Mixed Feelings Remain One Year Post Harvey For Some Along The Texas Coast

A photo of Corpus Christi Bay taken nearly one year after Harvey (Matt Briscoe)

"I had never heard anything like that in my life" is how Winton Durant describes the sounds that he heard nearly a year ago when Hurricane Harvey came ashore along the Texas coast. Durant, who has lived in Corpus Christi for 57 years says that though he had riden out a few storms in his day, he knew that just by the sound, this was a storm like none he had witnessed in the past.

Durant lives out on the island and rents a small house with himself, his wife Leanne and their 4 year old Yorkie named Pooch.

"Leanne decided that she was going to take Pooch and go to our son's home in Fort Worth", Durant says. But thinking back on it, he wishes that he would have just left and sought the shelter and safety of his son's house alongside his wife and dog.

"I will not ever do it again", Durant says and for good reason. Durant, who lost power early on during the storm found himself not only alone and powerless against the wrath of Mother Nature, but now he would have to deal with a hole in their roof and three water inching closer and closer to his doorstep.

"Luckily nothing came in, thank God", he says. But as he watched the national news feed on his phone, he knew that the worst was yet to come and that his friends and neighbors just a few miles over may not have been doing so well. And Winton was exactly right.

As the storm continued to rage on Winton wondered aloud where this monster came from? Harvey began it's destructive path days earlier as a weak, midseason tropical storm that initially impacted the Lesser Antilles. A short time later, Harvey would dissipate over the central Caribbean Sea before building back up into a monster storm.

The storm would claim at least 68 lives in Texas, the largest number of direct deaths from a
tropical cyclone in the Lone Star State since 1919.

On Padre Island, where Winton was, observers confirmed  of 4.7 ft along the Packery Channel, and the USGS surveyed a high water mark of 6.4 ft above ground level near Port Aransas.

Measuring on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Island, a water level of 3.5 ft was measured at the Bob Hall Pier. A measurement of less than 3 ft of flood waters were recorded to the south in areas adjacent to Laguna Madre, including Padre Island. In the end, Durant and those few like him, who rode out the storm on the island would largely be safe from flood waters, but flooding would not be their only danger--and they knew it.

Though Nueces, Aransas and San Patricio counties would have 0 direct deaths from the storm, many residents here feel that they are more than lucky to be alive.

"I though we ere going to die" says Linda Mercheson who lives in Flour Bluff. "You cannot describe that deep, growling, nearly evil sound that you hear", she says describing what they storm sounded like from her vantage point.

"Just a deep, long moan that made you think that this was it", Mercheson says.

Others who rode the storm out describe what they could smell.

"It smelled like raw death", says James Payne who lives on Padre Island. "This raw smell that was like a cross between sulphur and rotten fish guts that you could not get out of your nose for days is what I remember the most."

However you describe it, Hurricane Harvey was not a walk in the park for anybody. As people began to return to their homes, they found that on Padre Island and Flour Bluff they had actually dodged a big bullet from Mother Nature and as families began working to clean up the mess. But in that comfort lies the inevitable question--what if?

What if Harvey's landfall would have been just a little further south, would residents on the Island and Flour Bluff been just as exposed as their neighbors only slightly further up the coast? The answer is without a doubt, yes.

 The wind damage was devastating  in Aransas, Nueces , Refugio and the eastern part of San Patricio Counties. Some 15,000 homes were destroyed there, with another 25,000 damaged.  Generally speaking, the damage was most severe in the areas adjacent to Aransas
Bay and Copano Bay, with the city of Rockport hit particularly hard.  State Highway 361 which was inundated along the entire stretch of Mustang Island saw plenty of damage and due to it's natural appeal, that area was left wide open and vulnerable. 

Storm surge also damaged waterfront structures in Port Aransas, Holiday Beach, Copano Village, Lamar, Seadrift, North Padre Island and Mustang Island. It wasn't until after the storm that we learned that storm surge near the Packery Channel caused an interruption to the primary water supply to Port Aransas for six days.

"We are conducting research now to determine what can be done to better protect lives and property on the island" said a spokesperson with NOAA recently in a request for comment. The statement went onto say that "we are working with other federal, state and local agencies to identify places that we may have overlooked and how we can better serve that population."

But now, one year post Harvey residents are concerned about what will happen when the next major hurricane makes landfall along the Texas coast.

"Let's say that this storm did not come in on the northern end of San Jose Island. Let's say it came in just a little further south out near Padre Island National Seashore. That would have been a whole different ball of wax", Larry Adame said.

Adame, originally from just up the road in Freer, Texas says that he hears nothing but the usual "we are looking into it", from area leaders. Adame's concern is that they are not looking hard enough, fast enough.

"If you look at it, we have a hard enough time getting street repaired around here and in the end we are trusting them with our lives and our property," Adame says. "I don't know if I like that."

Adame points to Harris County, an area also hit very hard by Hurricane Harvey.

If passed by voters,  the $2.5 billion dollar bond would fund projects like “drainage improvements, upgraded warning systems, infrastructure repairs, home buyouts, and construction of more detention basins” in the state's most populous county, according to a June news release from the office of Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

"Why not take a look at something like that", Adame asks.

Certain areas of Nueces County, generally along Mustang Island and including Padre Island, are designated as coastal high hazard areas due to high velocity waters from tidal surges and hurricane wave action and are protected by federally backed programs. However, that does not give comfort to some citizens like Adame.

"What is going to have to happen is we are going to have to wait until something major happens here in our backyard before local leaders react", Adame says, venting his frustration. "We dodged a big rock this time and I am afraid that the slow hurricane season this year has lulled them right into the comfort zone."

I reached out to the county for comment 5 times over the last week to ask about Adame's concerns and to see what plans the county might have in the actual works. They have not returned comment.

But as for now, looking back one year later folks in Flour Bluff and the Island have a lot to be thankful for despite the isolated damage that took place. Some are just lucky that they survived, while others are concerned that elected and appointed officials are not doing enough to protect from future storms. Despite how you look it, one year later there are plenty of unanswered questions and problems to be solved. All the while, we count our blessings and prepare the best way that we can.