On Wednesday, Aug. 23, hundreds of county officials gathered in Austin for a legislative conference. That same day, Gov. Greg Abbott pre-emptively declared a State of Disaster in 30 Texas counties “in anticipation of Tropical Depression Harvey making landfall in the Gulf Coast region.”
Two days later, Harvey had morphed into a daunting hurricane, and Abbott “urged all Texans to heed the warnings of local officials, strongly consider all voluntary evacuation orders, and strictly comply with all mandatory evacuation orders.”
County Judges and County Commissioners in affected areas began making their way home from the conference – some a day early – to protect and prepare and issue those evacuation orders. For officials in dozens of counties, that last night’s sleep in Austin would have to sustain them for days.
After slamming into the coast with 130 mph winds, Harvey lingered and wandered and lingered some more, dropping a reported 50-51 inches of rain resulting in what some labeled a “1,000-year flood” in saturated areas. At least 60 lost their lives (as of press time).
On Aug. 28, Abbott upped the state disaster declaration to 58 Texas counties, and on Sept. 3, he estimated that damages in Texas could total some $150 billion to $180 billion.
Heart-wrenching stories began surfacing: children swept away as vehicles flooded, volunteers drowning during rescue attempts, and the tragedy of a young man’s electrocution while trying to save a family pet.
There was no way to publish our October issue without covering Harvey – but how? We couldn’t interrupt you with questions as you were in the trenches serving your communities, clearing roads, helping with rescues, coordinating responses, answering phones at your emergency operations center – whatever it took.
We scoured social media pages looking for updates on county websites and emergency management pages. It was here that our editor, Julie Anderson, connected with MJ Olsen, wife of Aransas County Commissioner Brian Olsen; of all places, Mrs. Olsen is from Rockport, where the eye of Harvey made landfall.
The Olsens had been at the legislative conference in Austin. As Harvey barreled toward their hometown, Commissioner Olsen took his wife to their son’s home in Austin and headed to Aransas County to retrieve a few items and then evacuate. As the week unfolded, Commissioner Olsen returned off and on to Rockport. When he spoke to his wife for the first time, he told her that pictures couldn’t adequately tell the story – the damage was too overwhelming.
The day we spoke to Mrs. Olsen, she was anxious. It was Sept. 5, and she had yet to return to Rockport.
We asked her what she knew about the schools and the courthouse, and her answers were solemn and sobering:
“The courthouse has been condemned.”
“School is closed indefinitely”
Commissioner Olsen took his wife home to visit on Sept. 6. We’ll let her written words and the photos she shared tell the story:
So many emotions…tears…fears…stress…anxiety…yesterday was the first time to go home…Rockport…as we drove toward home and began to see what Harvey did…shock and sadness…as a real estate agent my outside voice said…all these homes that have been lost…my heart aches for all whose homes were damaged…destroyed…as we drove past businesses lost…income lost…dreams shattered….this just can’t be…my husband says…it looked much worse last week…I don’t say much….we just drive…as we turn into our subdivision…neighbors/people working…the streets on both sides lined with debris…my inside voice says how could it possibly be much worse…as we pull into our driveway…I begin to pray…please give me the strength…I knew already what to expect…the inside of our home is okay…I begin to inspect…we have some repairs…mostly in our master bedroom…I go through the house twice…and I realize…the pictures in both bedrooms are all crooked…my wall of crosses intact…not one out of place or crooked…mi Virgen…she is there…nothing out of place around her. I pause to pray…and give thanks for this blessing but please bless those who lost so much more…we go outside and continue the inspection…stuff in our yard …have no clue to whom it belongs…it’s like a yard sale gone bad…mind you no fence…our palm tree broken off and lying in the neighbor’s yard… placed gently away from their home… just lying in their yard…the front tree…split in half…lying in the neighbor’s driveway…I notice our water softener on the ground…and that is when I notice…standing there keeping watch…not broken…holding broken twigs…I am overcome by a sense of peace…so many things broken…I have faith…amidst so much damage…God is there…always…
Facebook post: August 26, 7:34 p.m.
Aransas County has experienced a Category 4 hurricane.
There is no power, internet or phone service. The Aransas County Sheriff’s Office is coordinating door to door searches with the assistance of over 100 officers from state and federal agencies.
Please do not call and request a welfare check on your friends and loved ones. Unfortunately, too many residents failed to heed the evacuation warnings.
Every residence that shows signs of damage will be checked.
I remind you not to be alarmed yet, that you have not heard from your loved ones as we have no phones, internet or power.
Please bear with us as we go about checking out the county.
Sheriff Aransas County
Facebook Post: August 30, 1:34 p.m.
Update from Superintendent Patek:
We have just received our formal damage assessment, and it has been decided that school will be closed indefinitely. We have an amazing team beginning work on repairs so we can open school as quickly and safely as possible. We know parents are concerned about their children’s education and emotional wellbeing as are we. We encourage those parents/guardians that have the ability to go ahead and enroll your student in a school district where you are currently staying or where you have family. All students displaced by this disaster will be accepted at other districts in Texas and ACISD will do everything we can to make sure records are sent. Your student is now also eligible for homeless services which include free lunch. Please make sure and visit with the receiving district personnel when enrolling for more details.
It is our plan and desire to get our campuses up and running so we can welcome our students home as soon as possible. Please continue to follow us on Facebook and the district web page for weekly updates. Stay safe and know our thoughts are with all of you during this difficult time. #piratestrong
On Aug. 28, 2017
Gov. Greg Abbott added counties to the State Disaster Proclamation bringing the total to 58: Angelina, Aransas, Atascosa, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Colorado, Comal, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kerr, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Trinity, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Washington, Wharton, Willacy and Wilson.
A Message of Hope: Counties Helping Counties
As floodwaters receded and the magnitude of devastation broadened, many beyond the scope of Harvey began asking, “What can we do?” For example, Glasscock County Judge Kim Halfmann quickly put a plan into motion collecting donations of food, organizing cooking convoys, and sending teams into storm-beleaguered Jefferson County. Our November issue will include a “Counties Helping Counties” segment.