Reflecting on the People I Met During Tropical Storm Harvey

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When I think of Harvey, I think of people.

There are many memories and moments permanently etched in my mind: how the rain sounded, how the streets turned into rivers, how unusual snow later that year fell on piles of debris still sitting in front of homes months later.

But what I remember most are the people I met and the stories they told in those early days and weeks when everyone was dealing with trauma and trying to come to terms with themselves. to re-establish.

I think of Béatrice whom I met at the Center Montagne in Lamar. She clutched a Bible in both hands and described being airlifted from Port Arthur. Around her, the shelter was emptying, about to close due to the Beaumont water outage, and part of her family was leaving for Dallas, she said. But she didn’t want to leave southeast Texas, so she and her grandson moved back to Port Arthur, to another shelter.

I think of Duffie, whom I met inside the gymnasium shelter at Thomas Jefferson Middle School while she was having lunch. She and her family left New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and settled down to make a new home in Port Arthur, they told me. Twelve years later, almost to the day, they had lost their home again, this time to Harvey.

I think of Theresa, the teacher I met in Deweyville. In 2016, her house was flooded when the Sabine River rose. She and her family completed the rebuild in August 2017 – just before it flooded again when Harvey forced the river out of its banks.

In the five years since the storm, I left Beaumont and moved three times. I don’t know what happened to everyone I’ve met and spoken to that has made me concerned, and I still wonder.

Many of these interviews in the first few weeks seemed hopeless – hearing again and again, “I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”

But when I think of Harvey, I also think of the people who took action.

I think of the friends, neighbors and complete strangers who left in trucks, boats and on foot, some armed with walkie-talkie apps and social media posts calling for help, trying to rescue the people when the 9-1-1 lines were overloaded. These people who went door to door to make sure their neighbors weren’t left behind when the waters rose.

I think of those who distributed supplies, who cooked meals for people without kitchens, who helped clean homes and save what they could, who distributed bottled water and meals with hugs and encouragement.

I think of the people who have come from hundreds and thousands of miles and driven all night to get there. Many were from Florida and Louisiana and said they had already been there themselves and wanted to pay it forward.

I think of how, weeks later, volunteers prepared hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners in the area for people who couldn’t cook at home.

I think of Doris, whom I met in front of her neighbor’s house in Beaumont. She had wrapped trash bags around her shoes and secured them with duct tape, then headed inside to sift through the wreckage and find what was salvageable.

I think of the initial devastation, the long, slow and messy work of trying to rebuild, and the frustrations and barriers that seemed to only mount higher and higher in the months that followed.

But when I think of Harvey, I can’t help but think of the people who came together to help each other.

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