In late August, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on southeast Texas, displacing 1,200 individuals countywide and causing damage to 141 homes in The Woodlands area.
Over four days, the Category 4 hurricane brought as much as 52 inches of rain in some areas of the state and nearly 30 inches in The Woodlands area, according to the Harris County Flood Control District. The storm also brought with it 125 mph winds and extensive damage to both homes and businesses along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Since the storm, Montgomery County residents have begun rebuilding and helping nearby communities.
“Hurricane Harvey has impacted the entire Gulf Coast area from Corpus Christi to Louisiana,” Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said. “Overall, Montgomery County fared pretty well compared to the rest of the community. There [were] so many people that lost everything. Through all this, the county community has come together like never before.”
From Aug. 25-30, Bear Branch, Panther Branch and Spring creeks all reached historic levels. Spring Creek crested at 111 feet, according to county officials.
During that same time period, the intersection of Spring Creek and I-45 received 29.52 inches of rain, while the intersection of Spring Creek and Kuykendahl Road received 26.96 inches, according to the HCFCD.
In preparation for the hurricane, the fire department increased staff and added five rescue teams with a minimum of four firefighters each that traveled by boat. The department also activated the Emergency Operations Center in The Woodlands to coordinate efforts between countywide first responders, said Alan Benson, chief of The Woodlands Fire Department.
The Woodlands Fire Department conducted 224 high-water rescues and evacuations, and answered 2,493 countywide service and 911 calls. Areas in south Montgomery County that sustained flooding damage include Timarron Lakes, Grogan’s Point, High Oaks, The Reserve, Timber Lakes-Timber Ridge and the Rayford Road corridor, Benson said.
Preliminary data indicates 141 homes in The Woodlands sustained flood damage; however, county officials said they expect to see that number grow in the days to come. An estimated 1,300-1,400 homes in The Woodlands were also temporarily without power.
“The water is receding as expected, so now the hard work of recovery begins,” Benson said. “This is when it gets frustrating for people. It’s going to be days before they get back to some normalcy. It does take a community effort.”
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal submitted a local disaster declaration request to Gov. Greg Abbott on Aug. 25 because of the high potential for flooding and damage from Harvey. Abbott also issued a request Aug. 25 for a presidential disaster declaration, anticipating widespread damage due to Harvey. The approved disaster declaration gives the state—as well as Montgomery County—individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation.
While an exact monetary amount for disaster relief has not been determined for the county, The Woodlands Township Board of Directors authorized up to $500,000 in early September to supplement services provided through the counties and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in the cleanup.
While most south county facilities remain intact, facilities like the Conroe wastewater treatment plant sustained significant damage, which county officials estimate will cost approximately $15 million to fix.
Gordy Bunch, The Woodlands Township board chairman, said he believes the aftermath of Harvey has brought out the strength of local communities.
“To see a community come together at a time like this really shows you that [the] things we think separate us are not as great as the things that bring us together,” Bunch said.
The days following Hurricane Harvey have brought multiple relief efforts to Montgomery County in the form of shelters, donations and volunteer efforts.
The Woodlands United Methodist Church became a donation site for area residents run by the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management. Creative Director Mike Sims said the church has received an overwhelming number of donations in the area.
“This community has fantastic people who want to help people in need, and it’s been from volunteers inside and outside our church,” Sims said. “I can see relief efforts lasting into September or October.”
Interfaith of The Woodlands has also been providing hurricane relief efforts by consolidating donation distribution efforts for all Montgomery County nonprofits, President Missy Herndon said. Following Hurricane Harvey, the nonprofit was organizing approximately 1,500 volunteers on a daily basis, Herndon said.
“We’ve had a tremendous response to our call for help from the residents of Montgomery County,” Herndon said. “It’s almost like every person that’s not flooded is either volunteering or donating. We are blessed to live in a wonderful community that supports one another.”
Montgomery County Food Bank is also collecting donations to aid storm victims. MCFB Director of Development Eleesha Blackwell said relief efforts will take months as many people in the county have lost their home and possessions.
“Seventy-five thousand people are food insecure already in [Montgomery County], and now we have people who have lost everything,” Blackwell said. “It’s going to be a long effort to get cleaned up.”
For county residents who have lost their homes due to the storm, several shelter locations have been established around the county until further notice, including the Lone Star Expo & Convention Center in Conroe.
While nonprofit organizations and churches in The Woodlands have helped by providing supplies and shelter to residents in the community, local businesses have also stepped up to serve those affected.
J.J. Hollie, president of The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, said while some businesses were damaged, including several along the Rayford Road corridor, less-affected businesses have offered free or discounted services to Woodlands-area residents.
“This is a very generous and heartwarming place to be,” Hollie said. “People here care about their neighbors, and there is a tremendous spirit of generosity in The Woodlands that is unmatched anywhere.”
Restaurants in the community have offered free food to residents, nonprofits and first responders. Pallotta’s Italian Grill in Oak Ridge North is one of the many restaurants that fed hundreds of people for free.
Owner Phil Nicosia said he delivered free food to staff at fire departments around The Woodlands, staff at Texas Children Hospital in The Woodlands, and staff and volunteers at Interfaith.
“We rely on the community to support us, so it’s no question that we should now support the community,” Nicosia said. “I didn’t do this for a photo op. I did it because it is the right thing to do.”
While the area has seen an outpouring of volunteerism in the days following Harvey, Herndon said the effects of the hurricane will be long-lasting.
“This is not just today, tomorrow or next week,” she said. “It will take months if not years for these people to rebuild their lives, so I just encourage people to keep that in mind as they look to give back [to the community] with their time, talents or treasure.”