With Flooded Streets And No Tap Water, Unknowns Face Beaumont, Texas, Residents

Sep 1, 2017
Originally published on September 1, 2017 8:29 pm

The city of Beaumont, Texas, is still in crisis mode: flooded and, now, without tap water. Floodwaters from Harvey knocked out the city's water supply, and there's no clear timetable for when pumps might be repaired.

The situation is making life even more difficult for flood victims.

People who were in shelters in Beaumont are being bused to San Antonio. FEMA and the military are trying to get bottled water to residents, but that effort has been hampered in recent days as Beaumont has basically become an island, with flooding on all major roads in and out.

In the meantime, residents in this city of 120,000 have been lining up at whatever stores were open — from big grocery stores to corner gas stations — to stock up on water, ice and other supplies.

And some have been quite resourceful in planning how to cope with no water.

Using 5-gallon buckets, Mike Laro and a friend scooped muddy water from a drainage canal to fill coolers and trash cans in the back of his pickup truck. Laro won't be drinking this water, but using it for sanitation.

"I don't have no water for the toilet," Laro says.

Hotels are using pool water for flushing.

The lack of water has prompted Baptist Hospital here to evacuate patients by life flight and ambulance to other hospitals in the region.

Spokeswoman Mary Poole says no water puts patients in jeopardy.

"We were prepared for Hurricane Harvey. We had food supplies, medical supplies. We were not expecting our city to lose their water system, so that's a game changer for us," Poole says.

Harvey has dealt a blow that no one anticipated, Mayor Becky Ames says. "This is a flood of record proportions, the likes of which are unheard of in our region," she says.

Just responding to all the 911 calls for rescues strained resources — and shelters were packed to capacity. Now, with no water, Ames says the city is evacuating some 1,500 people from emergency shelters.

"Our current priority is to secure the safety of those displaced to safer locations and centers that provide basic needs," she says.

Before the buses for San Antonio started pulling out, people who took shelter at the downtown civic center had to go outside to use the facilities.

"They got port-a-potties — that's the only thing they can do," says Lee McKee, 70. McKee lost everything when a flash flood swamped his home in Nome, Texas, just west of here. Sheriff's deputies rescued McKee, a double amputee who uses a wheelchair, in a boat.

"They picked me up. Had some good strong boys," he says.

McKee says the shelter is no picnic, but he's thankful to be here.

"I can't feel sorry for myself because everybody here has lost everything they got, have to start over again. It's kinda hard at our age but gotta do it," he says.

Without water and electricity

Air rescues continue, and the military is both trucking and flying in supplies.

Outside the shelter, there are signs of frustration. People were driving up Thursday looking for water distribution only to find it wasn't set up yet. And there's no clear timetable for when the city's water system will be back up and running.

City Manager Kyle Hayes says Harvey took out both of the city's water sources.

"Both of these facilities, located probably 10 miles from one another, are both flooded, underwater," Hayes says.

And the water is still rising. The main water pump is on the Neches River, which won't crest until Saturday.

Some residents are also without electricity. Ashley Robertson says local officials told her to come to the Beaumont Civic Center when her neighborhood was evacuated after losing both power and water. But she was turned away.

"What we supposed to do? We ain't got no food, no water," she says.

Awaiting word on just where evacuees would be going, Quinita Banks felt helpless.

"I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's the next step. I can't get to my husband and kids," Banks says.

Banks came here after her apartment in nearby Port Arthur flooded. Her husband and children are with family closer to Houston.

"I heard that in Port Arthur they're flying people to Dallas. I don't know anyone in Dallas. I'm already separated from my children. That's even more far away," she says. "And then once we get to Dallas what are they going to do? Are they just going to just leave us there or is there a plan in place? I'm just lost. I don't know."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, as water levels drop in parts of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey, people are starting to think, what's next? Vice President Mike Pence toured some of the affected areas yesterday and promised Washington will help pay for the recovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: No Texan should doubt as they apply for available federal assistance - no small business or business that's affected should doubt that this administration, this Congress will come together and make sure those resources are there.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, the city of Beaumont, Texas, is still in crisis mode, still flooded. And they've got no drinking water. Flooding from Harvey knocked out the city's water supply. There is no clear timetable for when pumps might be repaired. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been in Beaumont since this past Sunday. She's on the line now. Deb, good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

KELLY: This sounds like just an awful situation where you are - too much water in the streets, too much water in people's houses and no running water in their taps. What...

