Driving Across Texas, The Destruction From Harvey Is Evident

Originally published on August 28, 2017 7:47 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Houston, Texas, covering Harvey, this tropical storm that could, forecasters say, dump 40 inches or more of rain this week. The storm hit the coast, and then it moved to the north and east. NPR's John Burnett spent five hours on the road yesterday, driving from Corpus Christi to Houston. He describes two entirely different natural disasters.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Down on the coastal bend of Texas where the great tempest came ashore, it is destruction. Flimsy metal buildings, stately oak trees, green highway signs and massive steel billboards have all taken a horrendous thrashing. The most dramatic sight was a mammoth, 5-story-tall storage facility holding dozens of pleasure boats now tumbling out of their stalls.

Around the town of El Campo, the Pearl of the Prairie about 70 miles southwest of Houston, that's where the wetlands begin. After 2 feet of rain, everything is water. From here on into Houston, it looks like south Louisiana. Cattle are stranded on islands in their watery pastures. Frogs hop across the blacktop. Big oblong modules of cotton, a bumper crop this year, sit beside the highway, too wet to gin.

Every creek is bulging out of its banks. The Guadalupe, the Colorado and the Brazos rivers are wide, brown torrents rushing toward the Gulf, carrying the rain whence it originated. The heavy clay soil in this part of the state is known as Houston black gumbo, and it is saturated. The watersheds are full, so the rain piles and piles.

Seeing the pictures of the demolition that Harvey brought about down here, you might wonder how people hold up, how they start over. For that perspective, I turned to Nelda Salazar, who with her husband, Long Nguyen, owns the Fulton Harbor Bait Stand. The eye of the hurricane passed directly over the little fishing village of Fulton.

NELDA SALAZAR NGUYEN: The first wave, we were fine. We only had this little piece of roof off. But after the eye, the second wave - it tore it up a lot more. We have a back wall completely missing.

BURNETT: Their shrimp boat floated away. A 7-foot storm tide swamped their mullet and croaker tanks and everything else in this wooden shack perched on the water's edge. But Nelda, like so many people I've met over the past few days, stays upbeat.

SALAZAR NGUYEN: We're grateful that we got something to fix up. Other people doesn't have nothing to fix. I mean they've got to go from the bottom up. We actually have a floor. We got a few walls. We got a boat that's floating up. I mean we can fix these.

BURNETT: That is the attitude that will bring back coastal Texas once the rain stops. John Burnett, NPR News, Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.