Aug. 25 marked two years since the most destructive storm in Texas history made landfall. For many, the anniversary is a painful reminder of loss and grief. A reminder of the winds that wreaked utter havoc in the communities of Corpus Christi, Victoria, Rockport, Port Aransas and Aransas Pass. A reminder of the record 27 trillion gallons of rain dumped on Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and our Louisiana neighbors.
Two years ago, you could take a motorboat through city streets, through towns, past houses known only by the roofs and weather vanes peeking up through the muddy waters.
But Texans do not mark this two-year anniversary in a spirit of tragedy – but of triumph.
Neither nature’s fiercest winds nor most devastating rainfall could break the strength and tenacity of Texas.
In the ravages of the storm, bright lights cut through the darkness. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 11,022 people and 1,384 pets during the storm. Over 17,000 national guardsmen in Texas and around the country came to the aid of their fellow man. Police officers and first responders led thousands of families to safety. Some, like Sergeant Perez of the Houston Police Department, made the ultimate sacrifice while doing so.
Ordinary men and women came to the rescue of their neighbors in bass boats and human chains, while churches offered their sanctuaries for relief efforts. Members of the Cajun Navy, who remembered vividly the days of Hurricane Katrina, boldly rushed into harm’s way. Business owners like Mattress Mack swung open their doors to give entire communities shelter, warmth and comfort.
In the days, weeks and months following Hurricane Harvey, there were no party lines, no racial divisions and no echo chambers of outrage. There were simply Texans helping Texans. That tremendous compassion, neighborly love and good faith has yielded enormous progress on the road to recovery.
Since Hurricane Harvey, Congress came together and appropriated over $140 billion in emergency funding in response to the 2017 storms. The funding provided in three separate bills helped make it possible to clear debris, open schools, rebuild family homes and give entire towns a fresh start.
Working hand in hand, my colleague Senator John Cornyn and I have been successful in substantially increasing the overall amount of funding for US Army Corps of Engineers flood prevention projects in Texas, as well as the funding for other mitigation activities under the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which will better prepare our state for future storms.
The Army Corps granted Texas nearly $5 billion for projects in the state as part of its Disaster Supplemental Funding Plan, which means roughly half of the construction funds Congress provided to the Army Corps will go to projects in Texas intended to help prevent future flooding events. This included funding to complete the Coastal Texas Study – and last fall, the Army Corps took an important step in completing the draft study and is actively in the process of getting local input.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded over $10 billion in CDBG-DR funds to Texas since Hurricane Harvey made landfall. These crucial funds will go a long way in meeting the needs of Texans who are continuing to repair and rebuild from Harvey.
We also passed the Cruz-Cornyn-Rubio Disaster Tax Relief bill, which added tax deductions for hurricane-related expenses and allowed penalty-free retirement account withdrawals, providing more than $5.5 billion in targeted tax relief to hurricane survivors in 2017.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we protected the First Amendment rights of our churches, temples, shrines and synagogues, which had suffered so greatly in Harvey, and contributed so much to relief efforts. Initially, these houses of worship had been excluded from federal disaster assistance just for being faith-based organizations.
I went to work with my colleagues introducing legislation to fix this problem.
A few months later, FEMA announced a critical reversal in their policy, and shortly after, our legislation codified FEMA’s decision into law, ensuring that religious organizations would finally be eligible for federal disaster relief assistance.
Today, our communities are springing back stronger than ever. Our businesses are once more a part of the booming Texas economy. Our neighborhoods ring with laughter, lawn mowers and the smell of brisket smokers.
Two years after Harvey’s devastation, the work continues. The Texas Gulf continues to recover.
And the Lone Star State is not only rebuilding but is working to protect our homes, families and towns from future storms.
May we never forget the tragic days when Harvey hit our shores. But more importantly, may we always remember the heroes who triumphed in the midst of the darkness.
They are the best of America – and they are the best of Texas.