#AfterHarvey: A KVUE Live Doc | What do we know 6 months later?
Author: Bri Perry, Albert Ramon, Ashley Goudeau, Jason Puckett, Kris Betts, Shawn Clynch, Terri Gruca, Chelsea Cunningham
Published: 11:47 PM CST February 28, 2018
Updated: 6:40 PM CST March 2, 2018
LOCAL 7 Articles

Gov. Greg Abbott declared 60 Texas counties disaster areas after Hurricane Harvey ripped through Southeast Texas in late August 2017.

Piles of debris still sit outside Rockport, Texas. The city's mayor said every business that reopens get its own ceremony complete with a ribbon cutting.

From afar, homes in Houston look peaceful again: the flood line no longer visible on the brick. Up close, many of them are still empty, gutted out and left with the support beams standing.

In La Grange, the mobile home park near the Colorado River looks like it did two days after hurricane Harvey hit. Personal belongings are sitting under the weight of what's left of homes.

While progress has been made, KVUE found the need for help is still large, and thousands of families are still living in hotels or transitional housing.

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#AfterHarvey: A KVUE Live Doc | What do we know 6 months later?

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Chapter 1

What meteorologists discovered after the storm

Author: Albert Ramon

For Texans living along the coast, hurricane seasons come and go. In the last half-century, several strong hurricanes have hit, but nothing like Hurricane Harvey. It had been nearly 60 years since a Hurricane as powerful as Harvey hit the state.

Category 4 Carla made landfall along the middle Texas Coast in 1961, killing 46 people. Harvey killed 68, more than half in Harris County alone.

Harvey was not just powerful, but huge, impacting about a third of the state.

At landfall, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 150 miles per hour near Rockport.

In Nederland, Texas, along with the upper Texas coast, the NWS said over 60 inches of rain saturated the area.

What surprised meteorologists the most was just how fast Harvey strengthened, going from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 36 hours.

“I think atmospheric and oceanic conditions were all just about perfect for rapid strengthening during that period,” said Lower Colorado River Authority Meteorologist Bob Rose. “We saw some of the warmest Gulf temperatures that we've ever seen.”

Water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were between 88 to even 90 degrees. This was the jet fuel Harvey used to explode into a major hurricane in a short time period.

via GIPHY

“The timing of it was perfect. As it was coming onshore, it was gaining strength as opposed to weakening, as most of them kind of do,” said NWS Meteorologist Paul Yura.

The storm aiming right for Texas, with the surge, wind and a historic amount of rain.

“From a meteorology standpoint, when you start seeing weather models producing 40 and 50 inches of rain, something we've never seen in our careers a weather model produce, it becomes a little unnerving,” said Yura.

As much as 20 to 30 inches of rain fell just east of Austin -- right along the Colorado River basin.

“We saw a huge flood wave move from Smithville down to La Grange, down through the rest of the river as well,” said Rose. "The river gauge in La Grange rose to its third highest level ever recorded. Much of the town was under water, and many structures were inundated as well,” continued Rose.

So, why was Harvey so powerful, and could climate change have played a role?

“It's still too early to tell about what effect climate change has on the number of hurricanes and the intensity of the hurricane,” explained Yura. “We need more data, and more time, and more hurricanes, and more events to see if the numbers are increasing.”

For now, meteorologists will continue to study the data, which will hopefully lead to better forecasting and a better chance to save lives.

“There is still a lot of science and a lot of work that our modelers are going to have to try to do, to try to capture this sort of quick intensification.”

Chapter 2

Some Houston families rebuild while others say goodbye

Author: Ashley Goudeau

These days, Houston’s Brays Bayou is calm. It's nothing more than a harmless stream families run and bike along.

It is a far cry from what it was six months ago when the bayou's banks were endless and water flowed without stopping -- the result of Hurricane Harvey.

“For those of us that experienced it, Harvey never ended,” said Houston resident Dallas Jones. “Six months later, it hasn't ended.”

Recovery for Houston families is happening slowly.

