Billions spent on Hurricane Rita recovery

Hurricane evacuations

Hurricane Rita devastated the Gulf Coast and caused billions of dollars in damages in Texas when it swept through in 2005. Beaumont and Jefferson County were hard hit with hundreds displaced, and it has cost millions locally to repair damages and to rebuild Southeast Texas.

News of Hurricane Rita traveled along the coast in the days before the storm hit, Sept. 24, 2005. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which caused an estimated $108 billion in damage and claimed more than 1,800 lives, no one was taking any chances and one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history ensued. Prior to Rita’s landfall, Texas and Louisiana evacuated more than 3 million people, the traffic from which caused major gridlock, clogging highways and byways for hours during extreme temperatures reaching into the triple digits. A 2006 report from the Texas House of Representatives estimates 3.7 million people were evacuated and 118 may have died in the evacuation preceding the storm. Six people in Beaumont died of carbon monoxide  poisoning as a result of fumes from generators.  Seven died as a direct result of Hurricane Rita, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In addition to the tragic loss of life directly and indirectly resulting from Hurricane Rita, the storm caused significant infrastructure damages and devastation to numerous local homes. Residents who were insured were forced to make claims, although insurance companies were not quick to pay. Insurance claims from Hurricane Rita in Texas and Louisiana combined totaled approximately $5.8 billion, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

Many residents were not insured, and, whether they were or not, numerous people had to seek emergency aid from agencies such as FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Total economic aid provided by FEMA to Rita victims topped $2 billion for more than 400,000 affected families, according to the agency.

South East Texas Regional Planning Commission (SETRPC) Disaster Recovery Division Director Shanna Burke reports that local counties received approximately $12.45 million in disaster relief funding directly from the Sate of Texas for infrastructure repairs and improvements with $7 million going to Jefferson County, $3.35 million to Orange County and $2.1 million to Hardin County.

According to Burke, SETRPC managed nearly $26.5 million in housing funds for the region.

“With those funds, 310 homes were reconstructed and 74 demolition-only projects were completed,” said Burke.

The SETRPC also managed approximately $25 million in Social Service Block Grant Funding. Over 50 local service agencies applied and were awarded funds for case management, counseling and meals.

The city of Beaumont received and distributed federal aid for demolition projects to tear down structures irreparably damaged by Rita and funds for new houses. According to City of Beaumont Community Development Director Chris Boone, Beaumont built approximately 52 homes with $5.145 million in funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Jefferson County Auditor Patrick Swain says the county spent more than $55 million on Rita-related repairs. FEMA provided over $36 million in aid to the county. Texas’ Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA), which administers a Community Development Block Grant program, provided more than $7.5 million in aid for community health, roads and bridges.

Ten years after Rita, Southeast Texans are left with memories of the damage, and with evidence of the tenacity of those who stayed to rebuild and revitalize the community they so love.