After seeing brutal devastation arising from hurricane winds and torrential rains, many parts of Texas breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday as Hurricane Harvey began to shift northward. However, potential disaster still lay ahead for many cities along the state’s coast and for the state of Louisiana, which sat in the path of the hurricane’s destruction.
In Houston, with the rains beginning to clear and flood waters starting to withdraw, local residents began to look eagerly for relief from the army of volunteer workers, national guardsmen, and federal employees working to support the displaced families seeking refuge from destroyed homes. In nearby coastal cities, particularly Rockport, TX, workers searched flattened homes and flooded streets in search of missing citizens.
However, with the storm clouds clearing and dry land returning, the extent of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey was becoming clear. The National Centers for Environmental Information predicted that the hurricane would be the largest natural disaster by property damage on the record books. Some estimates put the total property damage at $145 billion across the entire region affected by Harvey. Southeast Texas alone might account for $75 billion in damages and lose up to $10 billion in economic output. Meanwhile, urban refineries took damage under the sheer force of the hurricane, spilling hazardous pollutants and chemicals at the local Baytown refinery. The destruction to that refinery, among the largest in the country, compounded the existing problem of oil shortages resulting from shuttered refineries that were closed in the wake of Harvey’s onslaught.
With such extensive damage, there remains much to be done to undo the damage wreaked by Harvey. After search and rescue operations conclude, there will be extensive damage to clean up that occurred to roads, property, and infrastructure. Meanwhile, FEMA agents and insurance agents will need to perform their own assessments and begin the process of payouts to customers. Finally, the actual act of rebuilding will require not only repayments from insurance claims, but support from government assistance.
The repair work will be extensive and continue for years, but funding may be short if current congressional plans are pushed through in the upcoming budget. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will be considering how much money to grant the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account, which provides funding to the agency’s rebuilding efforts. A new federal budget is required to be finished in September, either through the passing of a new budget or a continuing resolution that will maintain current spending levels.
As it stands, the GOP has already proposed a bill that would take money that would otherwise be partly used to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. This budget would cut $1 billion from the agency’s disaster accounts and divert the funds to the proposed border wall. Such a diversion may delay the rebuilding required to get the nation’s fourth largest metro area economy from getting back on track. That kind of delay might end up hurting the national economy even more in the long run.
[Featured Image by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images]