Leaders still don't have Harvey recovery details

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Nov. 11, 2017 at 9:27 p.m.

Joe Michael Ramirez, 57, tests the sturdiness of framing in his home that was damaged in Hurricane Harvey. A tarp covers the exposed roof, casting a blue light in the vacated family home.

Joe Michael Ramirez, 57, tests the sturdiness of framing in his home that was damaged in Hurricane Harvey. A tarp covers the exposed roof, casting a blue light in the vacated family home.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

More than 11 weeks after Hurricane Harvey, some officials in communities battered by the storm say they still don't know who will get help or when from federal and state agencies in charge of rebuilding lives and homes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't provided data showing exactly which homes were damaged, according to officials who oversee regions from Victoria to Corpus Christi.

Meanwhile, the Texas General Land Office - the state agency in charge of rolling out some of FEMA's recovery programs - hasn't finalized agreements with local government agencies tasked with helping their residents recover.

This comes after federal and state officials in September signed off on a recovery plan touted as the first of its kind, which seeks to give local governments more control in rebuilding their own communities.

In previous disasters, FEMA was the main public agency in charge of disaster recovery programs. But under the new plan for Texas, the feds decide who qualifies for help and provide funding, while the Texas General Land Office and local councils of governments - agencies that oversee multiple counties - are supposed to work together to aid local residents, according to state and federal officials.

"This is the first time that we've ever had these programs available," said Pete Phillips, who works for the state land office. "This is the first time that a state agency has been designated to oversee (recovery) programs."

Those recovery programs include giving people temporary housing in the form of mobile homes and recreational vehicles in addition to paying for more permanent home repairs.

But some local officials say they have yet to see those benefits in their communities and are unclear on when they might come.

"The rollout of the GLO effort has been a rough start, obviously," Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller said. "And that's caused issues all the way down the line."

Last week, the county judge participated in his first weekly conference call with officials from the General Land Office. This came a week after a GLO official told members of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations that communication with local leaders needed to improve.

"Obviously, we're not doing enough outreach, and we realize that," said Phillips, adding the General Land Office would start weekly calls with local leaders.

Months after Harvey devastated towns along the Texas Gulf Coast, skeletons of homes and RVs lying on their sides are still a common sight miles from where the storm made landfall.

"Nobody has seen a house being put on the ground by FEMA or anything else yet," said John Buckner, who oversees the Coastal Bend Council of Governments.

Buckner's territory includes Rockport and Port Aransas, where winds of more than 130 mph tore apart businesses and ripped roofs from homes. Some coastal residents are getting sick of waiting for more help, and about 800 have decided to rebuild without FEMA's help, he said.

In Bayside, a Refugio County coastal town of just 300 people, Buckner heard estimates that 50 people just packed up and left.

"People have even given up or moved out of town," Buckner said.

The process to get help hasn't been easy for governments either. Buckner's group approved a draft of an agreement with the state that outlines recovery efforts in late October, but Buckner has yet to receive a final version back, he said.

He was told by state officials that the final version might be ready by Nov. 17, he said.

"I guess you can say the officials are in the dark," Buckner said.

The situation is all too similar for officials in Victoria, where the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission is the agency tasked to work with the state on recovery. Victoria County is home to about 32,000 households, more than 19,000 of which applied for some type of disaster assistance, according to FEMA.

In early October, the agency's executive director, Joe Brannan, said he wished he had more details about recovery plans. Last week, he said nothing had changed since he made those comments.

Although the GLO has yet to finalize paperwork with local groups of governments throughout the Texas Gulf Coast region, Phillips said the GLO is planning to hire new employees to help staff those agencies. FEMA also will be sending people to help, he said.

"This really is a robust approach to disaster recovery," Phillips said.

Phillips said Harvey's recovery process is moving faster than in other recent disasters such as floods. For example, the first manufactured home used for temporary housing was placed Oct. 5 - about six weeks after the storm, he said.

"The programs have already started rolling out," Phillips said.

In many communities, however, residents are still struggling to find places to call home.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, whose district includes Victoria and the coastal community where Harvey made landfall, said there is no more time for waiting. She's been working to press FEMA and the land office for answers but has been told the federal agency must still adopt rules, she said.

"There's no more time for waiting," Kolkhorst said. "We are dealing with people's homes and lives. The time for action is now."

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Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'

Day 20: Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Day 21: International Crane Foundation loses office after hurricane

Day 22: Ranching structures, cotton mostly damaged by Harvey

Day 23: Port Lavaca struggles back after Harvey

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Day 25: Nonprofit leaves people lost after Harvey

Day 26: 'We are human beings like everyone else'

Day 27: Refugio schools find way to reopen

Day 28: Bloomington schools begin year in different classroom setups

Day 29: Methodist church serves those in need after hurricane

Day 30: Scientists measure damage to endangered species' habitat (w/video)

Day 31: Medical community feels impact of Harvey

Day 32: Harvey's speed leaves many in harm's way

Day 33: After Harvey, Seadrift couple forced out of home

Day 34: Bloomington Elementary School educates students in FEMA dome

Day 35: School districts share issues with state, US senator

Day 36: VISD students observe See You at the Pole

Day 37: Expectant family struggles after Harvey (w/video)

Day 38: Woodsboro pulls together after Harvey

Day 39: Housing options slim for displaced families

Day 40: SBA approves more than $500M in disaster loans

Day 41: Hunger greater in Crossroads post-Harvey

Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'

Day 44: Goliad baby born as hurricane swirled toward Crossroads

Day 45: Mother recalls 'scary' birth during Harvey

Day 46: Harvey devastates homeowners without insurance

Day 47: Officials have no details on housing relief

Day 48: Harvey impacts couple's 2 Victoria businesses, Rockport home

Day 49: Crews begin repair work on historic McFaddin church

Day 50: Hurricane, flood force Jaguars to make adjustments

Day 51: Texas Zoo thanks Vickers students for donation

Day 52: Seadrift women helping people affected by hurricane

Day 53: Mold creates big problem for homeowners

Day 54: Crossroads public agencies deal with FEMA challenges

Day 55: Special delivery

Day 56: Texas Gulf Coast mayors discuss Harvey aftermath

Day 57: Tenants sue after Harvey eviction

Day 58: Nonprofit directors face difficult fundraising decision after Harvey

Day 59: VISD applies for waivers to reduce Harvey burden

Day 60: Victoria's relief efforts lacked coordination, leadership

Day 61: Popular restaurant battles back from Harvey

Day 62: City looks to buy sprinkler controls for $160K

Day 63: Housing after Harvey (w/video)

Day 64: City looks to help with hefty water bills

Day 65: Men's shelter, soup kitchen closed because of Harvey

Day 66: Watt routes almost $1M to Crossroads' hungry

Day 67: Recovery group seeks members, community leaders

Day 68: Habitat volunteers help Harvey victims rebuild

Day 69: Lawmakers, counties to discuss Harvey response

Day 70: Oyster season opens after Harvey; new rules adopted

Day 71: Crossroads leaders talk storm damage to lawmakers

Day 72: Symphony to open concert season after Harvey delay

Day 73: Harvey recovery group works to measure unmet needs

Day 74: City considers ways to shore up water system

Day 75: County officials: Mobile homes need more oversight

Day 76: Recipient of state honor persists despite Harvey setbacks

Day 77: Heroes, lessons emerge in Harvey's wake

Day 78: Harvey, budget shortfalls challenge local leaders

Day 79: Salvation Army traditional holiday meal to continue

Day 80: City water had no bacteria despite Harvey outage

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

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