As floodwaters receded Saturday, many people across Texas remain in crisis. Direct Relief staff worked throughout the weekend to deliver two Emergency Health Kits to clinics on the front lines of their devastated communities.
After picking up the kits, sent overnight from Direct Relief’s California warehouse to Austin via FedEx, Direct Relief staff contacted two clinics that were dealing with storm’s massive impacts in the eastern portion of the state.
Each kit has enough medicines and medical supplies to treat 100 people for 3 to 5 days, and these supplies are a crucial element to many clinics that have lost inventory or had their facilities damaged by the storm.
Gulf Coast Health Center in Port Arthur and the Triangle Area Network in nearby by Beaumont would have the kits by the end of the day, and the journey across the state revealed just how widespread the flooding is.
Driving east on Interstate 10, the green expanse on either side of some portions of roadway deceptively looked as though the storm had never happened. A few miles further, however, and swollen creek beds began to appear, and roadways central to the City of Port Arthur were still covered, shoulder to shoulder, with flowing water.
Many in Port Arthur and the surrounding communities never left, not having an option to evacuate. Even those with vehicles found their engines unusable from the quickly rising waters. Many elderly residents stayed in their homes, watching water rise, spending the long days and harrowing nights inside.
About three-quarters of the town had been underwater at one point, according to the city’s mayor. Waters were beginning to recede Saturday, and many had begun the process of salvaging what was left of their homes, trying to make sense of the new world they faced.
Reams of soaked carpet, deteriorating drywall and soggy furniture sat in piles in front of each home in a neighborhood off of the city’s main highway. In front of one home, a small camping tent had been set up as a temporary living space, and all three vehicles in the driveway had been waterlogged.
As the town reeled from the deluge of floodwaters invading homes and businesses, Dr. Marcia Thigpen worked with her staff Saturday afternoon just across the highway to take stock of what the Gulf Coast Health Center was facing.
Dr. Thigpen is CEO of the center, and she and staff worked Saturday to bring the Emergency Health Kit into the center’s storage facility.
Two-thirds of patients served by the clinic are under the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four would make less than $24,250 a year.
Sixty-six percent of Gulf Coast Health’s patients are uninsured, more than double the national average for health centers. Many of the patients affected by the flood have no safety net savings to help recover from the devastation of the flood.
The town was reeling from the deluge when the water pumps in nearby Beaumont became flooded, cutting off that city’s water supply. Port Arthur residents also worried about the safety of their own water supply.
“That just added insult to injury,” one staff member said while unloading supplies.
In addition to delivering the medicines, Direct Relief also delivered cases of water Gulf Coast staff had asked for, as well as socks, diapers, and baby wipes.
“At this point, we need everything,” the staffer said.
Direct Relief also traveled to Beaumont, where Dena Hughes and her staff at Triangle Area Network were working to reopen their doors. The clinic has also been a home base of sorts for those who work there, a safe haven in the chaos.
Half of the clinic’s 25 staff had their homes flooded. One nurse was stranded on her roof, another staff had her home swamped by several feet of water. Many are still in shock.
Hughes explained that each city in the clinic’s service area was impacted in a unique way by the storm, based on geography and community characteristics.
Beaumont is more of a city landscape, while the neighboring community of Orange is more rural, and Port Arthur is more urban, but contains a prison complex and is closer to the water, Hughes said.
Beaumont, because of the flooding, had its water pumps give out so they have no drinkable water, while Port Arthur has water, but no electricity.
“So many people have literally lost everything,” she said. “We know it’s going to be a long haul.”
At least half of her staff is in that “lost everything” category, she said, adding that while they’re trying to serve their own community, staff are in need, too.
Because of support from groups like Direct Relief, the situation “doesn’t feel as overwhelming as it first did,” she said, adding that immediate help from these groups has been “a lifesaver.”