Doris Baxter escaped Harvey, but its aftermath was a storm of its own.
She was awoken last week by first responders, who frantically ordered her to evacuate her Vidor apartment. With her service dog on her lap, Doris drove her 2017 Toyota Rav4 through the flood waters blocking her neighborhood. The water gushed onto her floorboard. Outside, it reached the SUV's door handles.
Doris anticipated that moment. This past spring, she placed all her valuables into a safety deposit box, planning ahead for the possibility of a treacherous hurricane season. She had scoped out the Wells Fargo Bank on Dowlen Road in Beaumont. She figured its higher location would make it less vulnerable to flooding in just such a storm -- a trait that would protect her most personal documents from harm.
Her plan was almost perfect.
Doris safely found a Best Western in Louisiana, where she rode out Harvey's immediate aftermath. Knowing she would return to devastation, Doris planned to contact FEMA and begin the tedious registration process. Among the mandatory documents FEMA requires were Doris' Social Security card and insurance paperwork -- both of which were sitting dry and protected inside the safety deposit box she had opened at Wells Fargo.
Doris called Wells Fargo repeatedly for days, but was never able to reach a human being. The phone would ring and ring, then disconnect without a message or voicemail greeting, she said.
The bank did not flood.
On Tuesday, as more Texas roads began to open, Doris drove back to Beaumont. When she reached the bank, she found the parking lot full but the bank closed. Roughly 25 people, just like Doris, were trying to get their valuables from inside. Some were elderly. Some were crying, Doris said.
Doris called a corporate 1-800 number for Wells Fargo, where a representative told her a supervisor would return her call, Doris explained. Nobody called back. When Doris called again Wednesday and spoke with a supervisor, there was no estimate for when the bank would be reopened, she said.
"The supervisor said we can't reach anybody at the branch," Doris said. "I said 'why?' Did they all go to Tahiti?"
12 News contacted a representative for Wells Fargo, who said all three Beaumont locations were closed, and there was no timeline for reopening any of the three branches. When pressured to explain why the banks were closed, Wells Fargo said it was unclear if the buildings were "structurally sound."
12 News also spoke with Michael King Thursday, vice president of communications for the southwest region at Wells Fargo. He said branches in the Southeast Texas area were closed due to staffing issues and some damage. Some employees suffered flooding. Some could not get to work due to flooding, and some had childcare issues due to the storm.
Wells Fargo is also reportedly flying in staff from across the country to help branches hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.
Doris said there was no noticeable damage to the bank housing the documents she needs to register for FEMA assistance.
"If I can't prove who I am, I can't put a roof over my head," Doris said.
Doris thought spending roughly $100 per year for a safety deposit box was a worthwhile investment, but the ordeal has her re-thinking that strategy.
"As soon as I walk in that bank, I'm closing everything at Wells Fargo," Doris previously told 12 News.
King said now, 12 branches in Southeast Texas are open, including all Beaumont branches. He also said Doris "has been taken care of" as of Thursday.
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