Port Arthur, Texas, Expected To Take Another 6 Months To Recover From Harvey Recovery continues in southeast Texas a month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall. NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Derrick Ford Freeman, the mayor of Port Arthur, Texas about efforts in his town.
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Port Arthur, Texas, Expected To Take Another 6 Months To Recover From Harvey

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Port Arthur, Texas, Expected To Take Another 6 Months To Recover From Harvey

Port Arthur, Texas, Expected To Take Another 6 Months To Recover From Harvey

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As we wait for the latest word from Puerto Rico on the devastation there, we're going to turn for a moment to the mainland and to one city still struggling to recover from severe weather. Port Arthur, Texas, home to about 50,000 people, endured 47 inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey. The deluge shut down the oil refinery there and flooded homes, schools and even a shelter. Derrick Ford Freeman is the mayor of Port Arthur and joins us now. Welcome to the program, Mayor Freeman.

DERRICK FORD FREEMAN: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: I said it's a town of 50,000 people. How many people in the town now are living in tents or other temporary forms of housing or just aren't there?

FORD FREEMAN: Well, you know, I would estimate we have several thousand, being 5,000, 6,000 folks that are actually sheltered in their homes, displaced, being in hotels, local areas around the city and then, you know, folks that are in our tent city, our tent community that we're calling it.

SIEGEL: It's been more than a month since Hurricane Harvey hit Port Arthur. Is there still debris in front of houses throughout the city?

FORD FREEMAN: Yes, Sir. My report this morning said we've gotten to about 150-some-thousand cubic yards in the city. So I would estimate we're about 10 percent just breaking into all the stuff that has to get to the landfill.

SIEGEL: Ten percent - I mean how many months will it take to get all of that debris to the landfill?

FORD FREEMAN: Well, we're estimating it to be anywhere from four to six months for us to get everything. There's different waves that happen with the debris. We're expecting three different waves of folks. Not everybody gets to their home immediately and gets to clean it out. So by the time they get three waves on every property in the city of Port Arthur, we're thinking four to six months.

SIEGEL: Are there enough people with trucks there? Are there enough workers there to rehab buildings?

FORD FREEMAN: Yeah, there are. But you know, again, we can always use more. Right now we're fighting with the state of Florida. And I stay in a fight, but we're trying to hold onto the trucks that we have. Some of our neighboring cities have been left with nothing but their municipal trucks to clean up debris because the contractors that they have gone on to literally greener pastures.

Some of the neighboring cities have had their contractors leave out on them and head to Florida because they're paying more, and it's lot less debris as far as (unintelligible) construction debris, whether it be refrigerators. But in Florida they're doing a lot of debris as far as palm trees and whatnot, so it's cheaper and quicker. And Texas is fighting to keep trucks in our state right now.

SIEGEL: Mayor Freeman, all - I've been asking you just about recovering from the storm. What's going on in Port Arthur these days about school or about work or about - is the police department working or the fire department?

FORD FREEMAN: Yes. You know, we have all our emergency personnel. But again, we had essential personnel, emergency personnel. We had school teachers displaced. So it's been trying to find a balance for us to open up school and open up back all the services that we offer to our citizens because a lot of our workers that normally would do it have also been displaced.

So it has been a task these last few weeks - I guess you could say three or four weeks of finding housing and shelter for our workers and our essential and emergency personnel so we could get our city back online. So yes, Sir, it has been a task. But I think we've found a balance. And with FEMA's help and the General Land Office of the state of Texas, I think we'll find a balance and get it done.

SIEGEL: Just before you go, many people may have seen the video that you took and that you live streamed of the flooding in your own home as you were busy trying to see to others. What's the condition of your own house right now?

FORD FREEMAN: Well, we've started on it. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get to it in time where I could cut out just a few feet. I had to go ahead and gut my whole house. So we have the house out drying now. So once we get our city and our citizens situated, I think we'll be able to figure out what we're going to do with our home, my wife and I.

SIEGEL: That's Derrick Ford Freeman, mayor of Port Arthur, Texas. Thanks for talking with us today.

FORD FREEMAN: Thank you. Y'all have a great day.

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