Harvey’s effect on Texas lingers as state preps for new hurricane season

Texas Politics

LA GRANGE, Texas (Nexstar) — Hurricane season is underway, prompting local and state leaders to intensify their messaging and coordination with homeowners. For newly-elected or appointed emergency management officials, this is the first time they’re tackling hurricane preparations in their new roles.

The Texas General Land Office hosted a video conference call this week for emergency management officials around the state, from county, state, and federal levels.

“What we’ve learned through this ‘Resiliency University’ for lack of a better term, is that we keep that experience and help educate others that may face another type of storm,” Bush added.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush speaks with Jim Wells County Commissioner Margie Gonzalez at a meeting of local, state and federal emergency management officials about hurricane season on June 4, 2019. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

Presentations from representatives of various federal and state agencies included the National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The preparation never ends,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, said. “We have officials from the Rio Grande Valley that we’ve worked with in light of the floods a year ago, a lot of veterans from Hurricane Harvey, and experiences that we share with elected leadership.”

Richard Saldaña has been Hidalgo County’s Emergency Management Coordinator for five years. He led the county’s response during major flooding last year.

“We are hoping for a good year and a slow one, and that we don’t get impacted this year,” he said.

Saldaña said anyone in an elected or appointed office experiencing hurricane season for the first time should read up on state statute.

“It’s very important that they educate themselves on their responsibilities to those Texans,” Saldaña explained.

His message was intended for officials like Fayette County Judge Joe Weber, who was elected in November, and was sworn in the first week of January. Weber has leadership experience as a three-star Marine general and once served as executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, but faces new challenges in emergency management with his new role as Fayette County’s chief executive.

“I think it’s learning the players,” Weber said. “People like (Lower Colorado River Authority), Texas Department of Emergency Management, the Red Cross, other local areas, other non-profits that are here to help with us – all respond immediately and quickly, but you’ve got to learn them, you’ve got to know who they are, you’ve got to develop relationships with them.”

Hurricane Harvey is still on the mind of Billy Herbrich, of La Grange, Texas, located in Fayette County. His home was flooded with more than five feet of water during the costly storm.

“We had to start from scratch,” he said. “Just like building a new house, and putting everything new in it.”

Nearly two years and $70,000 later, his home is back to a new normal. He paid out of pocket, with a few private donations, to restore his home. Herbrich did not have flood insurance during Harvey. He does now.

“Anything is possible when you live that close to the river,” he said.

State and federal leaders are urging Texans to consider flood insurance, saying it’s one of the largest sums to be paid out more quickly.

“Less than 20% of constituents that were affected by the storm had flood insurance,” Bush said. “I think a lot of people have an assumption that general coverage takes care of you and it doesn’t.” 

“If it can rain, it can flood,” Bush continued. “We are encouraging Texans to get their flood insurance, get their evacuation plan and their game plan ready for hurricane season.”

Herbrich laments the federal response to the storm, citing the hold up of more than $4 billion for Texas that has not been released. Bush wrote multiple times to the feds asking for updates on the release of that funding. He also said he expected more from state leaders.

“What about the small towns? We are in trouble here too just as bad as they are. So they need to look at every town not just one place,” he said.

“You’ve got to understand the communications aspect of this, the inter-operability aspect, how you get help here, how you manage that help,” Weber stated.

This legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed a package of disaster relief and flood mitigation legislation that is on the governor’s desk.

For more resources about disaster preparedness and recovery, the Texas General Land Office has information on its website.

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