BEYOND THE STORM — Keeping the light burning: Three Port Arthur teachers endured loss but never missed a beat

Published 5:44 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Three educators with the Port Arthur Independent School District — Loyce Comeaux, Glenn Mitchell and Germain Eddie — suffered loss and endured challenges as many other Southeast Texans. Through it all, however, they never missed a beat in guiding their students’ education.

Loyce Comeaux

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Comeaux, assistant principal at Memorial High School, evacuated early in the week before the really bad weather arrived from Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. In fact, her house on Seventh Street near Stadium Road in Port Arthur started flooding Monday morning. Water was also up to her car’s tires.

Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Jefferson County Precinct 3 commissioner, picked her up and brought her to the Holiday Inn Express. Unbeknownst to her, she would spend the next 2 ½ months in motels before she was evicted because she failed to ask for an extension. The Federal Emergency Management Agency stopped paying for her lodging and she now had to pay.

Meanwhile, she had 2½ feet of water in her house. She lost everything except her clothes. The FEMA inspector told her the home was livable, she said, although there was mold and mildew inside and the floors were warped.

But her brother-in-law had an RV in his driveway where she could stay. She’s now leasing a townhome because there were no apartments available.

Comeaux said FEMA finally gave her some money to replace some personal property, but the amount was so low she couldn’t even purchase a bedroom suite.

“Thankfully I have my health, my strength, and my faith to survive,” she said. “I’m in good spirits and I’m in the right frame of mind. Others suffered the same plight and we’re in the process of rebuilding.”

Glenn Mitchell

Mitchell, principal at Memorial High, was born and raised in Port Arthur. He recently returned home after living in the Midwest for decades.

He said the last time he could remember such horrendous flooding in the city was when he was a student at Lamar Elementary School at 18th Street and Texas Avenue.

“They didn’t cancel school. The whole class was there. It was a regular school day. The water descended and we were all OK,” he said. “When I saw the water from Harvey it was like déjà vu that moment.”

His renter’s insurance did not cover floods or rising water. He received around 2 feet of water inside, ruining his expensive shoes and sweaters, his golf clubs and his electronics in addition to furniture.

Mitchell thought he could escape in his car. Some neighbors joined him because they wanted to get away from the flood too. Unfortunately, his car stalled at the gate of his complex. Mitchell is 6-feet 4-inches and water was still up to his waist when he waded through.

His aunt lives on the second floor of his complex and he’s been staying with her in a one-bedroom apartment until his apartment is ready. He bought a couch that folds out into a bed to sleep on.

“There was no room in the inn,” Mitchell said. “All the prices doubled (for rental properties). They’ve done some cosmetics stuff indoors (of his apartment). The process is extremely slow.”

He declined a Small Business Administration loan and he said FEMA has not given “one iota of assistance.”

Many people offered their trucks to move his belongings out.

One moment right after the flood still stands out in Mitchell’s mind about how Harvey struck everyone equally.

He passed by Stephen Jackson Academy in downtown Port Arthur. He recalled he was so hungry and there was no place to eat because everything was underwater.

The academy prepared some food, but Mitchell said he was too proud to ask for a meal until Jackson’s wife told him to “get some food because you’re just like us.”

“It was like feeding the 5,000. It made me humble and appreciative,” Mitchell said with emotion. “I offered to buy a meal, but she said, “Oh, no.”

Mitchell believes Harvey was God’s will and a test.

“We hear bad things happen to good people, but we’re not exempt from bad things because we live and walk by faith,” he said. “We can make good of a bad situation. It made me a better person. I lived in the Midwest for 40 years, but hurricanes generate a different type of empathy when people are displaced.”

Germain Eddie

Eddie is the secondary special education supervisor for PAISD and a central office employee.

She was rescued from her home by a neighbor and his truck. She was driven to Gulfway Drive and Savannah Avenue — the only dry spot at the former McDonald’s location — until a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter landed in the parking lot and brought everyone to Orange. From there, she went to the Lake Charles Civic Center where the American Red Cross was set up.

After staying there for two nights she was given a choice: go farther east in Louisiana or up to Tennessee. Eddie said neither option sounded appealing.

Carolyn Thibodeaux, children’s librarian for the Port Arthur Public Library, was in Lake Charles at the time and took her to a motel room in Sulphur. Eddie found alternate back road routes to make it back to Port Arthur on Sept. 2.

Her house was damaged and unlivable. Her former supervisor in the Beaumont ISD has allowed Eddie and her granddaughter to stay in her home ever since, commuting back and forth from Beaumont to Port Arthur.

She said FEMA told her Eddie’s home qualified for the PREPS — Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering program. However, with gaping holes in the walls and partial sheetrock, a mini refrigerator, a two-burner stove and two window unit air-conditioners only, her home remains unlivable.

The most difficult thing for Eddie in Harvey recovery was the death of her son, Melvin Joseph Maxwell Jr. He evacuated to Dallas but made his way back to Houston.

He was found stabbed to death in a motel room.

She said family, friends and coworkers have been wonderful to her, particularly Debra Cartwright, special education director, who has been like a big sister.

“The only time I missed work was preparing for the funeral,” she said.

This story appeared in Volume 2 of The Port Arthur News Profile, April 15, 2018