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How Texas Is Doing, 1 Year After Hurricane Harvey Hit


A year ago tomorrow, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. More than 60 people died in the state as the powerful storm pummeled Corpus Christi, inundated the fishing town of Rockport and stalled over Houston, where it dumped nearly 60 inches of rain. Now, a year later, Houston looks mostly back to normal. But as Laurie Johnson of Houston Public Media reports, that may not be the case.

LAURIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: You know that saying everything's bigger in Texas? In this case, it's true. Hurricane Harvey dumped the most rain from a storm ever recorded in the U.S. And most of it fell in metro Houston, where more than 4.7 million people crisscross thousands of neighborhoods and strip centers and miles of freeways. Most of those freeways, by the way, were underwater. Here's a Houston Public Media reporter at the time.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Now I'm looking at a black Jeep down in the water. The windshield wipers are still on.

JOHNSON: More than 165,000 homes flooded in Harris County. One of them belonged to Porfirio De Leon. He along with his wife and six children had just remodeled their house when Harvey hit.

PORFIRIO DE LEON: The only thing that was - there we were able to save was just the studs. And because of the mold that the water created, we just had to destroy it completely.

JOHNSON: A year later, they're still working to rebuild.

DE LEON: Hopefully we'll never have to have any other type of disaster at this magnitude.

JOHNSON: But another major flood in Houston is very likely.

JIM BLACKBURN: We do not admit that we have a flooding problem.

JOHNSON: Jim Blackburn teaches environmental law and sustainable development at Rice University.

BLACKBURN: It's sort of like being an alcoholic. You know, I'm Houston, and I have a flooding problem. Like, it's the type of thing we need to be honest about and we need to face up to.

JOHNSON: In fact, Harvey was the third severe flood in as many years. So Houston floods and is going to flood forever. What's a city to do? Houston leaders have taken steps like requiring new construction in flood plains to be built at higher elevations, but that doesn't apply to hundreds of thousands of existing homes. One of the people trying to figure out what to do is Ed Emmett. He leads Harris County and testified earlier this week at a Texas legislative hearing.


ED EMMETT: Being brutally honest, I was asked by a television station not long ago, are we better prepared now than we were pre-Harvey? And the answer is no. In fact, we're probably worse.

JOHNSON: Worse because the region's finances are strained by the recovery efforts. Emmett and his county colleagues have moved to snap up frequently flooded properties using federal buyout money. They'll be torn down, and the vacant lots will be turned into parks and wetlands. Sounds good, right? But even if the county gets every cent it asked for, that's only enough money to buy out a thousand homes max. Rice University's Jim Blackburn says moving people out of flood-prone neighborhoods is really the only meaningful solution. He calls what happens next a crossroads for Houston.

BLACKBURN: We're either going to become the model solution for resiliency in the future, or we'll be the biggest failure. And I think it frankly could go either way right now.

JOHNSON: In the meantime, voters head to the polls tomorrow to decide whether the county should take out $2 1/2 billion in debt to pay for flood projects. For NPR News, I'm Laurie Johnson in Houston.


Laurie Johnson