Two years after Harvey, downtown Houston may appear unscathed to the outside observer. The traffic is at its normal pace, the streets and sidewalks have been repaired, and life seems to buzz on in the long-term aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Houston residents, however, have not forgotten the 134 mph wind speeds or the 40 inches of rain that fell in four days. The storm displaced 30,000 people and killed 107. The conditions of downtown Houston two years ago were dystopian, and the flood that followed destroyed an estimated 135,000 homes, according to World Vision Organization. In total, an estimated 125 billion dollars of damage was inflicted by the storm, making it the costliest hurricane since Katrina.
Recovery Organizations, such as FEMA and Rebuild Texas, used their resources to aid the victims of the storm and the destroyed infrastructure of Houston and surrounding areas. FEMA released an infographic, accurate as of August 2018, stating that 13 million cubic yards of storm debris had been picked up, 91 thousand flood insurance claims had been made and listed a collective total of $13.86 billion from federal aid programs in survivor’s pockets.
While it is true that many organizations and individuals mobilized themselves to help the city of Houston in the wake of Harvey, many victims of Harvey have not yet received the help they need, even two years later. For evidence of the damage, look no further than the residential areas of Houston that stand in wreckage and abandonment. FEMA reports that 80% of households affected by the storm did not have flood insurance. Because of the costly damage and uninsured properties, whole neighborhoods are now left like ghost towns. David Lewis, a resident of the Meyerland district of Houston, told the Houston Chronicle that, one year after Harvey, he and his family of four were still living in a two bedroom apartment.
“Our house was beyond repair,” Lewis said. “We have to live here.”
Another Houston resident, Gerry Garcia, described Harvey’s devastation as “dramatic, but not unexpected.” He and his family were boarded up in their house for Hurricane Allison; during the storm, Garcia said that “boards flew off the windows, the walls flexed, and the wind carried whole trees. But that’s what you prepare for. The whole week, while they were warning people to get out, we were just stocking up on food, boarding the windows and buying a lot of toilet paper.”
In the wake of the 16-day ordeal, Garcia said there was no power and no gas in most homes, so he thought to spark up his grill in the backyard for something most classically Texan: a post-hurricane barbecue. His neighbors had a similar idea, and soon, the remaining residents formed a block party. After Allison, Garcia said the community came together to repair each other’s fences.
“That tradition …of helping your neighbors out after a storm; I really think that contributes a lot to relief. It really makes a difference how fast the city recovers, how much we help each other out,” Sgt. Garcia said.
The full extent of Houston’s recovery is hard to gauge. Several surveys conducted by the Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation have found that about one-fourth of those surveyed said their financial stress has worsened and one in six people said their quality of life has gone down. However, fifty-four percent said their lives have normalized, and they have moved back to their homes. More data is available at the Episcopal Health Foundation’s website.
To aid Houston’s ongoing recovery and get more information on how to prepare for the next storm, visit https://www.rebuildtx.org/.