HOUSTON (CN) – Hurricane Harvey set a U.S. record for rainfall from a single storm, dumping 51.9 inches of water on the Greater Houston area after hitting the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane. More than 50 people drowned or died in flood-related accidents, and thousands more were forced to climb onto their roofs or wade into muddy waters to search for rescue.
AccuWeather estimated that rebuilding the Houston area and the Texas coast after the storm could cost $190 billion – more than Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.
Harvey threw down the gauntlet for Texas, especially Houston. But the real test comes in the aftermath.
How do Texans raise enough money, send enough food and supplies, and rebuild a city that is roughly the size of Connecticut?
It isn't an easy answer, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.
When Harvey began to make landfall, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was hesitant to issue a mandatory evacuation for the city, though evacuations were ordered for portions of Brazoria County to the south of Houston and closer to the coast.
As residents fled their flooded homes to designated storm shelters, pundits, journalists, and the public criticized Turner for declining an evacuation order.
"We cannot evacuate 6.5 million people in two days," Turner said.
Turner pushed back on the criticisms and suggested a focus on moving forward and helping Houston recover in the storm’s aftermath.
To give Turner's rationale context, Houstonians were encouraged to evacuate the city for Hurricane Rita in 2005, the so-called "forgotten hurricane" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that claimed more than 100 lives – not from the storm, but the evacuation.
An estimated 2.5 million people fled the city in September 2005, and a lack of an evacuation plan caused catastrophic traffic jams on major highways.
Residents sat on roads that were rendered parking lots for over 20 hours, and dozens died of heat stroke.
The Storm’s Impact
During Harvey, residents and organizations instead rushed to feed and house people whose homes rapidly became uninhabitable as the floodwaters continued to rise. By Sunday, Aug. 27, Mayor Turner announced that Houston would open multiservice centers, public libraries, and the downtown George R. Brown Convention Center as shelters.
The convention center quickly filled with more than 9,000 evacuees, exceeding its stated capacity of 5,000. It was stocked with supplies, but trucks carrying more supplies were initially unable to reach it to flooded roads.
By Aug. 29, the NRG Center opened its doors to flood victims as many other shelters in Houston reached capacity. The center was managed by local nonprofit Baker-Ripley with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Within an hour of its opening, the center was inundated not only with evacuees, but also with volunteers carrying food and supplies to donate.
Jim McIngvale, better known as Mattress Mack, also opened both of his Gallery Furniture stores to residents seeking shelter on Aug. 27. The 100,000-square-foot flagship store on I-45 was stocked with food and water, and pets were welcome.
McIngvale even gave out his personal cellphone number on a Facebook Live video announcement so residents could reach him as quickly as possible.
"If you need something, call," he said. "We'll try to get you whatever help we can."