Hurricane Harvey’s Overlooked Victims


In Beaumont, a member of the National Guard makes his way through high water in an attempt to search a trailer park for residents who may be stranded by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Photograph by Philip Montgomery for The New Yorker

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the coast of Texas a week ago,
its winds were blowing at a hundred and thirty miles per hour—faster
than any other hurricane to hit the United States in more than a decade.
The storm wrecked Rockport, Corpus Christi, and other coastal
communities. But the scale of that destruction was quickly overshadowed
by the unprecedented volume of rain that fell on Houston, as the
highways in America’s fourth-largest city became roaring rivers, the
water topped by whitecaps. Houston’s recovery will be expensive and
slow, but the sense of urgency that gripped the city has followed the
storm east.

Yesterday afternoon, the photographer Philip Montgomery visited Beaumont
and Port Arthur, two Texan towns near the Louisiana border, ninety miles
from Houston. As the rain clouds shifted, Houston’s relief marked the
beginning of their suffering. Now, as the floodwaters recede, in some
economically depressed areas desperation is setting in. At a trailer
park in Beaumont, Montgomery saw a resident wading through waist-deep
water to scour his wrecked home for leftover food. Another man,
searching for tools in his truck, carried a machete, to protect himself
from creatures in the murky waters: “Snakes, alligators, and whatever
else is in there,” he said.

In Port Arthur, the flooding shut down the largest oil refinery in the
United States and damaged every item in the single-story showroom at
Mike’s Furniture. Some of Mike’s items could be salvaged but not sold,
and, after residents tossed their own moldy mattresses, tables,
cabinets, and mirrors into the streets, they came to the parking lot at
Mike’s to collect whatever could still be used. The store had no flood

Employees of Mike’s Furniture, in Port Arthur, toss furniture damaged by Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters into a massive pile in the front parking lot of the store.

Photograph by Philip Montgomery for The New Yorker

Elsewhere in town, Montgomery went to the home of the Davis family,
where adolescent boys were helping their grandmother gut the house. “The
house was sweltering,” Montgomery said. “And in the bathroom there was
an unbearable, toxic smell.” One boy was knocking out mold-covered tiles
with a shovel. “When I went in, he told me, ‘You don’t want to get any
of that on you.’ ” Outside, Montgomery found family photographs floating
in the streets, washing up on lawns.

Back in Beaumont, firefighters waded through the trailer park, looking
for anyone who had been stranded. “When can people start going back to
their homes?” Montgomery asked him. “Not for a while,” one of them said.