Hurricane Harvey: Unprecedented in Scope, Overcome by Enduring Human Spirit
Randle Law Office is proud to serve multiple cities in southeast Texas within a region loosely referred to as “Houston,” and these communities are rising to an occasion of enormous scope. Despite this staggering strain, local officials and residents are finding new strength.
In this week’s blog, we depart from our typical legal discussions to mark, for the record, some of the sweep of events and responses surrounding Hurricane Harvey and its horrific aftermath. We dedicate this to the people in our communities, our clients, and to the memory of those who perished in this terrible storm event.
The Randle Law Office Ltd., L.L.P. represents governmental entities and local municipalities throughout Texas in a wide range of litigation and regulatory matters, and regularly counsels local governments in relation to other municipal issues, such as land development and zoning. We currently represent the city of Brazos Country, the city of Fulshear, the city of Meadows Place, the City of Angleton and the city of Mont Belvieu.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm, knocking late Friday, August 25, into the Texas Gulf Coast along Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Rockport and other communities to our south. It then turned its sights on a larger population area, twisting around to jog up the coast of the Gulf of Mexico toward the Houston/Galveston region encompassing several large jurisdictions, including Fort Bend, Waller, Harris, Brazoria, Galveston and Montgomery counties.
This area is home to thriving residential communities, such as Sugar Land, Fulshear, Katy, Kingwood, The Woodlands and Houston proper as well as enormous industrial complexes central to the processing and transportation of oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and petrochemical products for U.S. and global demand markets. In addition to the complex of industrial plants along the 51-mile Houston Ship Channel, critical energy infrastructure can be thumb tacked on the map in Katy, Mont Belvieu and Freeport, Texas. Vast networks of intrastate and interstate pipelines move these commodities as well as rail. After hanging out a few days over our region, Harvey moved east toward Beaumont and Port Arthur, two other major energy cities and population centers, which unfortunately also became inundated.
Now, consider that this rain event has been determined to be a 1 in 1,000 year flood event. Behind that calculation, here are some highlights of the work of Dr. Shane Hubbard of the University of Wisconsin: between August 23-30, nearly 29,000 square miles in our region took on 20 inches of rain; more than 11,000 square miles received 30 inches of rain; and 3,600 square miles fielded more than 40 inches of rain.
In Mont Belvieu, this is how Harvey rain stacked up, according to latest available data from the official rainfall measured at city hall by 24-hour periods:
• 8/25 1.14 Inches
• 8/26 8.4 Inches
• 8/27 29.42 Inches
• 8/28 11.04 Inches
• 8/29 11.27 Inches through 5:38 pm
• Total Rainfall 61.27 Inches
City officials and first responder agencies have had to contend with everything from high water rescues to legally contemplating how to waive normal requirements for permits and inspection fees for people attempting to repair/rebuild structures with homes and businesses. They have had to invoke special powers under state law to enforce curfews and coordinate among each other on the city, county and state levels and with federal officials.
For example, the City of Fulshear issued a mandatory evacuation on August 27 for residents south of Walker Lane. Harvey has been the disaster that just keeps giving. While a lot of attention has been paid to the Addicks and Barker reservoirs protecting downtown Houston from even worse flooding, the rain swelled the river sheds, creating major dangers for communities along the Trinity and Brazos rivers.
By Wednesday, the threat of an overwhelmed Brazos River still threatened Fulshear and the city maintained emergency measures. “The flooding is still a major event across Fort Bend County given the predicted crest of the Brazos River at Richmond of 57.5 feet, 2.8 feet above historic crest of 54.7,” the city noted in a statement.
On top of that, a brief near hysteria arose on social media and word-of-mouth with a misunderstanding within the general public that affected residents would need to file insurance claims by Friday, September 1, even before thousands had yet to be able to re-enter many neighborhoods to assess the damage.
This misunderstanding arose from a true change in state law with the introduction of HB 1774, a law written to reform property insurance litigation, not claims. The new law is effective September 1. The Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool quickly issued a statement to assure risk pool members that there was no rush to file anything by September 1, although it recommended people make claims as soon as possible to expedite processing of benefits.
Meanwhile, court operations were stalled and extensions granted for pending cases related to the flooding as well as existing cases in multiple courthouses that were not easily accessible. School starts have been delayed and innumerable businesses disrupted.
This leaves millions in the area asking what is next? Some are asking how do we improve our flood management infrastructure and better manage development to mitigate the risk of reliving or experiencing worse than Harvey.
For many residents, the immediate concerns are tearing out drywall and preparing insurance claims, getting their business affairs back to normal and looking to local, state and federal governments for assistance and leadership. We hope to be a part of that ongoing story.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.