtesy Margaret M. Chong Chenier

When Lauren Thompson Miller found a photo album floating in Houston’s Buffalo Bayou after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, dozens of Facebook users rallied to track down the album’s owner—and it only took them three hours to do it.

Miller had been helping a friend clean their backyard in Houston when she fished the album from the water on September 2. The next day, she posted some of the baby and wedding photos from the 23-year-old album on her Facebook page, with a request for help in finding its owners.

“It’s obviously water logged and a lot of photos were damaged, but I’m sure that they would want it back!” Miller wrote in the post, adding that a caption written on one of the photographs dated from 1994 mentioned a baby named “Natalie Claire.”

The post quickly went viral within the Houston community. The post garnered more than 3,000 shares, and within a few hours, Miller had found the woman.

“My neighbor called me and asked if my daughter was named Natalie Claire. Then she told me to look on Facebook and I saw the photos were mine!” the album’s owner, Margaret M. Chong Chenier, tells PEOPLE. “I was shocked, I had no idea it was missing because our house has been under water for 10 days.”

Chenier—along with her husband, David, and daughter, Natalie Claire—evacuated when Hurricane Harvey’s floods reached their two-story home. When they left, they took what they could, such as small bag of clothing and other important items. But when they realized their collection of photo albums were left on a bottom shelf on the first floor of their home, they returned to move them higher. The quickly-rising waters only allowed them to save three albums before they were forced to leave. The waters eventually went as high as four-and-a-half-feet in their home.

Courtesy Margaret M. Chong Chenier
Courtesy Margaret M. Chong Chenier

“My neighborhood is close to the bayou and it’s never flooded before, but Harvey was massive,” Chenier says. “Everything on the first floor is gone.”

Chenier thinks that when one of the doors opened to the house, the album washed away with the current. It’s remarkable that Miller found it since the album ended up almost a mile away from the home.

The priceless collection of photographs featured a few pages of Chenier’s brother’s wedding, but most of it contained pictures of the days after Chenier adopted her daughter, Natalie Claire, in 1994. “Natalie was only two-days-old in a lot of the photos of her and I together, the entire album was very important to me,” Chenier says.

Courtesy Margaret M. Chong Chenier

While many of the photographs aren’t salvageable, Chenier is grateful for the ones that survived.

“There are enough in there to recreate Natalie’s first months with us,” she says. “We still have half of them and I’m really happy.”

Getting the album back was a glimmer of hope for the family during a time of upheaval. Today was the first time they were able to walk into their house since the flooding, and a contractor recommended that they tear down the entire house to the studs. For the next year, Chenier says, the family will be living in an apartment as their home is rebuilt.

“It’s really brought the community together,” she says. “The days have gone on and I think it’s getting better—I feel better.”