As waters ebb, Harvey toll climbs

Authorities expect to find more bodies; BoatUS response team begins assessing damage
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This aerial view shows damage Hurricane Harvey caused at a marina in Rockport, Texas

This aerial view shows damage Hurricane Harvey caused at a marina in Rockport, Texas

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm — dumping feet of rain on and flooding much of Houston as it hovered for days as a tropical storm — before finally trudging to the northeast and flooding additional towns. 

Emergency responders and private citizens carried out rescues for 10 days before refocusing on recovery and relief efforts and sending emergency responders to the Southeast as Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm at the time of publication, brewed in the Atlantic with some of the highest wind speeds ever recorded, at 185 mph. 

As of Sept. 5, officials had confirmed at least 60 Harvey-related deaths and expected the number to rise as the floodwaters recede. “We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston police chief Art Acevedo told the Associated Press. “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.” 

The Texas Department of Public Safety said localities have estimated that more than 203,000 homes have been damaged and more than 13,500 destroyed, with estimates expected to rise as the hardest-hit areas become accessible, according to the Washington Post. 

Boats are tangled amid twisted metal in a drystack at Cove Harbor Marina in Rockport, Texas.

Boats are tangled amid twisted metal in a drystack at Cove Harbor Marina in Rockport, Texas.

Houston was 95 percent dry by Sept. 4, and many businesses were open on Sept. 5 after the Labor Day weekend. The recovery from Harvey will require even more money than the package Congress appropriated for Hurricane Katrina relief, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on morning talk shows during the long weekend. The total population and geographic range Harvey affected could surpass hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined, Abbott said. 

Homes devastated 

More than a week after Harvey swept through Texas, thousands of people were still unable to return home, according to CNN, and tens of thousands were seeking aid. 

Officials said Aug. 28 that more than 6,000 had been rescued in Houston alone — 3,000 by police and 3,000 by the Coast Guard, which was getting more than 1,000 calls an hour. Those figures do not appear to have taken into account those rescued by individual boaters. 

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $7.85 billion victim aid package on Sept. 6, providing $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $450 million for a disaster loan program for small businesses. 

Houston area residents quickened the pace of recovery after the Labor Day weekend, getting a boost from Mexico, which sent volunteers to shelters and was preparing to send relief supplies, according to CBS. Mexican Red Cross workers were staffing shelters in three Texas cities. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency cautioned residents about scam artists, identity thieves and others attempting to prey on vulnerable survivors. 

“The most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations and fake offers of state or federal aid,” the FEMA website said, reminding residents that there is no fee to apply for aid and that rescue workers should never ask for money. 

This sportfishing boat is shown sunk at its stern at Port Aransas, Texas.

This sportfishing boat is shown sunk at its stern at Port Aransas, Texas.

Survivors should also take steps to protect themselves and avoid fraud when hiring contractors to clean property, remove debris or make repairs, and also to report price gouging — something Yamaha Bass Pro Fishing staff member Dwayne Eschete says he had seen during his rescue efforts. A container of water that regularly sells for $3.95 was going for $25.95 at one location, Eschete says. 

“Survivors are particularly susceptible because their needs are immediate, and they have few alternatives to choose from,” the FEMA site said, adding that people who see price gouging should contact the Texas Attorney General’s Office. 

More than 240,000 residences in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, are insured for floods — more than any other county in the nation — but that accounts for only 15 percent of the county’s 1.5 million properties, according to the Houston Chronicle. 

The boating industry 

At the time of publication, the BoatUS Catastrophe Response team was still assessing the damage in Rockport, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and neighboring areas that were slammed by the Category 4 hurricane. 

Prop marks show that this vehicle spent time underwater during the storm.

Prop marks show that this vehicle spent time underwater during the storm.

“I’m down here in the south Texas area, so the scope of damage from any flooding to the marine industry really hasn’t been determined yet,” said CAT team coordinator Mike McCook. “We really don’t know how that affected dealerships. Obviously any that were under water are going to have some infrastructure problems.” 

Cove Harbor Marina and Drystack, which has storage for 400 boats, took a direct hit and was heavily damaged. The marina still had a notice on its website Sept. 6 asking boat owners not to attempt to access the site. 

“Access to the Cove Harbor Marina and Drystack property is still prohibited due to potentially dangerous conditions,” the website read. “Owner is cooperating with local authorities and its insurer for further site assessment.” 

“Do not try to gain entry to a marina unless you have permission,” cautioned Scott Croft, public affairs vice president for BoatUS. “They never want people climbing on boats; there’s usually fuel all over. They don’t want people barging into those places.”

It appears the Rockport area was more affected by wind damage than storm surge, McCook said. “So there were people who had boats under metal carports and the carports collapsed, but it didn’t seem to have a huge surge tide, like in Sandy. We have people on the ground now, but I don’t think we’ve received many claims yet. We encourage people to report claims as promptly as possible so we can take a look at boats, but we don’t have that huge firehose of claims at this time. They’re more trickling in. Sometimes the boat takes a back seat when you don’t have a house, or car or whatever.” 

Key Allegro Marina in Rockport, also hard-hit by Harvey, reported on its website that it was still without power and couldn’t answer calls. The site also asked people not to attempt to access the marina by land or by water, adding, “The area is extremely dangerous and we have not been cleared to allow people in.” 

Port Aransas Marina was also among the hardest hit, Croft says. “We’ll be in Texas a while; we’ve got a lot to do in that state,” Croft says. “We are also putting some resources in Florida in anticipation of Irma. Most of our salvage efforts [in southern Texas] for specific vessels are underway, so that’s good news. And right now we’re focusing on what we do with vessels that are totaled. We’re looking to centralize that, the handling of the salvaged vessels, and that’ll be put in place shortly. 

“From what I understand, we’re getting just awesome support from the locals,” Croft says. “It’s just been above and beyond.”

 This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.

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