Jones, his wife Angela and their daughter Zoë returned to their home off Braeswood Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon.

The energetic 3-year-old ran up to the window.

"Why is it empty,” she asked her parents while peering into the window of a home stripped down to its frame inside.

"It is hard because she loved this house,” said Angela Jones.

In January 2017, the Jones family moved into a home on the banks of Brays Bayou.

"We love this neighborhood,” said Angela. “So we envisioned being here."

"We were aware of the risks. I mean this neighborhood has been previously prone to flooding,” Dallas said. "The question that I think that most people asked [was] how soon could it happen again, if it happens again?” he added.

It did happen again.

On Aug. 26 Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain over several days.

via GIPHY

The storm and the flooding that followed caused $2.5 billion worth of damage in Houston alone.

The Jones family evacuated just before it hit.

"Watching it on TV like the rest of the country. But what we saw was our neighbors being taken out in boats and so for us, we were thankful that we did take precaution and leave,” said Dallas.

But so many other families didn't evacuate their homes or couldn't.

Brian Reynolds was one of them.

"I'm just trying to salvage what clothing me, my wife and my daughter have upstairs,” Reynolds said back on Sept. 1.

When KVUE met Reynolds, the rain had stopped but the water from Buffalo Bayou kept rising.

"It's been a little bit of torture because ever since the hurricane stopped it was sun, no rain, and we come home to a foot, foot and a half of water. Next day another foot,” he said.

KVUE boated through his neighborhood six months ago.

Today, you can drive along the same route where remnants of the storm sit in dumpsters and along curbs.

"When we came back in, it was very emotional. I mean, just the smell of it. To see our furniture and our belongings just ruined, it was a horrible experience,” said Amber Reynolds, Brian’s wife.

The Reynolds and their 6-year-old daughter, Harper, moved into their home, complete with all new furnishings, just two months before Harvey destroyed it.

It took a month for them to return and when they did, the home's condition forced the family to live upstairs.

"So to be safe, because the whole downstairs was completely open, we had to build a door at the top of our stairs that has a lock,” Amber said showing us the door.

She said the family will leave it there as a “souvenir” from Harvey.

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Their home wasn't in a flood plain when they purchased it, so the Reynolds didn't have flood insurance.

Thanks to donations from family, friends and the community, the Reynolds' home is almost fully restored.

But getting to this point wasn't easy.

"Unfortunately, we've had several contractors take advantage of our situation. Contractors ... because they know everyone needs them, and so they're overcharging on the work that needs to be done because they can take advantage, which is really sad in a situation. You'd think they'd be trying to help, you know, the families that were affected,” said Amber.

Some of Amber's neighbors haven't even started making repairs and other families, like the Jones family, won't ever return to the places they once called home.

"This house would have to be lifted probably five to six feet and a tune of about $300,000,” said Dallas. It's an investment his family is not willing to make.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner held a news conference Feb. 23 to update the community about recovery efforts.

"While we acknowledge that we are making progress, we also want to be very clear that recovery is not happening fast enough for any of us,” Turner said.

"We still have thousands of individuals who are living in homes that need repairing – yesterday,” he added.

Another 10,000 survivors are still living in hotels and federal funding for recovery is slow to come in.

The city is launching the Houston Still Needs You volunteer program.Officials say volunteer hours will deduct from how much money the city has to put up to qualify for federal disaster grants.

"No one in this city is going to be left behind,” Turner said.

For the Jones family, moving forward means a new home in the heart of the city.

“Houstonians are strong. We'll rebuild. We'll rebuild a better city. We'll widen our bayous and even though people are still experiencing it, we won't experience it forever,” said Dallas.

Chapter 3

Voluntourism might be the answer to Rockport's problems

Author: Jason Puckett

Drive down Texas Highway 35 towards Rockport and you're greeted by an unexpected sight.

Before a glimpse of a road sign or highway marker for the coastal city, you run into miles of debris.

Take a look at what makes up the 15- to 18-foot piles and you'll realize that you're seeing Rockport, or the remains of what it once was.

