When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast late on Aug. 25, its 130-mph winds, extreme rainfall and major storm surge caused flooding and power outages, closed businesses and displaced thousands of residents. The cost, in financial terms, has been staggering: Moody’s Analytics has estimated the eventual recovery price tag will fall between $86 billion and $108 billion. And that’s to say nothing of the more than 60 lives that were tragically lost in the storm.
About a week later, Hurricane Irma stormed through Florida and other southeast destinations. Cities expected to be safe havens bore direct impact as the storm changed direction. While flooding was not as bad as feared in Florida, more than 6.5 million residents were left without power.
Incredibly, that was not the end of this year’s natural disasters. The entire island of Puerto Rico lost electricity in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The team at Meet Puerto Rico reported it was safe and that hotels were protecting guests, but it will take time to analyze the full scope of the damage.
The most devastating hurricane season in recent memory has tested grit and resiliency. But the affected destinations have shown that Category 5 and Category 4 storms can’t keep good people from helping a neighbor in need.
4 FEET OF RAIN
Beaumont, Texas, a city of 120,000 people about 90 miles east of Houston, received more than 2 feet of rain in one day—46 inches during the week after Harvey came ashore. As a result, Beaumont’s water pumping stations failed, leaving the city without potable water for a week and its business core surrounded by a suburban moat. “We couldn’t get out; we were prisoners in our own city for four days,” says Dean E. Conwell, CDME, executive director of the Beaumont CVB.
That said, some people could still get into and around Beaumont. The Texas Division of Emergency Management sent the city “a lot of large trucks” that were used to rescue residents from rising waters, says Conwell. The Coast Guard also jumped in to help with rescues, as did a slew of local residents using dinghies, rubber rafts and whatever crafts they had on hand. “You’d go around town and see makeshift tents on church lawns,” says Conwell, adding that the faith-based community also helped feed people and bring in desperately needed bottled water.
Conwell cites some of the many Texans who pitched in, including the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association, the disaster relief group Waco Navy, students at Texas A&M, the Austin Diaper Bank and restaurateurs. Notably among those was Jason’s Deli, (headquartered in Beaumont), which, despite being closed themselves due to Harvey, donated their unspoiled food to groups preparing meals for others. Beaumont was expected to be up to full speed again by mid-October..
In Galveston, “it was all water-based for us—a storm that would never go away,” says Meg Winchester, CMP, director of the Galveston Island CVB. “Our downtown flooded, and that’s where people got in and helped out.”
Harvey’s damage was relatively minimal on Galveston Island compared to other coastal cities, she says, and most meeting clients worked to keep their events in the city, with only a few cancellations. The Moody Foundation, a Galveston-based nonprofit, donated $1 million to the city, says Winchester, while the Texas Travel Industry Association assisted the CVB by sharing press releases stating Galveston remained open for business.
The Salvation Army, area churches and schools also quickly mobilized relief efforts. “They were working 24 hours, driving into neighborhoods that needed help, delivering food, sheltering people and giving them basic necessities,” says Winchester. In some cases, local residents who survived the storm unscathed pulled boats out of their driveways to rescue others.
The GICVB, which oversees Galveston’s beaches, used jet skis and boats to assist stranded residents throughout Galveston County. “That was our staff doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” says Winchester.