Long road ahead for recovery after Hurricane Harvey

Updated 2017-09-15 10:00:37 Xinhua

Debris still piled up high along streets in the neighborhoods in Houston area in south U.S. 10 days after Hurricane Harvey hit, and the government said it would take months for cleaning up.

To deal with the issue, Houston city council agreed on Wednesday to put property tax issue on the agenda for the scheduled meeting next month.

Mayor of Houston Sylveste Turner said on Monday he would seek city council's approval of an 8.9 percent hike in the city's property tax rate to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Currently, a home with 225,000 dollars valuation pays 1,321 dollars in taxes. Under the proposed increase, that same home would pay 1,439 dollars.

The mayor's office said this would be a one-time rate hike that expires after 12 months and cannot be renewed. It would raise about 110 million dollars to be used to repair damaged city property and facilities.

The mayor said that just cleaning up the debris will cost over 200 million U.S. dollars and the city will have to pay 10 percent of that without being reimbursed by the federal government.

The preliminary data from CoreLogic, a property analytics firm, predicts that between 25 billion and 37 billion U.S. dollars' worth of flood loss has hit homes across southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. And only about 6.5 billion to 9.5 billion dollars of those costs will be covered by insurers.

Standard homeowners' insurance policies cover damage from the high winds that are associated with a hurricane, but they don't cover damage from rain or flood waters. In the case of Harvey, many of the damaged homes weren't in high risk flood zones.

In fact, experts from two universities in the State of Texas found that there are serious errors in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s 100-year flood plain maps.

However, an analysis of flood claims in several southeast Houston suburbs from 1999 to 2009 found that the FEMA's maps - the tool that U.S. officials use to determine both flood risk and insurance premiums - failed to capture 75 percent of flood damages from five serious floods, none of which reached the threshold of a 100-year event.

The research by hydrologists and land-use experts at Rice University and Texas A&M University at Galveston was published in the journal Natural Hazards Review just days before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey inundated the Houston region and caused some of the most catastrophic flooding in U.S. history.

For Harvey victims who will be forced to recover without assistance from insurance, it's a daunting challenge. Therefore, the government should play its role in seeking solutions to address the difficulties.

The Harris County which contains Houston on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to seek more than 17 million U.S. dollars to buy out more than 100 homes at the highest risk of flooding.

The county's Commissioners Court agreed to submit a grant application to FEMA that, if approved, would enable the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to buy and demolish 104 homes, some of which have flooded multiple times in recent years.

The district's buyout program takes on particular significance after Tropical Storm Harvey ravaged the region, swamping some 136,000 of homes.

Floodplain maps and regulations only came into being in the 1980s. Since then, HCFCD has bought out roughly 3,000 homes.

HCFCD is a special purpose district created by the Texas Legislature in 1937 in response to devastating floods that struck the region in 1929 and 1935. Its jurisdictional boundaries are set to coincide with Harris County, a community of more than 4.5 million people.

Focusing on policies towards urban planning in an adaptive way is an important part of recovery process after Hurricane Harvey.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Wednesday, Jim Blackburn, a lawyer and professor in the practice of environmental engineering at Rice University of Texas, stressed the challenges facing Houstonians.

He supported the idea of buyout. "There's some areas that have flooded 3, 4, 5 times recently. Those are the areas we're probably not going to be able to help. So let's buy out those houses."

He said there's three different policy areas, or "the area's going to be very hard to fix, the area that doesn't need fixing, and the area that you might be able to fix. And then develop policies for each of them."

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