Six months ago, Hurricane Harvey unexpectedly gained strength off the Texas coast and came barreling towards Rockport.

It passed over the coastal city, wrecking the area with 150-mile-per-hour winds and 13-foot storm surges.

Then, when the worst seemed to pass, Harvey changed course and came right back over the wounded city.

PHOTOS: Rockport open for business six months after Hurricane Harvey

"We got hit both ways," Rockport City Mayor Charles "C.J." Wax said. "The city experienced hurricane force winds for 13 hours."

Before Harvey, Mayor Wax spent his days focused on things that now, six months later, seem trivial.

"You worry about zoning changes and potholes in the streets ... making sure garbage gets picked up," he said while standing in Rockport's downtown. "Storm hit, priorities change a bit. You start thinking about how can I help my citizens rebuild, recover, get back."

Amidst Rockport's main street, Mayor Wax showed the city's progress. In six months, they cleared out more than 2.6 million cubic yards of debris. They rebuilt homes, rebuilt businesses, but not fast enough.

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By Mayor Wax's estimate, there was still roughly 60 percent of businesses and homes that were unlivable, unworkable or destroyed.

Even those who have rebuilt have a long road ahead.

Zac Partenheimer married into the family that had run Rosita's restaurant in Rockport for years.

"We consider ourselves pretty lucky from the amount of damage we did sustain," Partenheimer said.

It's a response that is easier understood when you compare Rosita's to the surrounding area. Across the street from the building, a former VFW building is now a concrete slab.

A home down the street is leveled.

Next to that, Rosita's downed fences, ripped roofing and thousands of spoiled food products pale in severity.

Remarkably, the restaurant is open. Serving their local cuisine to customers sorely in need of a local touch.

"This community is kind of dealing with a tragic loss all at once," Partenheimer said. "It kind of brings you closer together."

But even with hope for his business driving him forward, Partenheimer's family is still displaced.

All four are living out of a neighbor's spare room while their home sits empty.

"I came in, saw a couple of leaks," he said while he took KVUE's Jason Puckett through his home. "Didn't really think too much of it."

Partenheimer hired a contractor to check the house and they discovered mold. That led to a full-scale removal of walls, ceilings and almost everything but the structure itself.

"They were like 'Oh yeah, three weeks ... it's not that bad of a job," Partenheimer said standing in his gutted home six months later.

From an outsider's perspective, Rockport looks rough.

The road ahead is long and the resources they need are shared with other cities. The possibility that the city could return to its former glory seems almost unachievable.

That's until you talk to those still there.

Partenheimer, a father and business owner, admitted he'd thought about leaving at one point, but said he couldn't.

"It sounds weird to say with all the devastation as you drive through ... but there's no place I'd rather be," he said.

Ask Mayor Wax or Partenheimer or others still in Rockport and you'll learn that they don't see their city as a problem, they see it as a challenge.

"People want to be here for a reason," Partenheimer said. "We have a desire to rebuild and make Rockport just as good as it once was."

And to do that, they said they need those outsiders to come help.

Mayor Wax explained that Rockport is a tourist city. It's economy always relied on fishers, vacationers and those coming to visit their main attractions: The Fulton Mansion, Texas State Maritime Museum, Bay Education Center, Rockport Art Center and Rockport Aquarium.

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Of those five, the Fulton museum and Art Center have reopened.

The storm destroyed the education center and aquarium, and there's no set path for a rebuild.

And in just a few short months the Maritime Museum will reopen and tip the scales towards the positive side of the city.

After Harvey, the Museum's doors closed as crews worked to repair extensive water damage and rebuild annihilated exhibits, and as Curator Phil Barnes explained, it's almost ready to reopen.

"We got a new roof on, that was a big thing," Barnes said. "Since then, I've had several people come up and say, 'You know what, when that went up it made em [sic] feel like we can do this.'"

Barnes offered hope: "Rockport is coming back."

Partenheimer shared his drive: "I just don't want to give up. I don't want to give up on this town."

And Mayor Wax offered a promise: "It's a great town and it's going to be better than it ever was."

