Following the unprecedented flooding Hurricane Harvey caused in southeast Texas in late August, Cy-Fair business owners, schools and community groups are strategizing to restore damage and return to some semblance of normalcy in the months ahead.
The Harris County Flood Control District reported 1 trillion gallons of water fell on Harris County in four days, which would cover the county’s 1,800 square miles with an average of 33 inches of water, HCFCD Public Outreach Manager Sandra Ortiz said.
“Disastrous flooding occurred on nearly every watershed in Harris County with many creeks and bayous rising to record or near record levels,” Ortiz said. “Historical records held by the October 1994 flood and Tropical Storm Allison [were] exceeded by Harvey at many locations.”
An average of about 30 inches of rain was measured at several points along Cypress Creek by HCFCD’s Flood Warning System from Aug. 25-30—more than twice the amount that fell during the Tax Day flood in April 2016, according to county statistics.
“If there’s any good news, it’s that we didn’t get it any worse than we did,” said Jim Robertson, chairman of the Cypress Creek Greenway Project, which aims to connect green spaces along the creek and mitigate flooding.
Although many portions of Cy-Fair did not flood during Harvey, areas located near Cypress Creek and Little Cypress Creek, such as the Norchester and Lakewood Forest neighborhoods, as well as those near FM 529, experienced significant flooding. White Oak Bayou also topped its banks in Jersey Village.
According to Cy-Fair ISD Superintendent Mark Henry, the CFISD Police Department conducted more than 200 water rescues in the midst of the storm.
Harris County’s plans
HCFCD officials said nearly every gauge along the 100-year flood plains—including several in Cy-Fair—indicated record flooding events.
While officials are still assessing damage, Dimetra Hamilton, communications manager for Harris County Engineering Department, said the cost of infrastructure repairs and debris operations will be staggering for the county.
“Every area within the 100-year floodplains on all the National Flood Insurance Program-studied streams were hit the hardest,” she said. “The areas that were impacted by the April 2016 Tax Day event experienced similar or worse property damage.”
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said recovery throughout the county would slow down after Hurricane Irma—which hit the U.S. in early September, according to the National Hurricane Center—caused damage to eastern states, drawing resources away from the region.
“It will make our recovery more difficult simply because of moving resources to other parts of the country,” Emmett said on Sept. 5. “That could have an impact. Irma will be a problem regardless [of where it makes landfall].”
Emmett said the county is working with DRC Emergency Services—a disaster management organization with an office in Galveston—for debris removal throughout unincorporated areas.
“You need big equipment to pick it up and put it in particularly large trucks,” he said. “What that means is if there’s another event that competes with that asset, then that’s a problem. And that other event is called Hurricane Irma.”
Harris County Engineer John Blount said Harvey recovery will be the largest debris operation the county has ever undertaken. DRC will make three passes in front of each property before compacting the debris and depositing it in landfills in the four months following the storm, he said.
County officials also said multiple county buildings were damaged during the flood event, including courthouse annexes on Clay Road and Cypresswood Drive. Both operations will relocate to leased space throughout the county until further notice.
The Cypresswood Drive facility—which also houses a Precinct 4 constable’s office station and the District 1 station of the Harris County sheriff’s office—was a total loss, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said.
“At the Cypresswood station, anything under 4 feet is wet and damaged,” Herman said.
Schools assess damage
CFISD was closed for two weeks during and after the storm, while district facilities served as shelters when flooding began to force residents from their homes.
On Aug. 30, Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency’s commissioner of education, announced all school districts and charter schools that fell within the area of Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster proclamation for Hurricane Harvey were eligible to apply for waivers so they would not have to make up missed days.
CFISD has applied for those waivers as students missed nine days of school when the first day of the 2017-18 school year was postponed from
Aug. 28 to Sept. 11. The district is also offering free lunch to all students through the month of September, regardless of eligibility.
Chief Operations Officer Roy Sprague said 87 district facilities took on water, leaving many with wet flooring, damaged ceiling tiles and fallen trees. Moore Elementary School will require a complete renovation, scheduled to last through the end of 2017. In total, Harvey caused up to $14 million in damage to CFISD schools, Sprague said.
