Recovery

Port Aransas Struggles Back to Its Feet After Harvey’s Wrath

Many residents critical to the Texas city’s economic health were forced to leave.

by Jim McKay / August 31, 2018
This June 13, 2018, photo shows The Holiday Inn Express being repaired after damages from Hurricane Harvey in Port Aransas, Texas. The hurricane blew out windows, stripped parts of the roof and filled the hotel with about two feet of water. AP/Ana Ramirez

Port Aransas, Texas, is a resort community of about 4,000 residents many of whom depend on the hospitality industry for their livelihood.

A year after Hurricane Harvey stormed through, the recovery is ongoing, with businesses struggling to gain back their workforce much of which was driven out of town when Harvey decimated much of the housing.

According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, the city’s occupancy tax revenues were down 50 percent through June and help-wanted signs were everywhere.

The report said that 100 percent of businesses were shut down for a time and 85 percent of homes were damaged or destroyed. Harvey cost the city a total of $1 billion in damages, destroying police, court and emergency medical services buildings.

Equally as critical, none of the six Section 8 apartment buildings survived Harvey’s wrath and those occupants had nowhere to go, except out of town.

County Emergency Manager Rick McLester said the recovery is going well, but if he had one thing to change, it would be that he’d get into long-term recovery mode sooner.

Immediately after the disaster, the city went into emergency operations as per the game-plan, according to McLester. “My game-plan was that once emergency ops were over, there would be a transition into long-term recovery. We didn’t pull the trigger on long-term recovery until month three. That ain’t going to happen again. I will pull the trigger on long-term recovery, probably on day three next time so it can run concurrently with emergency ops.”

McLester explained that the hundreds of people in the Section 8 housing who were displaced were critical to the city’s recovery. “They are our maids in our hotels, our dishwashers in our restaurants, our cooks,” he said. “Why wait, that’s three months to get applications out, to get case managers hitting the ground and getting these people’s needs met. I had $300,000 in the bank after a month with no plan to disburse it. That’s wrong.”

And he said these renters are often a casualty of disasters. “People who don’t have insurance are not candidates for SBA. Those folks lost everything. Renters are a classic example. You’re pushed aside if you’re a renter.”

As is the case in most disasters, help in the form of donations poured in soon after the hurricane. “I was expecting $50,000 or $100,000,” McLester said. “After a month we had $1.2 million.”

He said that luckily, there was a recovery plan in place and an infrastructure to receive and manage those donations. Aransas also got help from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which brought in two retired recovery experts to help.

They helped get the grant application process moving and now, those grants are coming in. McLester said money is being allocated and private-public partnerships are being developed to help the apartment owners rebuild the affordable housing.