State of Texas: Planning for the next big storm

Flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey surrounds buildings in Sabine Pass, Texas, next to the Gulf of Mexico, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Although many Texans face a long road to recovery after Hurricane Harvey, state leaders are looking ahead at ways to protect Texas from future natural disasters. Funding from FEMA and volunteers are helping to relieve communities as legislators plan ahead.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced appointments to a joint interim committee to look into a coastal barrier system that will prevent damage from storm surges. Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will serve on the committee currently looking at implementing a system of gates and barriers along the Texas coast. There have been similar committees of this nature in the past but ultimately led to no real action from the state.

While this committee is being worked out, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called on committees to begin studying issues related to Hurricane Harvey. The Appropriations Committee is looking into using federal funds to help reduce the impact of future natural disasters.  The House Committee on Natural Resources will look into potential of infrastructure projects that can reduce the impact of future flooding and acquiring funding for them.

“There’s been a conversation since Hurricane Ike in 2008 about a coastal barrier that the Houston area needs to block the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex,” Texas Tribune reporter Kiah Collier told KXAN’s Josh Hinkle on Sunday morning’s State of Texas program. Collier reported on Tribune’s Hell and High Water series – a partnership between with Pro Publica that looked at what could happen if a big hurricane made a direct hit on Houston.

“We were talking about how [Harvey] was kind of a near miss because of how the track went,” said meteorologist David Yeomans. “But on the east side of a hurricane, that’s where the fetch of moisture from the ocean gets thrown. That’s where the rain bands just train over the same spot.” In Houston, that led to unprecedented flooding. But it could also lead to progress on stalled plans to build flood prevention projects. “Local officials are hoping they will get federal funding because of this,” Collier explained.

Both Yeomans and Collier spoke about their experiences covering Harvey.  Yeomans was on the coast as the full force of the hurricane hit the city of Rockport. “First responders there were fighting complacency,” Yeomans said, describing the difficulty emergency teams had as they tried to convince people to evacuate before the storm. “There’s an urge for people to say, ‘well, I’ve seen this before.’ But really, they had not,” Yeomans said, explaining that Harvey truly was stronger than any storm to hit the Texas coast in nearly 60 years. “It’s hard to compare previous storms in people’s minds to what’s coming,” Yeomans said. “It’s hard to visualize how terrifying it’s going to be when 130 mile per hour winds rip apart your house.”

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