By James Miller and Josiah Cuellar
As the sun broke through overcast skies and the wind blew in from the gulf, a tattered flag waved brilliantly over an epitaph erected to the memory of Hurricane Harvey near the coastline of Rockport, Texas. A simple commemoration etched into a plaque reads, “Here lies Hurricane Harvey: August 25th, 2017.”
When the second-most ferocious hurricane in United States history is zeroing in on the place you’ve called home for more than 30 years, an aging condominium along the cape might seem like a less than ideal refuge; but that is exactly where Michael Jordan (not the Hall of Fame basketball player) sought shelter during the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey.
"We heard the warnings, like everyone else, but owed it to Katrina fear mongering. By the time we realized that it was going to come hard... it was too late to do anything but ride it out," Jordan recounts with a machismo that can only be found in Texas.
When Hurricane Katrina sideswiped New Orleans, the eye wall had begun to collapse and with it the winds slowed. By landfall, it was a milder—yet still devastating—Category 3. When Harvey hit Rockport it was gaining momentum, despite already being a Category 4.
Despite the pleas from the mayor and local officials, many in Rockport ignored the call to evacuate.
For the citizens of Rockport, the day started the same as any other. Coffee poured into recyclable cardboard cups at The Sunrise Markets, a rickety mom and pop service station and bait shop near South Water Street. Stray dogs weaved in and out of traffic in the early morning chill, fishermen waded in waist-high water praying for the “big one,” and school buses rolled through neighborhoods on schedule.
Little did the sleepy coastal city know, Harvey would wreak havoc as it made landfall three times over a span of six days. Like a deadly Yo-Yo, it taunted the Lone Star State with ferocious winds exceeding 157 miles per hour.
At its peak, three feet of rain water inundated Rockport leaving over two-thirds of the city beneath a foamy mix of salt and freshwater. In total, 88 people would perish as damages exceeded the city’s $4.3 million dollar annual budget nearly 50 times.
As Harvey took his final bow dissipating eight days after landfall, $125 billion in damage laid in its wake, according to the National Hurricane Center. In quantifiable terms, Harvey’s financial impact was larger than any other natural disaster in U.S history, apart from Katrina.
In the Wake
Swiping at mosquitos on an unusually warm February morning six months removed from that fateful day, Jordan shared how Harvey brought both destruction and media attention to the small city – leaving only the destruction.
“The media, FEMA, even the people forgot about us,” said Jordan. “A lot has slowed down, and the progress is nearly at a standstill.”
While in-state volunteering has slowed in unison with vanishing media coverage, The First Baptist Church of Rockport has remained dedicated to gutting, mucking and rebuilding homes in the wounded city. With support from across the country, including college students who opted to spend their spring break volunteering in Rockport, progress has been slow.
Corey Mccleskey, a college student volunteer from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, detailed the volunteer effort pouring into the state. Mccleskey is one of the more than 300 volunteers assisting in Rockport with recovery efforts.
“For most spring breaks, people were saying let’s go to the beach and hang out. I’ve done that for a couple and I don’t remember them at all,” said Mccleskey. “This is the second time I’ve done hurricane relief and it’s just memories that you’ll never forget.”
The tragedy of a hurricane doesn’t rest in the category, wind speed, damage, or death toll generated on impact; rather, the real tragedy rests in its effect on the lives of the people who will forever remember a date.