He also had a challenge for outsiders.

"Come see us," he said. "Rockport is open for business. Most of our stores ... not all of them, but most of them are open ... Come be a voluntourist [sic]. Come down and see our city. Share with us and maybe help a bit while you're here."

Chapter 4

Just like the river, La Grange keeps moving forward after Harvey

Author: Kris Betts

While it’s the water that brings people to La Grange, it’s the water that destroyed nearly 10 percent of the homes and businesses in La Grange during Hurricane Harvey.

The Colorado River crested at just over 54 feet, leaving behind a swath of damage still visible six months later.

Trees are still knocked over up and down the river, and it’s a slow rebuilding process to get people back into their homes.

If you go to the Colorado Landing RV Park along the Colorado River, you’ll find trailer homes with people’s belongings still inside, untouched since being submerged during the flooding.

Recording all the rebuilding over the past six months are the reporters and editors at the Fayette County Record.

The local paper goes out twice a week: Mondays and Thursdays.

The paper covered the flood, and employees managed to distribute the paper on the Monday the town flooded.

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"We just got it out; it just comes to you. You don't even think about it,” said John Castaneda, the Fayette County Record’s graphics designer. “You have to do what you have to do."

Castaneda worked feverishly to get the paper out that Monday the river peaked just hours after evacuating his family from their home in the Colorado Landing RV Park.

"We started loading all of our clothes, all the girl's clothes,” said Castaneda. "And it just happened so quickly. The water just kept coming. We drove by the next morning and it was completely under."

His wife and two daughters, one age give and the other born just the month before, were safe in a nearby hotel.

But their home and most of their belongings were gone.It was the hardest news he's ever had to share.

“It was, it was really tough. Tough,” said Castaneda with tears in his eyes.

His daughter still wonders why they couldn’t fix their home, even as they moved into a new one.

"She's definitely had a tough time. You know, why can't ... they're fixing their house, why don't we fix ours,” asked Castaneda.

"We've had some highs, but the recovery process is really slow,” said Janet Moerbe, Mayor of La Grange.

Moerbe said what La Grange needs now is some help. They need volunteers.

Chapter 5

La Grange can't be beat, won't be beat

Author: Shawn Clynch

Traffic flowing past the Colorado River sign on the bridge of the main road in La Grange is a sign of normalcy in the county seat of Fayette County.

A charming community, which has experienced flooding events in the past, but nothing compares to what occurred last August.

Hurricane Harvey slowly moved inland, drifted toward the Colorado River basin, and was stationary over Fayette County for several hours as a tropical storm.

Matt Kates, the La Grange High School head football coach, said it was a 100-year flooding event which caught people off guard.

"Nobody alive has seen the water that high," he said.

The Colorado River crested at 54.1 feet: the third highest ever recorded in La Grange.

Needless to say, the focus during that catastrophe changed from the Leopards football season opener against Liberty Hill to recovery.

"I don't think that anybody anticipated it to sit as long as it did, for so long, and dump the kind of rain it did," said Kates.

Over 25 inches of rain fell in La Grange alone and the flooding forced La Grange Independent School District to cancel five days of classes.

The flooding displaced 225 of La Grange ISD's students.

That number includes a few members of the Leopards football team.

Not included is a member of Kates' coaching staff,

James Magness described the rush of emotions visiting his home after the waters receded,

"When you have to look up to see where the water was, that was the tough part," he said.

Magness was kind enough to allow KVUE's Shawn Clynch to drive him to the site of his flooded home to see the damage up close.

When we pulled up into the driveway of Magness’ former home, Clynch asked him, "Is this something you can handle emotionally without it affecting you greatly?"

Magness said, “I've been back and I'm getting accustomed to it."

The Colorado River filled his home with six feet of water. The water was just an inch below the light bulb of an outdoor ceiling fan on the back porch.

Clynch asked Magness how far his back porch is from the banks of the Colorado River.

"Probably 250 yards," Magness replied.

That places it all into perspective: the magnitude of the flooding.

