How Port Arthur, Texas, Is Recovering, Nearly 1 Year After Hurricane Harvey
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
One year ago today, Tropical Storm Harvey became an official, named storm as it formed over the Atlantic Ocean. By the time it made landfall in Texas late August, Harvey had intensified into a Category 4 hurricane packing 130 mile per hour winds. Among the hardest hit cities, Port Arthur, where one of the biggest rainstorms in U.S. history forced evacuations and devastated thousands of homes.
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DERRICK FREEMAN: Four feet of water - 3 1/2 feet of water. It's just a lake in here.
CORNISH: That was Port Arthur's mayor, Derek Freeman, inspecting his home last year in the storm's aftermath. He joins us now from member station KUHF in Houston. Mayor Freeman, welcome to the program.
FREEMAN: Thank you for having me.
CORNISH: It's been nearly a year since you were wading through water - right? - in your city. What's the state of cleanup and rebuilding?
FREEMAN: We're finally finding a balance and getting services restored and back online in the city of Port Arthur. When our city got hit with the 50, 60 inches of rain, not only did we get 80, 85 percent of the structures in our city affected by the storm, but we lost all of our fleet. We lost police vehicles. We lost garbage trucks. We lost - pretty much our whole Fleet Operation Center went down.
CORNISH: When you're driving through neighborhoods, what do these streets look like where people are not back in their homes?
FREEMAN: You know, the neighborhoods are littered with travel trailers, with manufactured homes, with debris piles depending on what stage of reconstruction or rehab you are. We have toilets in the front of people's homes next to the tent that they're living in because their home is inhabitable right now. So from a year ago, again, we've made some progress, but we have so much further to go.
CORNISH: You talked about the damage to, you know, more than 80 percent of the homes there. And I think I heard something like $1.3 billion in damage coming from the city's recovery plan. Have you been receiving the assistance you need from - let's start with the federal government?
FREEMAN: If you would have asked me, say 12 months ago, if the response was happening fast enough, I'd say maybe. But now, you know, a year later, looking at the devastation that people are still living in, the dollars just hasn't gotten here. We had an appropriation bill that passed in February. But you know, for the first five, six months, we had people point fingers at each other saying, you didn't vote for my Sandy bill, or you didn't vote for this bill, all in the meantime while people are hurting.
CORNISH: It sounds like what you're saying is no to the federal government. And in the state government, you've only recently gotten some kind of appropriation.
FREEMAN: Yes, ma'am. You know, the way it works - the state had some dollars. The governor's office was gracious enough to go ahead and infuse $11 million to us within the first couple of weeks after the storm to help us get debris up. But the long-term recovery dollars - the ones that's going to help us to rebuild our homes, the infrastructure dollars, they haven't gotten there yet.
CORNISH: School's probably about to start. And with so many displaced families and probably kids - what kind of psychological toll has the recovery taken on the community?
FREEMAN: It's been stressful. Folks have a mild portion of PTSD. This has been a long year for our citizens and our citizenry. But again, we're resilient, hardworking, blue-collar folks. So we're strong and we're going to bounce back.
CORNISH: When citizens of Port Arthur call your office, what are they saying to you? What do they need help with?
FREEMAN: It's a myriad of things. We have folks that are getting ripped off. One of the most depressing things, one of the most tragic stories is to hear of the contractors that are out there taking advantage of citizens when they're so - in such a hurtful stage. I get the calls about the streets. I get the calls about the infrastructure. I get the calls about resources also. When FEMA denies folks, they call my office and want to know why. So it's - when we answer those calls, it's heavy 'cause people out there are hurting.
CORNISH: That's Mayor Derrick Freeman of Port Arthur, Texas. Mayor Freeman, thank you for speaking with us.
FREEMAN: Thank you for having me. We appreciate it.
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