Long road to recovery: Harvey through the eyes of FW Fire

A Fort Worth firefighter thought he was prepared for the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey.

But, as he spoke by phone from a patrol boat drifting through a heavily-flooded neighborhood in Lumberton, Texas, Mike Drivdahl was haunted by what he saw.

“Talking about something doesn’t really paint a picture,” he said.

At one point, floodwaters rose to the rooftops in the neighborhood where he was aiding in relief efforts, Drivdahl said.

“It’s every bit as bad as we’ve been seeing,” he said. “We’re on a road in the middle of a neighborhood sitting in six feet of water right now.”

Lumberton is roughly 16 miles north of Beaumont, the city that 194 evacuees once called home. Now these displaced men, women and children are in Fort Worth after moving into emergency shelters on Aug. 31. The city also extended other resources to South Texas, including a five-person chainsaw crew and four FWFD Special Events Emergency Response personnel, according to an Aug. 28 press release.

FW Fire Department crew assemble in Houston Aug. 31 before deployment to Lumberton, TX. Photo: Mike Drivdahl

Mike Drivdahl is one of several Fort Worth Fire Department crewmen the city deployed to South Texas last week. As an engineer, Drivdahl said he was briefed on the devastation Hurricane Harvey left in its wake. But, despite the sound of lighthearted conversation behind him, Drivdahl’s description of the region was bleak.

Floodwaters have receded in Lumberton, bringing water levels down to three or four feet in some areas, but Drivdahl said what is left is likely not salvageable.

“The homes we’re looking at we’re considering a complete loss,” he said.

A heavily-flooded house in Lumberton, TX. Photo: Mike Drivdahl

Since flood insurance was probably rare among locals in towns like Lumberton, Drivdahl said evacuees from towns like this face both financial and emotional struggles in the coming months.

“To lose everything you’ve worked for your whole life is a pretty daunting task,” he said.

On Sept. 3, the Texas Department of Transportation’s Beaumont branch posted an image on Twitter, showing Interstate Highway 69 between Beaumont and Lumberton under several inches of water. TxDOT announced the highway would remain closed until water levels decreased. The post came two days after the City of Beaumont issued a boil water notice on their website in response to a city-wide loss of water pressure.

Lumberton locals still have access to safe drinking water and many government offices are still closed, according to the city website.

Of the evacuees brought to Fort Worth, Kevin Neal, communications officer for the City of Fort Worth, said five were treated at local hospitals for medical conditions and/or injuries received during their rescue. He said the city does not have plans regarding long-term housing for evacuees.

“Our primary focus is sustaining current guests,” he said. “Which includes their medical, security and social services needs.”

One of the Fort Worth shelters is staged at the Wilderson-Greines Activity Center on C.A. Roberson Boulevard, just south of O.D. Wyatt High School. Fifty-three of evacuees in Fort Worth are between 0 and 19-years-old, he said.

Going forward, Drivdahl said it is important for locals to help displaced people find a semblance of order and normality in life. He added that relief could come from monetary donations or from sending food or clothes to charities involved in sheltering the evacuees.

“It’s just going to be about finding the places where we can help get them resources,” he said.

What has made the greatest impression on Drivdahl is the level of support he’s seen from the community. As his crew lends aid to those affected by the floods, he said citizens are helping his team get the job done. On one occasion, three people from Lexington, TX came to the Lumberton station to deliver briskets and snacks for the crew.

“We’re just pretty amazed at the response from not only the fire department or police department but all of the local people down here … doing whatever it is that needed to get done,” Drivdahl said.

Those interested in donating items for evacuees are asked not to take donations to shelters. Donations of baby diapers and formula, towels, blankets and plus-sized clothing may be brought to Goodwill locations across Fort Worth.

Locations for donation centers can be found on the city’s Hurricane Harvey relief web page.