Oil Town: The Storm Was Only One Issue

The day after her birthday, the storm hit. The water began to rise higher than light poles, and Tamika Reed, resident of Port Arthur, Texas, had to think of a plan to help herself and her loved ones as well.

Without any hesitation, Reed grabbed an air mattress to rescue her family and neighbors by riding the waves of Hurricane Harvey.

“It was devastating, but, throughout it all, I stayed calm,” said Reed.

Nothing but surviving the storm was on her mind. She can’t explain how she was able to have a clear mind and think straight in such a horrendous storm. Reed, and many interviewed in Texas, agreed that the entire state came together unlike at any other time in its history.

Residents who knew they could help did and, if they hadn’t, then even more lives would have been lost.

At the age of 34, Reed can proudly say she survived one of the worst hurricanes known to the United States, but just because she survived doesn’t mean things are over.

“No matter how much you prepared for something, you’re still unprepared,” said Reed.

Texas is still suffering from damages, especially to the people and the animals. Many were left homeless, broke and hungry, and those who do still have their homes have to rebuild them from bottom to top.

Water forced its way into the smallest cracks and, with no air circulating through the panels, mold began to appear. Now many people are left living with the mold and with that mold comes cancer. So, not only are these people suffering from a destroyed home, but now they’re fighting for the will to survive.

In the city of Port Arthur, where the population doesn’t even reach 60,000, residents say they are being killed off, and there’s nothing they can do.

“[Port Arthur] wasn’t good before the hurricane, it wasn’t good during the hurricane, and it isn’t good after the hurricane,” said Reed.

It’s not just the water and the mold that’s making the people of Port Arthur sick, but it’s also the massive oil refineries.

At night when the refineries are lit up, the industrial complex resembles a town of its own.

The toxins from these oil industries have been harming the residents since their birth, they believe. Texas has been producing oil since the late 1800’s, but it wasn’t until 1901 when the “Spindletop” appeared on top of a hill that Texas became the nation’s largest oil refinery state.

A giant outpouring of oil exploded from a drilling site at Spindletop Hill, Texas, which created a mound caused by an underground salt deposit located near Beaumont in Jefferson County of southeastern Texas.

Since that day back in December, Texas, especially Port Arthur, has been producing much of the nation’s oil. And with the refineries lighting up the sky at night, they are producing tons of light pollution too.

Reed, just like other residents of Port Arthur, knows the refineries are making her sick, but residents say they need the oil companies to stay because there aren’t many jobs around town.

She used to work for an oil refinery making $16 hour and, if she would’ve kept going, the pay could have reached between $30-60 an hour.

According to Reed, you hate the oil refineries as much as you need them.

During the storm, the refineries were shut down, which was a good thing for the air of Port Arthur but a tragedy for their economy. Ironically, oil is the city’s way of life while it’s arguably taking away the residents’ ability to safely breathe.

“It’s been like this,” said Reed. “You just become accustomed.”

So, where does the city of Port Arthur go from here?

There’s no definite answer for that because how do you rebuild an entire city that’s been suffering for over 100 years? Reed doesn’t believe there’s much the government could do. Plus, Texas wasn’t the only state hit by a horrible storm, so she feels the government has its hands tied up at the moment.

“It’s not just Port Arthur,” said Reed. “It’s everywhere.”

Once the storm stopped, and the water slowly departed, the oil refineries were back to business, just like the rest of the state.

Reed is continuing to live her life while attending school to be a funeral director.

If this city is so hazardous, though, why do people stay? According to Reed, many of the houses are homesteads, meaning they’ve been passed down from one generation to the next.

If Port Arthur is all you know, you don’t have much money, and you’ve been given a free home, would you leave?

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED WITH MEDIA MILWAUKEE ON 12/27/17

Nyesha StoneComment