As Hurricane Harvey worked its way up the Texas Gulf Coast, John and Ethel Minniefield watched the unfolding destruction on the news and wondered if they should leave their home. Although close to the water, Lakeside Park, a quiet subdivision in Port Arthur, Texas, had not experienced a serious flood since 1961.
They decided to stay, but around 11 p.m. Ethel got up to answer a frantic knock on the door and found herself wading through ankle-deep water. Their neighbor was evacuating and knowing John suffers from dementia and requires oxygen treatments, didn’t want to leave without them. Ethel packed a few things and called her brother-in-law to ask if they could stay with him. Shortly after, they arrived at what should have been a safe haven.
After several hours of hard rain, it was clear they were still in danger. By morning, the water was lapping at the door and continuing to rise. Ethel, in constant contact with her children, learned Navy Seahawk helicopters were using a highpoint in the neighborhood a couple of blocks away as a rescue pad to airlift residents trapped by rising waters. The family decided if they were going to leave, it would have to be now. Wading through chest-deep water, they made their way to the pickup point. The Minniefields were flown to a bridge and bused to a temporary emergency shelter where relatives, unaffected by floodwaters, picked them up.
“The Red Cross had set up outside of a church and they had cooked for people,” said Ethel. “They gave us food, blankets and clothes. The smiles on their faces, that was the real thing. The smiles on their faces made you feel so good. People are so, so good.”
They thought the worst was over, but quickly realized, in their haste, John’s extra oxygen canisters were left behind.
“By the next morning we were out of oxygen,” said Ethel. “The little canisters only hold two hours so I called 211 and they told us to call the Red Cross. A lady from the Red Cross told me to bring John to the high school and they would put him on oxygen. So sure enough, that’s where we brought him.”
John was treated for a few days, staying until nurses could bring his oxygen levels back to 100. When the roadways were safe, they traveled to Dallas to stay with their daughter. Once there, Ethel applied for Red Cross financial assistance, but had trouble getting approved. When she originally applied, she transposed a couple of letters in her email address. She was referred to a caseworker and within a few weeks was able to use the financial aid to buy groceries and replace some shoes and clothes.
While they were safely in Dallas, the Minnifields son, who lives in Pearland, Texas, drove to their home in Port Arthur and with a little help from friends and family, mucked out what was left of his parents’ home.
“Clothes you can get back, but we lost so much of our history all at one time,” said Ethel. “I’m a picture person, so I had about forty books of pictures. We saved some of the photos, but all of the ones with the kids when they were small, all of those are gone.”
Thankfully, John and Ethel have insurance and their son returned every weekend to help oversee the rebuild. In March, nearly seven months after Harvey turned their world upside down, the Minniefields will return to the home they have shared for over 51 years.
“At first it was like a black wall where I couldn’t see nothing in front of me,” said Ethel. “When I left there, I didn’t see no hope for coming back; I didn’t see no hope for nothing. I was just devastated. Now I feel pretty good about it. Now I can see where the black wall is getting brighter and brighter.”
Story by, Ekland Durousseau, Photos by Krystal Smith, Red Cross contributors