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Harvey's Floodwaters Cut Off City’s Water Supply

Petroleum spill off flows through floodwaters in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont, Texas, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017.

Petroleum spill off flows through floodwaters in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont, Texas, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. Gerald Herbert / AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

The storm has turned most of Beaumont, Texas into “an island,” isolating a city of 120,000 residents, many who now find themselves scrambling for water.

There’s no timeline for restoring access to clean drinking water in Beaumont, Texas, where the city’s primary and secondary sources of water have been knocked offline due to Tropical Storm Harvey’s floodwaters.

City officials announced Thursday that the power systems fueling two pump stations that supply the city with fresh water have given out after being overtaken by stormwater—a main pump station on the Neches River and another that draws well water from neighboring Hardin County. Around 120,000 people live in Beaumont, a port city about 30 miles from the Texas-Louisiana border.

Power to the main pumping station has been dead since 12:30 a.m. Thursday, and by the afternoon only one truckload of water made it to the city through waterlogged roads.

"Beaumont is basically an island," Mayor Becky Ames told the Beaumont Enterprise.

The city posted web alerts cautioning residents to boil any water used for drinking and cooking.

Officials are also is setting up water stations, as they did in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Rita, and they are managing health concerns and fears of fire.    

"We do not have tank trucks, but every city fire truck can hold between 500,000 and 750,000 gallons of water," said Fire Chief Anne Huff. "Don't use candles and be careful when cooking. Don't leave pots on burners."

Huff added that Beaumont had “made arrangements” to share tanker trucks with nearby towns.

Local hospitals said the risk posed to patients by the loss of water fueled a decision to close down and transfer patients away from the area. Health organizations are seeking ways to help residents across the storm-soaked coast who require dialysis treatment.

Beaumont water workers have to wait out the floods to work on the pump stations. They said they expected the Neches River to crest sometime Saturday.

City Councilman Mike Getz, according to the Enterprise, said he thought pumped water might begin flowing again Monday or Tuesday. He fielded additional questions at his Facebook page, telling residents they shouldn’t depend on help from FEMA coming anytime soon, that just given the scale of the disaster facing the larger coastal cities, Beaumont would be a low priority.

“[It’s] difficult because of Houston and Louisiana,” he wrote.  

John Tomasic is a journalist based in Seattle.

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