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As Harvey Floodwaters Rose, Health Workers Needed a Rescue of Their Own


Hurricane Harvey

My-Eisha Casmire, pictured here in January at the Triangle Area Network Health Center in Beaumont, Texas, had been working as nurse practitioner at the clinic for less than six weeks when Hurricane Harvey swept through and destroyed her home. (Photo by Felipe Luna for Direct Relief)

On the morning of Aug. 30, 2017, My-Eisha Casmire greeted the sun with her husband and two-year-old son from the roof their two-story home, a sudden island among the flood waters that, over the course of the previous night, had overtaken Beaumont, Texas.

Water had first started pouring into the first floor of her house at 8 p.m. the night before. The power had gone out sometime before that, while Casmire was preparing dinner, tuna casserole. “I don’t have a taste for that dish at all anymore,” she said in a phone interview on a recent January afternoon as a winter storm swept icy rain and sleet into the Houston area. As the water rose, it drove Casmire and her family into the stuffy upper floors of the house. “We could hear the linoleum floors buckling and popping loose. It was like the sound of people breaking and entering,” she remembered that afternoon, five months after the storm hit. “At one point the water rose so high that we decided we had to get to the roof.” They waited there for five hours until a helicopter came to rescue them. “Now,” she said, punctuating the story with a characteristically uproarious laugh, “every time my son sees a helicopter overhead he waves and says ‘Hi.’”

Casmire and her husband had purchased their house in June 2016, and moved in January 2017, after six months spent renovating. They’d spent barely eight months in their home when it was destroyed. FEMA declined financial assistance several times, so the Casmires had little choice but to empty their savings accounts to rebuild, a process that took four months. “Our Christmas present to ourselves was moving back in,” she said. “This time we hope to get more than a year in our home.”

TAN’s clinic also shares space with a small pharmacy. After Harvey made landfall, Direct Relief was able to supply the clinic with emergency medicines, taking pressure off the existing supply. (Photo by Felipe Luna for Direct Relief)

In Harvey’s wake, Casmire’s saving grace was the job that she had started barely two weeks before the storm swept in, as the nurse practitioner at the Triangle Area Network Health Clinic, known as TAN, a Federally Qualified Health Center that has operated out of Beaumont, in one form or another, for 30 years. The team at TAN, Casmire said, was invaluable not just for her emotional recovery — “it’s really felt like everyone here has known me for years” – but also in contributing financially to the reconstruction of her home, using funds drawn from a $25,000 grant donated by Direct Relief.

Casmire was one of 13 of TAN’s 25 staff members to have suffered major property losses in the hurricane.

Compliance Officer Misty Kibodeaux’s apartment didn’t start flooding until the early hours of the morning, but it took no time to reach waist height. She and her husband called a friend who lived on higher ground and had a boat to come get them from their place. She left with nothing more than flip-flops, three pairs of shorts, and two t-shirts. For the next 45 days, the Kibodeauxs lived in a hotel. Later, a friend offered her an empty property out near Lake Charles, a two-and-a-half-hour commute from Beaumont. “There was nothing left on the housing market after the storm,” Kibodeaux said. “Now I’m waking up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to get to work.”

Dena Hughes, TAN’s CEO, was one of the lucky ones. She and her home came out of the storm unscathed. A natural and vibrant leader, she soon found herself taking on a great deal of responsibility in local recovery efforts, using social media to disseminate information and the TAN offices, just off the I-10, as an informal center of operations.  Hughes said Direct Relief reached out to staff after the storm made landfall and “listened and responded to what we said and what we needed as a healthcare facility.”

Over the next two weeks, Hughes and members of her staff labored day and night to serve both the local community and the nearby town of Orange, a rural settlement closer to the Louisiana border, where they have a second clinic. The response was extraordinary. “I know that now we have people coming here who started coming right after the hurricane and they’re still using us as their primary care facility,” she said.

TAN’s Financial Director Misty Kibodeaux lost her home and almost everything she owned during the hurricane. She now has to deal with the aftermath of the storm and a daily two-and-a-half-hour roundtrip commute from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to Beaumont, Texas. (Photo by Felipe Luna for Direct Relief)

Kibodeaux and Casmire both have long journeys ahead to return to normal, but both are deeply grateful for the support they’ve found in their workplace, an openness and generosity that they and everyone at TAN hope to pass along to the community they serve. “I have one lady who comes in here just because there are people to talk to,” Casmire said. “People know that they don’t need an appointment to just come in and be warm.”

To date, Direct Relief has supported more than 52 health centers and free clinics in communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Nearly $14 million worth of specifically requested medical aid has been shipped to these clinics in the months since the storm made landfall, and Direct Relief will continue to support these communities in their recovery.

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