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Posted: 2018-02-27 17:51:34

Emergency medicines were handed off to staff at the Gulf Coast Health Center in Port Arthur in the days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall last year. Medical shipments to the center have continued since, and recovery for the center, and the surrounding community, are still underway. (Photo by Bimarian Films for Direct Relief)

Port Arthur, an oil town on the Gulf Coast of Texas, has seen its share of big storms.

Hurricane Harvey was different.

As Keren Arledge, the executive administrative assistant at the Gulf Coast Health Center and a Port Arthur native put it on a recent January afternoon, “this storm did something I’d never seen a storm do before.” 

Rather than maintain course after making landfall and dissipating across the state’s interior expanse, as hurricanes had before, Harvey circled back and held in place for nearly four days, dropping an unprecedented amount of rain in the Houston area — so much rain, in fact, that the flood area itself began to act like an inland sea, feeding moisture back into the storm to be dropped as yet more rain.

No one in Port Arthur was prepared for what Harvey unleashed. “We have levees here to protect us and Harvey wasn’t supposed to have a huge storm surge, so we felt pretty safe, but the water just kept rising and rising,” Arledge recalled. “By the time the weather got bad here, Houston was already flooded, so there was nowhere to go.”  

While Houston and other cities suffered serious impacts from the flooding, smaller communities like Port Arthur were also devastated. “Just about everyone here — even our employees — was affected,” said Dr. Marsha Thigpen, the executive director of the Gulf Coast Health Center, a Direct Relief partner since 2009. “Probably 60 or 70 percent of people didn’t have flood insurance.” 

Dr. Marsha Thigpen, the executive director at Gulf Coast Health Center, lost her home in the floods. She and her family spent the next five months living in a hotel room. (Photo by Felipe Luna for Direct Relief)

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