SE Texas assessing flood damage

BY HENRY BRIER | HOUSTON | July 10, 2001

"There is a lot of work to be done. There is an immense amount of cleanup and rebuilding."

—Shirley Norman

Flood-ravaged Houston is attempting to keep its head above water as routine afternoon thunderstorms dump even more rain and survivors reach the halfway point to seek federal compensation for damage.

"There is a lot of work to be done," said Shirley Norman, a Regional Disaster Facilator for Church World Service (CWS), noting the high emphasis on recovery. "There is an immense amount of cleanup and rebuilding."

Harris County, of which Houston is the seat, endured 95 per cent of the damage from Tropical Storm Allison, according to Clarence Van Dyke, another CWS volunteer. He said both businesses and residences were afflicted by the storm.

Areas damaged by Allison were declared a federal emergency on June 9, from which point individuals with damaged property have 60 days to file the appropriate documents with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order to receive federal dollars.

FEMA has received 86,130 applications for assistance, according to Art Story, a voluntary agency liaison in the disaster field office, who spoke Tuesday morning.

"We expect these figures to go up dramatically" said Eugene Brezany, a FEMA spokesman. "Not everything that was lost can be replaced. But FEMA assistance can help the recovery process."

The requests primarily have come from households, Story said, adding the deadline for applications is August 8.

Almost 4,000 homes were destroyed, Brezany said Tuesday morning, adding such figures are estimates. More than 10,000 houses sustained major damage and more than 34,000 sustained minor damage.

Story said full recovery will take between two and four years.

Thus far, there have been 23 storm-related deaths, most of whom are the elderly, Brezany said. "The scope of the disaster is very large," he said.

He estimated 20,000 people have visited disaster centers, which he said breaks down to about 1,000 a day.

Norman said 28 Texas counties were declared disaster areas, and the downtown section of Houston sustained the brunt of damage.

Houston, located in the southeast region of the state along the Gulf of Mexico, is a bayou city, which makes it especially prone to flooding.

The city still faces the threat of additional tropical storms and hurricanes, given that the season ends in late November and reaches its peak in early September.

Allison dropped a total of 40 inches of rain on Houston, including four inches during one 30-minute period, said Todd Adams. Much of the water drains quickly.

"Heavy rain came down really fast," Adams said. "It went away as fast as it came up."

The temperature in Houston hovers at around 90 degrees during the day, which Van Dyke said is "normal Texas weather," making the city hot and humid.

Then, shortly after 3 in the afternoon every day, storm clouds gather above the eastern side of the city, Adams said.

"They dump and move on," he said, noting such significant thunderstorms saturate the region with heavy downpours.

Adams said such weather is routine for Houston, but it is impeding residents' recovery.

He said it should take from six months to a year to completely recover from the damage by rebuilding and seeking recompense.

Adams said local food pantries have received a significant increase in requests for assistance.

"Folks are trying to complete their homes' minor damage with sheet-rock and dealing with insurance companies," Adams said.

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