State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Recovery from Hurricane Harvey Could Take 15 Years

soldiers move through flooded street
Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard move through Houston streets flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Photo: U.S. Army by 1st Lt. Zachary West

Hurricane Harvey has claimed nine lives in Texas so far. Flooding from catastrophic rains has destroyed homes and swept away vehicles. Hospitals have had to be evacuated. More than 100,000 people have lost power.

Yet the storm, which has already dumped 36 inches of rain on many parts of Texas, still continues to pelt the Lone Star State. The rainfall is “unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced,” the National Weather Service tweeted on Sunday. Rescue workers are working overtime, wading through waist-deep water to help people trapped by the storm.

Sadly, “it’s not about to get better anytime soon,” says Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

Hurricane Harvey is predicted to hover over Texas until the middle of the week. After the rains subside, the long, slow process of recovery will begin. Redlener estimates it could take 15 years to heal the wounds Harvey has inflicted.

Tens of thousands of Texans are in need of shelter, and the flooding has caused billions of dollars in damage. Rebuilding homes, infrastructure, and communities will take years, likely made slower by bureaucratic delays and complications, says Redlener. “It will take longer for poor communities, and there will be lots of issues getting kids back to school.”

border patrol agent searches for hurricane survivors
A Border Patrol agent searches a destroyed mobile home for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Texas. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Harvey’s path of destruction is being compared to Hurricane Katrina’s. In 2005, the category 3 storm flooded New Orleans, killing more than 1,800 people and leaving thousands homeless. Today, 12 years later, Louisiana still hasn’t fully recovered from Katrina’s devastation.  

Redlener says that although the federal government’s response has been largely effective, “Our country is not good at recovering. And by the way, very few countries are good at this, but given our resources it’s disconcerting.”

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness, a member of the Earth Institute, will be traveling down to Texas to help assess the needs of children and to see what needs to be put back together.

If you’d like to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, the New York Times suggests donating to these rescue and recovery operations:

Donations to the Red Cross for those affected by Harvey can be made online, or text HARVEY to 90999.

Donations to the Salvation Army can be made online.

Catholic Charities is accepting donations online, or text CCUSADISASTER to 71777 to donate.

NPR has a more extensive list of charities.

“A lot of people are going to have a very difficult time,” says Redlener. “Support to recovery efforts is critical.”

For journalists: Earth Institute experts are available to answer questions about hurricane physics, rapid intensification, flooding, emergency response, and more.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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