Boating in Toxic Floodwater

  • By Arlo Perez
  • Posted 08.23.18
  • NOVA

When Hurricane Harvey dumped a record-setting 48 inches of rain on Lumberton, Texas—a city 100 miles northeast of Houston—two nearby residents set out on a small motorboat to join the rescue effort amid MRSA, E. coli, and other threats. 

Running Time: 02:32


Boating in Toxic Floodwater

Published August 23, 2018

Onscreen: On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped a record-setting 48 inches of rain on Lumberton, Texas, 100 miles northeast of Houston.

With severe flooding across such a large area, the federal relief effort was stretched thin. So many residents took to their boats, conducting search and rescue and providing ready-to-eat meals called MREs.

Jerry "Snuffy" Haire lives near the Pine Island bayou, which flooded over its banks...even damaging homes built on stilts to stand above the water. Gary Arnold lives a few hundred miles away, but rushed to Lumberton to help his friend rescue neighbors and ferry them to safety.

Gary Arnold: We were taking people back and forth from one side to the other to go get their medicines at the store. We were taking MREs back and forth to people. Some of them didn’t have no place to go. Some of them’s older people, didn’t have no family. And some of them just didn’t want to leave their homes because they were scared that they’d just get throwed in with a bunch of people somewhere, and just be, you know, whatever: robbed, raped, killed. I mean, you don’t never know. It’s just a bad deal.

Jerry Haire: This is these people’s backyards.

Be careful stepping in that water for real.

Liesl Clark: What could happen to me?

Arnold: You could get Mersa, you could get Typhoid, you could get…um, what’s that other stuff? What else they say is in that water, Snuffy!? E-Coli! And there’s no telling what other chemicals are in here. Because I mean fertilizer plants blew up upstream. All this water’s coming from that direction. So just think about that. That’s a sad deal.

Onscreen: Today officials are applying for federal grants to rebuild and improve the region's disaster emergency response.



Produced and Directed by
Liesl Clark
Liesl Clark
Pete Athans
Edited by
Jean Dunoyer
Arlo Perez
Research by
Yaz Ketcherside
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018

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