Gary Edwards was interviewed to be the city manager in Aransas Pass, Texas, in the summer of 2017. Two weeks before he took the job, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city.
“When I was interviewing here, the town was intact. When I came back, the town was flattened. I drove into town, and I called my wife, and I said, ‘I don't know about this,” Edwards recalled.
In the town of 8,000, every house lost power. More than half of homes and businesses suffered damage.
The annual budget in Aransas Pass is $25 million. The damage from Harvey was $50 million.
Edwards stayed despite knowing it would be a long road to recovery.
“About five years, that’s about how long it takes to recover from a Category 4 hurricane in this community," he said.
“You have these disasters that knock out tens of thousands of homes. It’s not like we have that capacity just sitting there, ready to build 10,000 homes all at once," said Andy Rumbach, who teaches urban planning at Texas A&M.
In Aransas Pass, many were displaced, wondering if they’d return. Those who returned were surrounded by damage.
“Our water tower—the wind blew it over and destroyed buildings around it. There were piles of debris that were similar to the height of a three-to-four-story building,” Edwards said.
Bringing back power took two weeks. Bringing back consistent water took two years. The next three years saw a long lag of rebuilding.
“You need those federal dollars, FEMA. You have to have it. The community is going to be destroyed without those federal dollars. And it takes so long because of the bureaucratic morass you have to go through to get those federal dollars,” Edwards said.
Five years after Harvey, FEMA no longer dominates the Coastal Bend. Whatever population the towns have lost, they’ve regained. But not all is normal. The only hospital in Aransas Pass remains closed. The nearest one is over a long bridge towards the lighthouse to Corpus Christi.
“The hurricane season— it’s going to the end of November now. Those spaghetti trails you see from the weather reports, you hope one doesn’t hit your community. You keep your fingers crossed. You say your prayers, you go to mass, say a few Hail Marys, and you hope it doesn’t hit you. That’s all you can do. You can’t stop it. If it’s going to hit you, it’s going to hit you,” Edwards said.