Cities hit by Harvey still struggling, finding normalcy
Houston – Although many Texas families are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Harvey a year after it caused widespread damage and flooding along the Gulf Coast and in and around Houston, daily life has mostly returned to normal in many of the hardest-hit communities.
In the Houston area, where more than 150,000 homes were flooded, the mountains of debris that lined streets for months after Harvey are gone. Rockport, where the storm made landfall, had rebuilt enough by this summer to welcome back the tourists who fuel the local economy. In Port Arthur, where few buildings escaped Harvey unscathed or were insured against flooding, many are living in trailers as they rebuild their homes one room at a time and finding hope in small victories.
While it could take a decade to fully recover from Harvey, which came ashore Aug. 25, 2017, as a Category 4 storm, officials say Texas has already made great strides. However, they acknowledge that federal recovery funding has been slow in coming for some residents and that many are feeling frustrated and forgotten.
Parts of Houston, which is about 50 miles from the coast, remained flooded for weeks after Harvey, which caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas and killed 68 people, including 36 in the Houston area. But Marvin Odum, who is overseeing the recovery efforts in the nation’s fourth-largest city, said it’s been “fairly amazing” how quickly Houston got back to business.
Houston has received a total of $4.3 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency individual assistance funding, payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program and Small Business Administration, or SBA, loans.
Across Texas, $14.7 billion has been awarded to residents through FEMA, flood insurance and SBA loans, said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. The state is expected to get another $10 billion in federal funding for housing and infrastructure needs.
Odum said he’s mindful that the recovery is far from over and that the process can be very slow. He also worries that people will forget about “those pockets of the city that are still heavily devastated from the storm.”
Harvey’s 130 mph winds destroyed 30 percent of the buildings in coastal Rockport, laying waste to hotels, restaurants and affordable housing used by the workers who kept the tourism community’s service industry humming, said Mayor Pat Rios. With a lack of housing, many workers left, which has meant some restaurants can no longer stay open seven days a week and the local Walmart can’t stay open 24 hours a day.
But the city is open for business, and this summer it has welcomed “volunteer tourists” who work a few days on rebuilding efforts and then spend the rest of their time vacationing, Rios said.
“We know we’re going to rebuild, and we’ll be better and stronger than we were before,” Rios said.
Recovering from a storm like Harvey is a long process, but now that people see it’s going to take time, “they realize how far we’ve actually come,” said Pete Phillips, senior director for community development and revitalization at the Texas General Land Office, which is in charge of the state’s long-term recovery action plan.
Harvey damaged up to 85 percent of the structures in Port Arthur, a coastal city of about 55,000 people near the Louisiana border. While Port Arthur has replaced flooded garbage and police vehicles and restored city services, many residents are still living in FEMA trailers or tents on their property as they rebuild their homes, said Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman.
“Folks are doing what they can with what they have … getting one bathroom up and going, one bedroom, getting a mattress for your kids. It’s the small victories that people are looking to right now,” he said.
Freeman said he’s hoping that a $1 million check he recently got for federal aid from Hurricane Ike in 2008 doesn’t signify how long it will take to get Harvey recovery aid.
“It’s going to be a long process. But our folks are hardworking, blue collar, strong, resilient people. We’re going to be OK,” he said.