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Coatesville Residents Still Struggle With the Effects From Hurricane Ida

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Photos by Emily Nelson

Virginia Tharp and her family are among the Chester County residents impacted by the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Ida.

Virginia Tharp is one of the hundreds still displaced in our region by Hurricane Ida’s deluge. Months later, her life is far from normal—and it may never be the same.

hurricane ida victim

Virginia Tharp gazes out the window of the hotel room she calls home.

Virginia Tharp is among the 100 people in Coatesville who lost their homes in the Sept. 1, 2021, flooding from Hurricane Ida. Strangely enough, that month also marked her third-year anniversary at Meredith Court, a stretch of older rowhomes that hugs the Brandywine Creek’s West Branch in the low-income neighborhood of Modena. “I gave birth to 12 kids,” she says. “Five live with me now, and I have four older ones here in this area.”

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Tharp’s daughters, 8-year-old Serenity (left) and 10-year-old Hailey.

Immediately after her home was inundated, Tharp’s family (including a pit bull and bearded dragon) relocated to a local hotel. A few weeks later, their home was condemned. “It’s depressing to go from a three-bedroom house to a hotel room,” she says. “We have two hotel rooms, so three per room [including] two beds, a desk and a refrigerator you can’t fit nothing in.”

hurricane remains

Tharp says a last goodbye to her home.

The surge of water was so intense that Tharp had only a 10-minute window to escape the deluge, which seemed to come from everywhere. The deck from a house went floating down the street, along with a dumpster. “Our whole basement flooded, and our washer and dryer were upside down,” Tharp says. “All my totes and baskets were tipped over, and the water was gushing in. It came up to the first floor. I piled what I could in my car, and the borough got a couple of my kids. My oldest son and another kid decided they’d wait it out and see if the water would go down. They had to be rescued by boat.”

hurricane ida remains

The ever-present dumpster at Meredith Court.

children

Tharp’s 17-year-old son, Jacob (second from left), plays basketball with friends in the hotel parking lot.

Life hasn’t been easy for Tharp. “I was homeless—like really homeless—in a place that wasn’t fit for a dog. I had eight of my kids there,” she says. “There was no hot water, stove or fridge. We were confined to one room because it had no heat. I didn’t have a car. I was basically walking to get my kids food.”

children suffering effects from hurricane

Serenity hops off the shuttle on her way to school

A recovering drug addict, Tharp has begun to turn her life around—though she had to leave a job at a Turkey Hill mini market due to health issues in 2020. “I went through all that, and now this,” she says. “But I’d do anything for my kids.”

children

Hailey plays with a friend’s baby and clowns with a pal.

Right after the flooding, there was support. “We used to get gift cards at least every other day, but now I haven’t seen any in a couple weeks,” Tharp says. “There are some of us who are still displaced and are going to stay displaced. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to. They’re saying there’s no expiration date—but I have an expiration date. I’m giving it another month.”

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