Lack of water service adds to woes of residents of flood-swollen Beaumont

1 Houston

Houston News & Search

1 News - 1 eMovies - 1 eMusic - 1 eBooks - 1 Search

BEAUMONT – Tears fell from Corita Young’s eyes after her car passed through the pick-up line for a case of bottled water, a sack of ice and a package of 12 Meals Ready to Eat.

Harvey’s floodwaters had receded from many homes and streets here in Beaumont, but the going remained tough for residents such as Young. Some places in her hometown remained submerged. It would take weeks, if not months, for others to be livable.

And, to top it all, residents in the city of roughly 120,000 remained under a water boil advisory – a factor that kept restaurants shuttered, schools closed and residents worried.

“It’s scary. It’s hard to manage,” said Young, 68. “I was ready for a few days. A month? I don’t know.”

Beaumont, along with the cities of Port Arthur and Orange, make up the “Golden Triangle,” a heavily industrial area along the Texas Coast that was drenched by Harvey’s rains last week. Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane northeast of Corpus Christi on Aug. 25, then dumped upwards of 50 inches on greater Houston before crossing east over the Beaumont area days later as a tropical depression.

The storm has been blamed for more than 60 deaths, including at least 17 in the Beaumont area. The victims include a 41-year-old mother who drowned in a flood-swollen canal while trying to carry her 3-year-old child to safety. The child, found clinging to her, survived.

In the storm’s aftermath, Beaumont is still reeling from the floods. Services shut down for days. Beaumont Baptist Hospital closed its emergency room and began evacuating patients Thursday. And other hospitals have been unable to pick up the slack, as they stretch resources.

“There are almost 3,000 residences and businesses inaccessible, including two apartment buildings,” Officer Carol Riley, a spokeswoman for the city’s emergency management office, said Monday. “And about 50 streets remain flooded.”

Homes damaged by flooding were easy to spot Tuesday, with piles of discarded items out front. The city smelled like wet carpet, as one state representative put it.

“It seemed like everything that could go wrong was going wrong,” said Haley Morrow, public information officer for the Beaumont police. “We hope it never happens again.”

For Albertina Warren, the storm left everything she had heavy and wet with water. And still, there was nothing for her to drink.

“The rain came on Wednesday,” Warren recalled Monday, though she had trouble keeping the days straight.

But she remembered watching it pool on her street when she heard the news on the television: The floodgates at the dam upstream from her home were being opened.

“They told everyone on this end of town that they needed to move, get out the way, because it was going to flood,” she said. “We went outside and the water was already up to our ankles.”

She ran as best she could, sloshing across the street to her mother’s house. She began knocking on neighbors’ doors – they needed to get out. The family loaded into a truck and went to Warren’s sister’s house.

“There was like 30 of us in her house,” she said. “But we were dry there.”

By the time she returned the following morning, the water was up to her knees.

She’d grabbed a few necessities before evacuating to her sister’s house Wednesday. But for everything else, it was already too late.

“We can’t find the dogs,” she said Monday afternoon, standing in the master bedroom at her mother’s house.

Warren has broken down at times, too. Every time she has walked into her mother’s house, looking at the piles of wood planks tossed into the side of the living room, exposing mud-stained concrete beneath, or caught glimpses of the walls, where the bottom two feet of drywall had been zipped off to mitigate mold risk, she starts to feel the familiar tug-of-war of her anxiety.

The other day she thought she was having a heart attack and ought to go to the hospital. “But the hospital was closed.”

For her part, Young joined the steady line of cars moving through the Ozen High School campus on Tuesday morning to pick up supplies.

The city’s water service had been knocked out in the early-morning hours of Aug. 31 when its two intake facilities, each 10 miles apart, had flooded. They typically pump water from the nearby Neches river to a treatment facility.

It left the mother, who loves to cook her special shrimp stew for her family, without a means to go about her daily tasks.

She turned on the faucet and it ran dry. She wondered: Had she not paid her water bill?

In the ensuing days, the city scrambled to set up bottled-water giveaway sites and devise a temporary plumbing fix, pumping water with makeshift mechanisms from the river to the treatment plant. Still, that water hadn’t been tested for safety and so city officials were recommending residents boil it.

Mayor Becky Ames said Tuesday she hoped the water would be cleared for drinking within a few days.

Residents in the area remained optimistic and expressed feelings of thanks for what they did have. But officials stressed that recovery would not happen overnight.

“You’re going to have needs for years as we work our way through this,” Gov. Greg Abbott told city leaders at a meeting at the high school later that day.

As the afternoon faded, Abbott concluded a more than hour-long meeting with local leaders. They’d raised needs like portable showers, cleaning supplies and reinforcements so law enforcement members could get a break, state Rep. Dade Phelan said. “He took a long shopping list,” Phelan said, and then the governor picked up the phone to help.

Abbott went from the meeting to the parking lot where he helped hand out packaged meals to bewildered residents. Members of the media surrounded each car as Abbott calmly shook the hands of passengers and told him he was there to help. “I’m Greg Abbott,” he said to those in one crowded vehicle. “God bless you and your family.”

Young and her daughter meanwhile chose to use baby wipes instead of showering. They ate sandwiches and donated meals, or grilled. They didn’t use the water in the sinks at all because they worried they wouldn’t get the boiling process right.

“We’re trying to all pull together as best we can,” said her daughter, Tara Kraut, 49. “Neighbors helping neighbors.”

Still, the pair worried it would be weeks before they were able drink a glass of water from the faucet.

Behind them in line was Bernadine Young, 69. She explained a sense that the city had gone through so much. Like many others, she had been eating lots of tuna, she said. But she’d learned to boil the water, putting to use six regular pots and her gumbo pot.

The task was difficult if you weren’t used to it, she said. But she was getting the hang of it: That night, she hoped to be able to make steak and potatoes.

Across the city, residents dealt with drenched homes, tearing out carpeting, dry wall and insulation.

Some, like 37-year-old Eric McClory, had been lucky enough to get their furniture out in time. He had just finished redecorating his home, however, and all the work had been ruined. On Tuesday, he found himself in a home once again gutted, facing the decision of whether it would be worth rebuilding – a process that, on his own and with a limited budget, could take a year.

But he felt lucky, he said, because others had been able to leave with only a trash bag of belongings. He’d managed to save his children’s toys and schoolbooks, along with other possessions.

“They’re walking away from everything,” he said of other residents.

Those hard-hit include Wanda Smith, 74, who lived a block over. Water had soaked many of her belongings, including antique furniture and a beloved collection of books. Now she struggled to figure out why her homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t cover floods.

“I’m in a mess,” she said, taking a break from cleaning as she sat in a chair in her driveway. The area was without power and, of course, without potable water. Smith didn’t want to use the untested source, which was coming at a low pressure and in fits and spurts, to clean.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said her son, Grover Smith, 52, thinking of all the damage done and the financial situation to be resolved.

The effects of the storm were hard to ignore. The son had gone to his job at a school to coach high school football practice that morning – a slice of normalcy, he said. But when he returned Harvey hit him in the face.

He cleaned and cleaned, but the work still to do loomed large.

Nevertheless, the mother said, they would pull through. The whole city would.

“Everybody knows how sad it is in Beaumont,” she said. “Everybody is facing it. It’s not an individual thing.”

1 Houston

Houston News & Search

1 News - 1 eMovies - 1 eMusic - 1 eBooks - 1 Search



Leave a Reply