Six campuses, including Cypress Ranch High School, Rennell Elementary School and Anthony Middle School, were affected by a tornado in the Towne Lake area that knocked down trees and damaged some fencing, exterior and windows.
From Aug. 28 to Sept. 3, the Berry Center was transformed into a temporary shelter and then a point of distribution benefiting nearly 5,000 families. Around the corner, Lone Star College-CyFair collected donations and had 96 cots to temporarily house displaced families and pets.
“The outpouring of donations from our community, cities across Texas and states as far away as California, Idaho, Iowa, Ohio, Georgia and Arkansas was incredible,” said Leslie Francis, director of marketing and business relations in CFISD. “Every car or truck that pulled up had a different story on why they felt called to donate. Any urgent need was immediately met.”
Families and individuals in need received about $75 worth of water, food, cleaning supplies, baby products and other items from the Berry Center. Several schools also held donation drives to benefit the community.
CFISD Director of Athletics Ray Zepeda said student athletes and coaches set up bedding at shelters, unloaded trucks with supplies and removed flooring and furniture from homes.
“We made a collective decision as a department this summer to emphasize community service with our athletic teams throughout the school year,” Zepeda said in a statement. “While we could have never imagined that it would be so critical so early, our athletes and coaches have far exceeded anything that we possibly could have imagined in regards to service to their community.”
The district is now accepting financial contributions to purchase supplies for affected students and employees.
“If it wasn’t for these school districts coming forth and the churches, we would be in a world of hurt,” said state Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Spring. “It’s been overwhelming but the biggest blessing I’ve seen.”
Local churches like The MET Church—which temporarily housed 800 displaced individuals at its Jones Road location—have mobilized teams into damaged homes to begin the restoration process.
Lead pastor Matt Roberson said, as of Sept. 8, teams had “mudded out” about 150 homes, but there was still a need for services at about 12,000 additional homes in the area. Teams from across the U.S. are volunteering to help in the rebuilding process and will stay on the same cots where displaced residents slept during their time at the church.
“As much as we talk about the physical need, I think the most pressing need is for people to know that they’re not alone,” Roberson said. “If people would pick up a hammer and go tear things out, learn someone’s name—sometimes it’s just knowing they have a friend.”
The MET is collecting financial contributions to help families without flood insurance pay deductibles as they rebuild. Roberson said he estimated the community’s rebuilding process would take a minimum of two years.
Residents in Coles Crossing converted their community center into a donation center to serve 100-300 local families daily with clothing, baby products, toiletries, food and cleaning supplies.
Local businesses also reached out to help. Along with several other companies in the area, Kroger Marketplace donated $15,000 worth of new clothing, Chick-fil-A fed volunteers, and Legacy Paper & Packaging—owned by Coles Crossing resident Gary Messer—donated five pallets of supplies.
“This wasn’t just something that happened to one neighbor or a few streets,” said Karen McConaughey, Coles Crossing resident and project leader. “Harvey impacted thousands, and it was literally taking thousands to put [the community] back together again.”
Leslie Martone, president of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce, said Harvey affected not only residential communities but the business community as well.
“We are not an area that typically would evacuate … so many families didn’t make the decision to evacuate and had water damage in their homes,” Martone said. “We have seen businesses helping individuals, homes and churches as they continue their recovery and rebuilding efforts.”
Several Cy-Fair businesses flooded, including The Hope Chest, Cy-Hope’s resale market, which sustained about 3 feet of water throughout the first floor of the Barker Cypress Road storefront.
Executive Director Lynda Zelenka said after opening in September 2016, this August was going to be the first month that profits from the store would be able to support programs for children at the nonprofit. The building was protected by flood insurance, but donated items are needed to restock the store, which is set to open again in early October.
“We’re not pulling back from our other programs because of this,” Zelenka said. “We’re just having the faith that we’re going to be stronger and in the end, this is going to be a blessing somehow.”
Additional reporting by Anna Dembowski, Zac Ezzone and Vanessa Holt
CORRECTION: A quote from Dimetra Hamilton, communications manager for Harris County Engineering Department, was initially misattributed to Kaci Woodrome, communications manager for Harris County Precinct 4. The quote was updated with correct attribution.