County officials in the Eastern and Gulf coasts are keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Irma, a storm that reached Category 5 status early Tuesday, packing 175 MPH winds. Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 5 declared a state of emergency for the state’s 67 counties, where residents are emptying store shelves of drinking water and other supplies.
The new storm comes fresh on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated counties and parishes in Texas and Louisiana. Residents there are digging out after three landfalls that left a climbing death toll and thousands stranded when more than 50 inches of rain flooded the region.
“It’s the worst flood we’ve ever seen, for sure,” said Gene Terry, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Association of Counties. “But this ain’t our first rodeo so to speak — we’re gearing up for the next 10 days.”
In all, 43 counties in Texas are part of the federal disaster declaration as of Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said. The governor estimates the Lone Star state will need up to $180 billion in federal assistance to get back on its feet. Louisiana has 12 parishes with federal disaster declarations. As of late last week, FEMA had received 457,000 registrations for assistance.
“All of the people, counties and parishes impacted by Hurricane Harvey are in our heartfelt prayers,” said NACo President Roy Charles Brooks, a Tarrant County, Texas commissioner. “Counties nationwide are united in our support of those suffering from Harvey’s devastation. We will work with you in the days, weeks, months and years ahead – driven by the resilience of the human spirit – to recover and heal our communities.”
The monster storm made a third landfall Wednesday at 4 a.m. near the Texas-Louisiana border in Cameron Parish, pounding the area with rain. An additional 10 to 15 inches of rain was expected to fall for the next two days there.
“We have over 130 parish roads that are inundated,” Ryan Bourriaque, Cameron Parish Police Jury Administrator, said late last week.
He had just returned to work Aug. 22 when the Cameron Parish Police Jury held their first meeting about the upcoming storm. With memories of Hurricane Rita still fresh from 2005 — when the parish lost 75 percent of its homes — the parish police jury decided Aug. 24 to authorize the state emergency management office to evacuate residents, beginning Friday morning, Aug. 25. The parish sent out alerts about the evacuation, flooding and road closures to residents’ cell phones and got the word out to local media.
The worst of it hit Sunday and Monday, Bourriaque said, dumping 25 inches of rain. Bourriaque’s wife and three daughters rode out the storm about 150 miles west of Cameron, in St. Mary Parish, where his father-in-law is parish administrator.
Ahead of the storm, President Trump approved disaster declaration requests for five parishes in Louisiana: Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes.
“For us, we’re so grateful from being spared from more substantial damage,” Bourriaque said. “Our hearts and prayers are with the people in Texas.”
Meanwhile back in Austin, Terry has been on the phone throughout the disaster talking with county judges from around the state who want to help. Counties outside the disaster area have brought supplies to shelters they could get to, he said.
The Texas Association of Counties is asking members of its TAC Risk Management Pool to be sure to file claims for property and auto damage related to Hurricane Harvey.
No one should have to wait on funds to repair county buildings or equipment, Terry said, noting that the pool expects to make partial payments right away. “That’s the problem with a commercial insurance firm, getting money to them. Well, horse feathers.” Additional property adjusters are helping out during the disaster, and “will be there with a checkbook. If we know it’s a million-dollar claim, we’ll write a check for half-a-million.”
Four “mega shelters” are open, three in Houston and one in Dallas, FEMA announced. In all, there are more than 200 shelters open statewide. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett opened NRG Stadium as a regional shelter for displaced county residents and surrounding areas. The shelter can hold 10,000 and is offering 8,000 cots, an on-site clinic, an on-site pharmacy, on-site busing to local stores, a grocery store, a clothing store, an on-site theater for kids and a pet-friendly environment.
How you can help
- If you or your organization would like to help, check out the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Hurricane Harvey site.
- The Communities Foundation of Texas is providing broad disaster relief throughout Texas. Please select the Mass Care Task Force Fund.
Here’s a snapshot of other efforts taking place in Texas and Louisiana in the aftermath of the storm:
- Lending a hand: County employees from around the country are lending a helping hand. Williamson County, Texas Sheriff Robert Chody sent a water rescue team to Harris County, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. As of last Sunday evening, the team helped rescue more than 100 people. Travis County, Texas also sent a rescue team and housed inmates evacuated from south Texas jails. Click here to read previous County News coverage of counties lending a hand.
- Fundraising efforts from around the country: Fairfax County, Va. firefighters, teaming up with the Greater Washington Muscular Dystrophy Association and National MDA decided that its first $50,000 collected during its “fill the boot” drive would go to a disaster relief fund.
- Emergency app: The county also made ReadyHarris available as a free emergency preparedness app on iTunes and Google Play, with survival tip sheets and locations for emergency services.
- Chemical plant: The Harris County fire marshal held a briefing Thursday morning about a fire at the flooded Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. The county evacuated residents Wednesday night who lived within a mile-and-a-half radius of the plant after it lost power.