UNT faculty studying recovery of smaller Gulf Coast cities after Harvey

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - 16:23

DENTON (UNT), Texas - Aransas, Nueces and Refugio counties along Texas' Gulf Coast received widespread damage from Hurricane Harvey when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm.

Two months later, some residents of devastated communities feel forgotten. According to University of North Texas faculty members Mary Nelan and Ronald Schumann, some believe Houston received far more attention in the media and from response organizations because of the severe flooding that crippled the large metropolitan area two days after Harvey’s first landfall.

Nelan and Schumann, both assistant professors in UNT's Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science, are starting research on the recovery of Gulf Coast communities from Harvey. They initially received a Quick Response Grant from the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center to identify gathering places in the three counties where residents are finding resources and emotional support.

Schumann compares Harvey to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 storm in coastal Mississippi, causing the most property damage with winds and storm surge and killing more than 200 people, but New Orleans received far more attention after levee breaches left 80 percent of the city flooded, and more than 1,000 people died.

Schumann and Nelan used the Quick Response Grant to travel to Aransas, Nueces and Refugio counties and talk to residents and responders. They learned that the only operating shelter for residents at the time of their visit — four weeks after Harvey made landfall — was a Red Cross shelter in Corpus Christi. This shelter was more than 25 miles away from many hard-hit towns.

"We met several people still living in their homes because they didn't want to leave their towns, but their homes were unlivable, lacking running water and electricity," Schumann said.

In talking with residents, Schumann and Nelan learned that some homeowners had pitched tents in their living rooms, and they learned of tent villages that were not organized by groups of residents, not the cities or response organizations.

During four days, Schumann and Nelan identified about 15 gathering places — donation centers, volunteer checkpoints and the encampments. These sites provided for some of the physical needs of the residents but seemed to provide little emotional support, the professors say.

"Emotional support becomes individualized when there are no gathering places, such as churches and restaurants, for residents to talk with others who are going through the same situation," Nelan said.

Schumann and Nelan will apply for additional funds to return to the area in January, about six months after Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast. They want to discover if these gathering places still exist or if new ones have emerged. They also want to determine how recovery has progressed since the storm in the cities of Bayside, Port Aransas and Rockport in particular.

"After Hurricane Ike (in 2008), the Bolivar Peninsula changed. Those who had been leaving there for years left and expensive new homes replaced less expensive homes. People don’t know their neighbors anymore," Schumann said, adding that he and Nelan want to continue studying the cities devastated by Harvey to determine if the same thing happens.


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