ELLIOTT: No water to drink.

KELLY: Yeah, what's going on right now?

ELLIOTT: Well, right now people who were in shelters are being bused to San Antonio. FEMA is trying to get bottled water in here, but that's really been hampered because, for the last few days, Beaumont is basically an island. There's flooding on all the major roads in and out. The Natchez River here - or nay-ches (ph), I should say - is rushing over Interstate 10, for instance, which is closed going both east and west. In the meantime, people have been lining up at stores that have water, trying to get what they can. And some residents are getting quite resourceful when it comes to planning how they're going to cope with no water.

MIKE LARO: (Speaking Spanish).

ELLIOTT: Mike Laro and a friend are using five-gallon buckets to scoop muddy water from a drainage canal and fill coolers and trash cans in the back of his pickup truck.

LARO: I don't have no water in the house. Yeah, it's a problem.

ELLIOTT: He won't be drinking this water but using it for sanitation.

LARO: I don't have no water in the toilet.

ELLIOTT: Hotels are using pool water for flushing. The lack of water has prompted Baptist Hospital here to evacuate patients by life flight and ambulance to other hospitals in the region.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BUZZING)

ELLIOTT: Spokesperson Mary Poole says no water puts patients in jeopardy.

MARY POOLE: We were prepared for Hurricane Harvey. We had food supplies, medical supplies. We were not expecting the city to lose their water system, so that's a game-changer for us.

ELLIOTT: Harvey has dealt a blow that no one anticipated, says Mayor Becky Ames.

BECKY AMES: This is a flood of record proportions, the likes of which are unheard of in our region.

ELLIOTT: Just responding to all the 911 calls for rescues strained resources, and shelters were packed to capacity. Now, with no water, Ames says, the city is evacuating some 1,500 people from emergency shelters.

AMES: Our current priority is to secure the safety of those displaced to safer locations and centers that provide basic needs.

ELLIOTT: Before the buses bound for San Antonio started pulling out, people sheltered at the downtown civic center had to come outside to use the facilities.

LEE MCKEE: They got port-a-potties, you know. It's the only thing they can do.

ELLIOTT: Seventy-year-old Lee McKee lost everything when a flash flood swamped his home in Nome, Texas, just west of here. Sheriff's deputies rescued him.

MCKEE: They took us out in a little old boat.

ELLIOTT: McKee is a double amputee and uses a wheelchair.

MCKEE: They picked me up. They had some big strong boys.

ELLIOTT: He says the shelter is no picnic, but he's thankful to be here.

MCKEE: I can't feel sorry for myself because everybody here lost everything they got, you know. And they have to start over again. You know, it's kind of hard at our age but got to do it. Boy, them Black Hawks are flying.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BUZZING)

ELLIOTT: Air rescues are ongoing, and the military is both trucking and flying in supplies. Outside the shelter, there are signs of frustration. People were driving up yesterday looking for water distribution, only to find it wasn't set up yet. And there's no clear timetable for when the city's water system will be back up and running. City Manager Kyle Hays says Harvey took out both of the city's water sources.

KYLE HAYES: Both of these facilities, located probably 10 miles from one another, are both flooded, underwater.

ELLIOTT: And the water is still rising. The main water pump is on the Natchez River, which won't crest until Saturday. Some residents are also without electricity. Ashley Robertson says local officials told her to come to the civic center when her neighborhood was evacuated after losing both power and water, but she was turned away.

ASHLEY ROBERTSON: What are we supposed to do? We ain't got no food, no water.

ELLIOTT: Awaiting word on just where evacuees would be going, Quinita Banks felt helpless.

QUINITA BANKS: I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's the next step. I can't get to my husband and kids.

ELLIOTT: Banks came here after her apartment in Port Arthur flooded. Her husband and children are with family closer to Houston.

BANKS: I heard that in Port Arthur, they're flying people to Dallas. I don't know anyone in Dallas. I'm already separated from my children. Like, that's even more far away. And then once we get to Dallas, what are they going to do? Are they going to just leave us there? Or is there a plan in place? Like, I'm just lost. I don't know.

ELLIOTT: So Mary Louise, you hear there, that's the question. What now? What next? What are people facing? That's a question that so many storm victims are asking here in southeast Texas.

KELLY: OK. NPR's Debbie Elliott, reporting on the many unknowns that lie ahead there in Beaumont, Texas. Debbie, thanks.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.