Throughout this rebuilding process, Magness and the La Grange community have been resilient.

The town’s heart and attitude are reflected by a saying painted on a wall in the football team’s locker room: A team that won't be beat, can't be beat.

A historic flood coupled with a winless football season, but this town and the La Grange athletes handled this natural disaster like a champion.

Kates echoed that by praising everyone in the community,

"By God, this community stepped up. These kiddos stepped up, and we are all proud to say we are a part of this community," Kates said.

There remains evidence of devastation in parts of La Grange, but through sports and community, La Grange is on the road to recovery.

Chapter 6

Follow the money

Author: Terri Gruca

Texas state leaders estimate it will take another $60 billion to help people recover from Hurricane Harvey.

Just last week, the state received another $1.1 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with housing needs.

The painstaking process of getting money to the places and the people who need it is exhausting and confusing.

So much red tape, so many requirements, it's tough to tell if, in fact, we're doing a good job.

We decided to go into the communities hardest hit to see what they are still facing and how much more they need.

Imagine everything you own fitting on a table for six.

Jessica Ortiz has learned the most valuable items in our lives are priceless and sometimes fleeting.

Back in August, families across Texas scrambled to leave their homes as Hurricane Harvey barreled inland.

The lucky ones had time to gather what they could.

Jessica and her three children, who lived in a small trailer in La Grange, had two hours.

“I got whatever I could: my picture frames, which to me were very valuable, and some televisions and clothing,” said Jessica.

Fast-moving flood waters filled neighborhoods, changing everything.

“We came home to everything destroyed. It was difficult to see everything gone, it was very hard,” said a tearful Jessica. “When we returned back, I only had me and my older son. I didn't bring my two smaller children because I didn't want them to see everything gone. It was hard.”

The governor of Texas declared 60 Texas counties disaster areas. Six months later, many of them still look like it.

Part of the reason is the process involved in getting these families money.

Our government must account for every penny.

So federal and state leaders set requirements for who qualifies and how much they get, then families must apply.

“There are limits on what we can do with these funds,” said Kenneth Feinberg, a well-known attorney in Washington, D.C., who has helped distribute money for major disasters including Superstorm Sandy, 9-11, and the Boston Marathon bombings.

“We can't give everybody who was harmed a $1.65. We've got to give meaningful compensation,” he said.

Here's how the money breaks down:

PHOTOS: FEMA: Texas' recovery from Hurricane Harvey 6 months later

It is not a perfect system.

In Galveston, FEMA trailers sat for months waiting for crews to hook up utilities and inspect them.

Jessica and her family just received their FEMA trailer. They'll have it for the next year.

“It gives me a year,” she said. “Gives me a year to do or to decide what I'm going to do.”

The money hasn't gotten rid of all of this. La Grange families live with constant reminders of all that they lost. Heaps of trash and emptied trailer contents cover their neighborhood. They see it every time they step outside their FEMA trailer doors.

“We have nowhere else to go. We're glad we have help from FEMA and the help they provided, but the living situation around isn't pretty and isn't healthy,” said Jessica.

PHOTOS: La Grange home destroyed by Harvey flood waters

This is where volunteers and private donations can help.

“I know it takes time,” said Jessica. “I just want everything back to normal: the way we were.”

A new reality for families that realize they may never be made whole again.

Chapter 7

Long-term help and resources

Immediately, the American Red Cross delivered $400 checks to 573,000 families after the storm.

The organization is now getting ready to distribute another $100,000,000 collected by your donations to families whose homes were destroyed or suffered major damage.

Two-thirds of that money will go directly to families who need help and are working with disaster case management.

Another third will go to give grants to organizations that do things like build ramps for the disabled and mold remediation.

You can get help locating a disaster case manager by calling 2-1-1, but you must have lived in an area declared a disaster from Hurricane Harvey.

GO HERE for more information on survivors repairing, rebuilding and planning for the future.

GO HERE for information on the Fayette County Day of Service.

GO HERE for the La Grange Area Disaster Recovery Facebook page.