HOUSTON – While 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, the 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 rubble that lined the streets months after Harvey are gone. Rockport, where the storm made landfall, had rebuilt enough this summer to welcome back the tourists that fuel the local economy. In Port Arthur, where a number of buildings that escaped Harvey unharmed or insured against floods, many lives in the trailer 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, who came ashore Aug. 25, 2017, as a Category 4 hurricane, officials say Texas has already made great strides. However, they acknowledge that the federal recovery funding has been slow for some residents and that many are frustrated and forgotten.
s of Houston, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the coast, remained under water for weeks after Harvey, who is the cause of 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 country’s fourth largest city, said it is already “quite amazing” how quickly Houston back into the business world.
Houston has a total of $4.3 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency individual assistance funding, the payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program and Small Business Administration, or SBA loans.
In Texas, $14.7 billion is allocated 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 make another $10 billion in federal funding for housing and infrastructure.
Odum said he is aware that the recovery is not over yet and that the process can be very slow. He also worries that people will forget about “that pockets of the city that are still heavily destroyed for the storm.”
Harvey’s 130 km / h (210 km / h) winds destroyed 30 percent of the buildings in the coast-Rockport, laying waste to hotels, restaurants, and affordable housing used by the workers who have kept the tourism community service industry humming, said Mayor Pat Rios. With a lack of housing, many workers, which has meant some of the restaurants can no longer remain open seven days a week, and the local Walmart can’t keep open 24 hours a day.
But the city is open for business, and this summer has welcomed “volunteer tourists” for a few days on reconstruction, and then the rest of their time on vacation, Rios said.
“We know that we are going to build, and we’ll be better and stronger than we were,” Rios said.
The repair of a storm such as Harvey is a long process, but now that people see that it’s going to take time, “they realize how far we are already,” said Peter Phillips, senior director for the development and revitalization of the Texas General Land Office, that the leadership of the state 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 still live in FEMA trailers or tents on their property as they rebuild their homes, said Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman.
“The people are doing what they can with what they have … getting a bathroom up and a bedroom, a mattress for your children. It is the small victories that people are searching for now,” he said.
Freeman said that he hopes that a $1 million check he recently received for the federal support of the Hurricane Ike in 2008 does not indicate how long it will take to Harvey recovery support.
“It is a long process. But our people are hardworking, blue collar, strong, resilient people. We go OK,” he said.
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