As national resources converge in Houston, Hurricane Irma could complicate Houston's recovery timeline from Harvey

Harris County officials said debris removal is underway in all four precincts.

Harris County officials said debris removal is underway in all four precincts.

As recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey continue throughout the Greater Houston area, Harris County officials are working to establish multiple disaster recovery centers and provide debris removal services to residents, officials said during a press conference Tuesday. However, Harris County Judge Emmett said recovery throughout the county could slow if Hurricane Irma—a Category 5 hurricane as of late Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center—causes 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. "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 for debris removal throughout unincorporated areas and smaller municipalities. If another area of the U.S. becomes a disaster area, resources like debris removal services will have to be shared, Emmett said.

“All companies like this bring in equipment from all over the country,” he said. “You need big equipment to pick it up and put it in particularly large trucks. What that means is if there’s another event that competes with that assets, then that’s a problem. And that other event is called Hurricane Irma."

Harris County Engineer John Blount said each damaged home will have three opportunities for debris removal throughout the next 90-120 days. DRC will make three passes in front of each property before compacting the debris and depositing it in landfills.

"This is the largest debris operation ever undertaken by Harris County," he said.

In addition to beginning debris removal, Harris County is working with the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish multiple disaster recovery centers in the region, Emmett said.

While specific locations have not yet been selected by the state and FEMA, Emmett said the county hopes to provide mega centers, fixed sites and mobile sites—able to set up in a neighborhood—where county residents can receive disaster recovery assistance. Mega centers would provide residents of neighboring counties with access to disaster recovery assistance as well, he said.

"This is a difficult process, and it is going to require patience, but hopefully we're going to make this as efficient as we can by having these three types of disaster recovery centers," he said.

FEMA representative Tom Fargione said about 600,000 residents in Texas have already registered for assistance.

"[Hurricane Irma] is going to move resources that might have come here or that might be available here to that. We have to do the best we can to cover everyone that is suffering or who has the potential to suffer from one of these natural disasters," he said. "And that won't just be FEMA or other federal assets. That will be project resources—a number of resources will be drawn between or allocated between both disaster areas."

County officials also said multiple county buildings were damaged during the flood event. The Criminal Justice Center and jury assembly building in Houston were the most severely damaged, Blount said. Both buildings are expected to be closed for no less than eight months. The county's two courthouse annexes—on Clay Road and Cypresswood Drive, respectively—are also closed and relocating to leased space throughout the county.

The county is expected to provide additional information regarding court operations on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball/Magnolia & Conroe/Montgomery

Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor for the Tomball/Magnolia edition. She began covering the communities of Conroe and Montgomery as well in 2020. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.