After Hurricane Harvey dropped up to 50 inches of rain along the Gulf Coast, communities are left picking up the pieces.
Harvey broke the rainfall record of 48 inches for a tropical system in the continental U.S. at two locations in the Houston metro area, including at Mary’s Creek and Winding Road in Friendswood where 50.04 inches fell Aug. 25-29, according to the Harris County Flood Control District.
“This disaster has touched everyone in some way; thousands have been affected,” Friendswood Mayor Kevin Holland said.
The average annual rainfall for the Greater Houston area is 49.8 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Pearland also experienced up to 30 to 40 inches of rain over the same four-day period, according to officials.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to every individual in our community,” Pearland Mayor Tom Reid said. “Our businesses have stepped up. Our churches, our organizations have made such fabulous contributions to our community.”
Assessing the damage
The deluge of rainfall caused 500-year flood events along Clear Creek at Hwy. 288 in Pearland, all through Friendswood and into League City, wreaking widespread devastation and pushing people out of their homes. Structures within a 500-year flood plain have a 0.2 percent chance of flooding in any given year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Local police departments as well as complete strangers steered boats around the area rescuing people from high water. The U.S. Marines brought in an assault amphibious battalion to assist in rescues across Galveston County, including in Friendswood.
“Many people have put their lives in danger to help others,” Holland said. “Neighbors are helping neighbors. People of all ages are doing what they can do to clean up. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Roughly 1,000 Friendswood residents and 205 Pearland residents were rescued from their homes by boat.
Although exact numbers were not readily available, 440 Friendswood residents were housed at four shelters in the city at the peak of the storm on Aug. 29, Friendswood communications specialist Jeff Newpher said. Two flood-related deaths were also confirmed in Friendswood, according to the Friendswood Police Department.
In Pearland, officials transitioned 1,000 people from the recreation center off Bailey Road to permanent shelters and facilities in the region. The center was not a public walk-in shelter.
Pearland High School sheltered 298 residents between Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. Residents who needed to take shelter during the storm went to an American Red Cross shelter at Dobie High School.
“It’s pretty stark in terms of the impact on people,” Pearland City Manager Clay Pearson said. “We’re not being complacent. We’ve been around and seen the places that have been heavily impacted.”
Now that the waters have receded, thousands have returned to flooded homes. Hurricane Harvey left an estimated 3,000 homes in Friendswood and 1,000 homes in Pearland inundated by floodwaters, according to preliminary estimates.
Officials began the process of assessing every commercial, public and residential building within city limits to piece together the damage. The reports, which were unavailable as of press time, are a prerequisite to solicit FEMA reimbursements.
Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated $35 million in home damage alone in Friendswood, according to preliminary estimates.
Damage assessments for public facilities and businesses were not completed as of press time. However, the city reported total losses to several city vehicles as well as significant damage to both the public works and parks and recreation buildings on Deep Wood Drive. A couple lift stations were also damaged in the storm.
“At the end of the day, it’s the grace of God and good fortune that it wasn’t worse,” Friendswood City Manager Roger Roecker said.
In Pearland, damage estimates were not available as of press time. However, the city did incur damage to two wastewater treatment facilities.
The Barry Rose Wastewater Treatment Plant took on water in its electrical room and temporarily lost functionality of a pump station. A second facility, Longwood Wastewater Treatment Plant, was inundated by several feet of floodwater. During the storm, the facility lost 60 percent of capacity, which caused significant drainage issues for residents.
Both plants were restored to 100 percent capacity, but damage at the two treatment plants alone will cost several million dollars, officials said.
“I don’t have a good number on what we’ve spent at this point in the emergency response mode,” Pearland Assistant City Manager Trent Epperson said. “We’re accounting for it.”
Picking up the pieces
Debris removal trucks began sweeping through Friendswood neighborhoods Sept. 5, but it could take up to two months to complete the work. A debris removal schedule was unavailable as of press time.
Pearland implemented its debris removal contract Sept. 6. A timeline was not available, but officials expect it could take at least a month to remove debris from the city. A schedule was unavailable as of press time.
The first Pearland neighborhood to see debris removed was Clear Creek Estates. Residents are encouraged to report property damage to the city online, which will be used to gauge debris removal needs.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see some of the loss out there,” Epperson said. “We want to do what we can to help them put things back to normal.”
Debris should not be in plastic bags and it must be separated into the following categories: appliances and white goods, construction and demolition waste, electronics, household hazardous waste and vegetative debris.
Debris should be placed at the curb and away from gas meters, mailboxes, intersections, poles and traffic signage.
Contractors may not pick up debris that is not separated. Debris collection could be delayed if trucks are unable to pass through neighborhoods, so street parking is discouraged.
Both Friendswood and Pearland permitting departments have waived fees for permitted construction activity.
Those struggling with the FEMA application process are encouraged to contact their congressional representative. U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Pearland, has encouraged residents who are struggling to maneuver the federal process to work with his staff.
“We’re expecting to ramp up the D.C. staff here,” Olson said.