From the Field

Hurricane Harvey: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, it became the country’s first major — Category 3 or higher — hurricane since Hurricane Wilma hit Florida in October 2005 and the first major hurricane to strike southern Texas since Celia in 1970.

Hurricane Wilma was stronger than Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, both part of the same storm season. While Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was one of the most destructive and costly in U.S. history, it hit the eastern seaboard as a Category 2 storm. Hurricane Matthew, in late 2016, had been downgraded to a Category 1 by the time it made landfall on the East Coast.

With Hurricane Harvey now dissipated, Texas is working to move forward and rebuild.

“This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told “Good Morning America” Sept. 1. “People need to understand this is not going to be a short-term project. This is going to be a multi-year project for Texas to be able to dig out of this catastrophe.”

Here’s what you need to know about the disaster.

FAQs: What you need to know about Hurricane Harvey, and learn how you can help

How did Hurricane Harvey develop?

Harvey began Aug. 17 as a slow-moving tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, originating from a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa Aug. 13. Tropical Storm Harvey hit the Windward Islands Aug. 18, then weakened to a tropical wave Aug. 19.

Tropical Depression Harvey reformed Aug. 23. It grew into a Category 1 hurricane with 80-mph winds Aug. 24 and continued to gain strength as it churned toward Texas. The National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm to a Category 4 hurricane Aug. 25, with sustained winds of up to 130 mph.

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Where and when did Harvey make landfall?

Harvey first made landfall over San Jose Island and then near Rockport, in south-central Texas, late Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, threatening millions of residents with 130-mph winds, heavy rains, and a massive storm surge that swamped coastal areas. It stalled around southern Texas for days as a weakening hurricane producing catastrophic flash and river flooding. Harvey then downgraded to a tropical storm over the weekend.

By Aug. 27, winds died down to as much as 40 mph, but the storm dumped a year’s-worth of rain in less than a week on Houston and much of southeastern Texas.

By Aug. 29, two flood-control reservoirs had breached, increasing water levels throughout the Houston area.

Harvey made its third and final landfall Aug. 30 near Port Arthur, Texas, and Cameron, Louisiana, bringing widespread catastrophic flooding. While authorities and first responders handled as many as 10,000 rescue missions around Houston, at least 30,000 people fled to temporary shelters.

Tropical Storm Harvey was then downgraded to a tropical depression late Aug. 30, but it continued to dump massive amounts of rain on parts of eastern Texas, Louisiana, and southern Arkansas.

Still alive a week after making landfall, Harvey caused abnormally high rainfall and gust 35 mph winds while traveling northeast through Tennessee and Kentucky before dissipating.

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Hurricane Harvey made landfall late Friday night as a Category 4 storm. (©2017 courtesy of NOAA)
Hurricane Harvey made landfall late Friday, Aug. 25, over Rockport, Texas, as a Category 4 storm. (©2017 courtesy of NOAA)

How much damage did Harvey cause?

The damage from Hurricane Harvey is likely to exceed the worst forecasts that preceded the storm. A week after Harvey made landfall in the Houston area, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said it may cost as much as $180 billion$125 billion of which coming from federal aid — to rebuild the state, which would make it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Hurricane Katrina currently holds that title.

“The geographic area and the population affected by this horrific hurricane and flooding … is far larger than the population and geographic area of Katrina,” Abbott said on “Fox News Sunday.”

After Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the federal government spent $120.5 billion — with inflation, that’d be $150 billion in 2017. Sandy inflicted more than $70 billion in damages in 2012, and Matthew cost the U.S. as much as $15 billion in 2016.

Although Harvey’s damage is still being assessed, an estimated 13 million people have been affected, nearly 135,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in the historic flooding, and up to a million cars have been wrecked. The official death toll currently sits at 82.

FEMA Administrator William Long told the Weather Channel he anticipates at least 450,000 people will need emergency assistance. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has also jumped to a more than two-year high amid a surge in applications from Texas. The surge in claims reported by the Labor Department offers an early glimpse of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the economy.

More than 250 out of about 280 total Houston public schools were finally able to start the school year Sept. 11, but several dozen campuses remain closed pending repairs from the flooding. The Houston district has planned rolling start dates through Sept. 25.

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How bad was the flooding after Harvey?

The storm dumped more than 27 trillion gallons of rain over Texas, making Harvey the wettest Atlantic hurricane ever measured. Some parts of Houston received more than 50 inches of rainfall — so much that the National Weather Service had to update the colors it uses on its weather charts to properly account for it. With one-third of Houston completely flooded, the weight of the water also sank the city temporarily by two centimeters (almost an inch), according to a California geophysicist.

Now all of the sodden drywall, flooring, furniture, clothing and toys adds up to an estimated 8 million cubic yards of garbage in Houston alone, enough to fill up the Texans stadium two times over.

View satellite image of neighborhoods in Texas before and after the flooding.

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How long will it take to recover?

Texas state and local officials are currently making garbage cleanup a priority, although they have not provided any specific timelines. Houston is pushing to complete a “first pass” of debris removal within 30 days, said Derek Mebane, deputy assistant director of Houston’s solid waste department, but it could take months. Recovery could also be slowed if resources are diverted toward Florida because Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys Sept. 10 as a Category 4.

People returning to flooded areas and those who remained also face health hazards related to polluted air, contaminated water, infected wounds, mold, contagious diseases, carbon monoxide, and mosquitoes.

“Going back into the flood environment has risks,” said Albert Rizzo, MD, senior medical adviser for the American Lung Association. The cleanup itself can be hazardous, he said.

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How is World Vision responding?

Our team of staff, local churches, and community partners is mobilizing to reach 300,000 people affected by the disaster. As of Sept. 21, World Vision has delivered 44 truckloads of supplies to partners in Houston, Corpus Christi, and Lake Charles — enough to help up to 110,000 people.

Each trailer carries enough supplies to help about 2,500 people, said Reed Slattery, World Vision’s national gifts-in-kind program director, who is helping coordinate the response.

“The need is so great on the ground, we’re just trying to be able to respond as quickly as we can, to try to meet that need as best as we can,” Reed said.

Emergency supplies headed to the disaster zone include tents, pillows, sleeping bags, coolers, food kits, pet food, personal hygiene items, women’s toiletry kits, school supplies, toys, socks, clothes, diapers, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and latex gloves. Products are being distributed through local churches and partner organizations.

 

Getting supplies from World Vision to pass on to shelters and people in need is “a huge blessing to this community,” said Dan Worrell, operations minister for Houston Northwest Baptist Church which received one of the first truckloads of supplies Wednesday from the Grand Prairie warehouse. “We’re able to distribute in a level greater than we did previously.”

One truck loaded with supplies was delivered to Faith Memorial Baptist Church, on Houston’s east side, according to Pastor Andrew Johnson.

“We’re glad we can set up a more localized site for our community. We’re grateful for World Vision partnering with us,” said Johnson.

Shipments contain everything from sleeping bags and tarps to diapers and Women’s Hope Kits — totes donated by Thirty-One Gifts and filled with toiletries.

“Our heart in who we are is giving back and empowering women, and Hope Kits do that,” said Jill Rhea, a Dallas independent director for Thirty-One Gifts, a direct-seller of totes, purses, and accessories. “They provide hope and dignity.”

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How can I help victims of Hurricane Harvey?

Right now, World Vision’s warehouse staff, truck drivers, and local partners are delivering relief supplies to affected communities as quickly and safely as possible.

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Contributors: Chris Huber, Heather Klinger, and Kristy J. O’Hara, World Vision staff.

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