Damage reports sought in Harvey aftermath
By LPR Staff
Recovering from a natural disaster is a long, slow process – and a process that the people of Caldwell County know all-too-well. In the last five years, the County has had to recover from five major disasters, some, like the Halloween and Memorial Day Floods, impacting the same areas over and over again.
As Hurricane Harvey ripped through Caldwell County in late August, those same roads and bridges were put in harm’s way, once again.
“I think that we might be able to make a special case for Federal assistance to bring some of these roads up to new standards, because [the same roads] have been affected by the disasters, over and over again,” Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey told the Caldwell County Commissioners Court last week.
This week, as he continues to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), Ritchey reminds residents that there is still time to register damage to their personal property, and to their roads and bridges. Every registration, every dollar of reported damage will help Caldwell County to meet the thresholds for property damage, opening the door for the State and Federal financial assistance that many in the County so desperately need.
“Some of the homeowners who sustained damage are not going to be able to recover without this assistance,” Ritchey said. “There are some who didn’t have insurance, others who are elderly, and some who just don’t have the means to rebuild.”
According to preliminary estimates developed through a partnership with the Caldwell County Appraisal District, Ritchey said that homes in Caldwell County sustained more than $2.85 million in damage as a direct result of Hurricane Harvey. Those estimates, he suggested, are on the low side, because so much damage has yet to be reported.
“We have had circumstances where we’re going to inspect ‘House A,’ and on the way, notice that ‘House B’ has a roof half missing, that hadn’t been reported yet,” he said. “Many people don’t know that they can report, or know how to do so.”
Every report, he said, builds the case that Caldwell County can and should qualify for State and Federal assistance to rebuild both public infrastructure and private property.
“So far, 224 people have reported damage through the online tool,” he said. “At last report 77 have registered with FEMA, and we encourage everyone that sustained property damage to do both, if they can.”
With the information gathered so far, the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management estimates that more than $10 million in actual damage was done to public infrastructure in Harvey’s wake. It took FEMA only six stops during a late-September visit to confirm that Caldwell County would likely meet the damage threshold for public assistance funds.
“We don’t have confirmation on the Public Assistance Funds yet,” Ritchey said on Tuesday. “But I fully expect that we are going to qualify.” Those funds will help Caldwell County to repair and rebuild damaged roads. Additional funding could be available from the TDEM to upgrade roads that continually fall victim to flooding damage.
Caldwell County will have to wait for TDEM to review the numbers to determine what level of State assistance might be available, based on a requirement that 20 homes or more sustained what qualifies as “major damage.” Initially, Caldwell County did not meet that baseline, but as reports continue to surface, the situation remains in flux.
Moreover, Ritchey said, the County should work in concert with the Plum Creek Conservation District and other area watershed management programs to assess the damage to the County’s many dams, which suffered strain and ultimately damage from Harvey’s heavy winds and rain. It could cost upwards of $98 million to replace those structures, he said, a burden too heavy for Caldwell County taxpayers to bear on their own.
Last week, Ritchey asked the Caldwell County Commissioners to extend the Declaration of Disaster issued during the throes of Harvey’s destruction, a request he expects to repeat later this month, until he is confident that all the damage has been reported and the most accurate estimates possible are given to FEMA.
In the meantime, he encouraged residents who sustained storm damage to make sure to register, not only on the County online tool at https://report-tx-caldwell.orioncentral.com, but also with FEMA at disasterassistance.gov.
“If you have photographs of the damage, they are easy to upload in the online tool, and that gives us more evidence of the damage,” he said. “I would encourage those who don’t have access to smart phones or who have trouble registering online to reach out to neighbors in their area, who might be able to assist them in making sure they get registered.”