By Brad Meyer
It wasn’t the winds associated with Category 4 Hurricane Harvey that delivered devastation and destruction to the Texas Gulf Coast; it was an onslaught of torrential rains − as much as 50 inches in some locations − that soaked the ground, swelled waterways and forced the release of a massive amount of water from dams and reservoirs on an unsuspecting and unprepared populace.
Hurricane Harvey, the strongest storm in terms of wind speed to hit the country since 2004, made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor lateon Aug. 25, accompanied by bands of torrential rain that stretched over the greater Houston area and much of southeast Texas. Unlike other storm systems that impact an area and move on, Harvey meandered slowly back over previously covered ground with a constant deluge of rain.
Localized flooding is nothing new to the region, and water began to back up in areas with a history of flooding. Continued heavy rains began to put pressure on area dams and water reservoirs, resulting in a release of water into waterways already swelled beyond capacity. By Aug. 27, Cypress Creek as well as the Brazos, Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers were all at or above normal capacity. That’s when officials in charge of dams and levees began controlled releases of water to protect the integrity of their structures. The result was a rush of additional water into already clogged waterways − and massive flooding downstream from their respective watershed areas.
The Stable Gate subdivision in Cypress, built in 2003, experienced its second flood in as many years. Many residents had nearly a foot of water in their home following the devastating “Tax Day” floods of April 2016. The impact of Hurricane Harvey was worse for many residents.
And while this part of Cypress was not located in an official “flood zone,” experts say the increased frequency and severity of floods could be, in part, of explosive growth in the region. Former pasture and prairie land that once absorbed potential floodwaters are now covered with concrete due to an increase of population as well as residential and commercial construction.
Population in the Cypress Creek watershed grew by nearly 70 percent between 2000 and 2010, reaching nearly 580,000. Hurricane Harvey arrived as the worst rainstorm to befall the Houston area − besting Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which was before Stable Gate was built.
While final results are still to be assessed, officials estimate the death toll at 50 and projectHurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed more than 130,000 homes and more than 500,000 vehicles in the Houston area alone. High water beyond the official flood zone meant many victims of the storm had no flood insurance. Estimates are only one in six homeowners in the affected area were covered.
That’s important because typical homeowners insurance covers damage from falling water, but specifically does not cover loss from rising water − as in a flood. Without flood insurance, many owners will bear theburden of restoring their homes without financial assistance.
The scene in many suburban residential neighborhoods was the same: mountains of ruined furniture, wet carpet and padding and piles of personal possessions, all soaked in filthy floodwater. Homeowners discovered that floodwater is a major problem for homes constructed in the modern era − requiring the removal of all of the wet items, including sheet rock, to allow the slab and the sidewall studs to dry in order to prevent the subsequent growth of mold.
Early estimates on the cost of repairs associated with Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas are at $160 billion and climbing − more than the combined cost of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, according to AccuWeather. Texas Governor Greg Abbott pegged the cost at closer to $180 billion.
Despite the widespread damage, area residents demonstrated remarkable ingenuity and support for their neighbors and fellow citizens. While the flood waters were rising, ordinary citizens joined first responders in helping people evacuate dangerous areas. Volunteers from surrounding communities and nearby states made their way into flooded areas to rescue people and pets unable to escape high water.
And as the waters receded and property owners returned to their homes to survey the damage, neighbors and volunteers came out to help remove furniture, furnishings and belongings destroyed by rancid floodwaters. Many continued by helping rip out carpet, padding and drywall to help salvage the property from further damage and prepare for rebuilding.
Food and water was brought into flooded areas by many charitable organizations in support of the cleanup effort − and in many cases the donations of food, water and cleaning supplies came from unaffiliated neighbors and individuals who simply wanted to help.
Nationally, Americans watched in horror at the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Harvey as the event played out. Many organizations and celebrities launched high profile fundraising efforts in support of the Texas Gulf Coast.
And while many escaped direct impact from the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, the aftermath is likely to have long term effects, both locally and nationally. Expect prices on single family homes to rise as flood victims look to move on from their losses − and temporary leases and rental units will be in shorter supply and at a higher price point. Building materials and experienced tradesmen who can install them may also be in short supply for a while.
“This will be a devastating disaster, probably the worst disaster the state’s seen,” William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said. “The recovery to this event is going to last many years to be able to help Texas and the people impacted by this event achieve a new normal.”