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Harvey Hit Poor Neighborhoods In Northeast Houston The Hardest


Some people have stayed in their homes, and that's been difficult, too, especially in low-income neighborhoods in east Houston. NPR's Rebecca Hersher talked to people there who are struggling to get the basics, like food, water and information.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Capriesha Whitley Price called 911 over and over during the storm. The operator told her someone would be there in between one hour and three days. No one came until officials arrived to see if anyone had died, not to rescue them.

CAPRIESHA WHITLEY PRICE: There was water all in the house. This whole thing was like a lake.

HERSHER: She says they're trying to get help now that the water has receded from the first floor. On Tuesday, they registered online for FEMA assistance with interim housing, but they need food and medical care now.

PRICE: We have an infant baby. My elderly mother's inside, but we don't have formula. We're running out of formula.

HERSHER: Capriesha is overwhelmed. Her landlord hasn't been picking up the phone. She has no idea when she might hear back from FEMA. Up the street, Whitlee Hurd and Reartta Carson live in apartments with their seven kids. The water came up to the windows earlier this week. They live on the first floor.

WHITLEE HURD: Three times we call for boats. Nobody came. Nobody came for us.

HERSHER: Hurd said they wanted to evacuate. Debris in the rising water broke a window in one of the kid's bedrooms. It was terrifying. But by the time the National Guard arrived, the water was going down, and the Texas heat was back.

HURD: The Army people came over here, and we told them, we don't need rescuing. We need food, and we need fans over here. We don't got nothing. We still ain't got nothing.

HERSHER: The guardsmen told the women they couldn't help with supplies. They were in rescue mode. But at that point, the families wanted to stay. So Carson walked more than a mile through the water to the nearest grocery store only to be yelled at by a frightened owner, afraid she was there to rob the place as others had.

REARTTA CARSON: First of all, baby, I don't want to rob nothing. My child need to eat. I got kids at home that's hungry. Y'all not sending nobody in here to try to help us, so all we can do is walk through this water and try to find something.

HERSHER: When the water finally went down on Wednesday, Hurd drove half an hour to a grocery store closer to downtown and stood in line for an hour to buy food. But money is tight. She says what she really needs is emergency food stamps to help feed her five kids. And both women say it seems to them like emergency resources seem to be concentrated in richer, whiter neighborhoods.

HURD: They were sending to the ones that were not our color. You know what I'm saying? If you have money, you was getting up out of here. The less-fortunate ones - we had to walk.

HERSHER: Officials say they were overwhelmed by the volume of calls and that the rescue mission is citywide. Like many people in northeast Houston, the flood tipped the financial scale from getting by to not getting by. This part of the city has a median household income of less than $30,000 a year, significantly lower than the citywide average. A lot of families just shelled out savings for school uniforms and supplies only to be stuck at home now, unable to work because school is canceled until further notice.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: You can have the (unintelligible). That's what it...

HERSHER: Back at the Price's house, Capriesha and her husband, Lavar, are packing up everything that isn't waterlogged. It isn't much. Rent is due tomorrow. They don't have it. They say they haven't gotten help from the city.

PRICE: We're going to try to drive our vehicles. They got mostly flooded, but they seem to be running OK. And we're going to try to evacuate to Austin.

HERSHER: They've decided they can't stay in Houston. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO'S "EXZEBACHE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.