Recovery ongoing

Vidor debris

Driving down the interstate through Southeast Texas, travelers may not even realize that only two months ago Hurricane Harvey stopped here and stayed a while, dropping trillions of gallons of rain onto the region and inundating the area. In fact, the freeway itself is relatively clear of debris or other evidence of the massive destruction caused by the storm’s torrential downpour. However, a short trek off the highway into many residential neighborhoods across the area tells the tragic story of homes wrecked by the destructive flooding that continues to disrupt local lives and upend families throughout Southeast Texas.

Taking the Rose City exit from I-10 and driving back into the winding neighborhoods of the small town gives passersby a view of the ruin born of the storm as homeowners still struggle to clean out mold and tear out walls soaked by floodwaters.

In Bevil Oaks and other areas, skeletal structures are starting to appear as wooden beams show through bare walls, standing in testimony to Harvey’s havoc. Some structures are being torn down as others are erected to replace them.

In many Vidor neighborhoods, piles of debris tower alongside residential roadways, reaching more than 6 feet high in some locations. Lifetimes of memories are festering mounds in front of houses as debris pickup continues there.

And the list goes on.

As some area residents get back to normal, others are still struggling to fulfill basic needs, trying desperately to get back into their homes and searching for solutions to the many difficulties thrust upon them by Hurricane Harvey.

But things are looking up, say Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and Vidor Mayor Robert Viator, and they are seeing light at the end of a rather long tunnel to recovery.

According to Judge Branick, debris removal around Jefferson County has progressed significantly over the last several weeks.

“We’re doing very well,” Branick told The Examiner. “We are about 70 percent complete with debris removal in the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County.”

According to Jefferson County Emergency Management Coordinator Greg Fountain, Jefferson County contractors have completed the first debris collection pass in most areas and have started the second pass. The third and final pass for eligible Harvey-related debris begins Oct. 30 for unincorporated areas of the county and for cities receiving county assistance with debris removal.

“The cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur, Nederland, Port Neches and Groves are not included as they have their own debris contractors,” Fountain stated in an email.

In order to assure that the debris is picked up, it is imperative that debris be placed in the county right-of-way by Nov. 7. If there is eligible debris on a property that cannot be put on right-of-way, a right of entry form must be filled out. Residents can call (407) 450-1886, a Florida number that is being answered in Port Neches, to get information on how to attain and complete the form. Otherwise, Fountain warned, debris removal contractors will not be able to come on private roads or property to remove debris caused by Harvey.

Businesses will only be allowed one pass for debris pickup, Fountain indicated. He asks that business owners call (407) 450-1886 to ensure eligible debris is not missed.

Branick said that so far, numerous contractors picking up debris for the county and 56 Texas Department of Transportation debris trucks sent by the state to help with debris removal have picked up approximately 125,000 cubic yards of debris of a total of about 170,000 cubic yards in the county.

“There was even more than that in Port Arthur,” he remarked.

Branick complimented Beaumont on doing a good job picking up debris utilizing city trucks, and TxDOT spokesperson Sarah Dupre said her department picked up about 600 dump truck loads in the city of Beaumont as well.

Branick said Nederland, Port Neches and Groves are “about done” with debris removal in those cities. He estimated debris pickup in unincorporated areas of the county will be completed by the first or second week of November and said the county is assisting Nome, China, Bevil Oaks and Taylor Landing with debris removal, also.

“As the debris gets picked up, things start to look more normal,” Branick suggested. “I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made.”

Debris removal started in Vidor a little more than a week ago, said Mayor Viator.

“Debris is always going to be a tough situation in circumstances like these because there’s just so much of it,” Viator explained. “The Corps of Engineers estimated there’s about 80,000 cubic yards of debris just in our city.”

Viator said the city of Vidor signed an act to allow the county to contract debris removal companies for the city. He said debris removal is underway and will occur in three stages. During the first pass, which is currently ongoing in the city, trucks will come by to collect bulk trash, like large items and piles of debris along roadways.

“They will come through and get as much as they can on the first pass,” he explained.

The debris removal companies will not go into people’s yards, he warned, so if trash is piled up beyond where the equipment can reach from the roadway, they will not pick it up on the first pass. Viator said citizens would need to push debris closer to the roadway if it is not picked up at first.

Following the second pass, the contractors will then do a third pass to provide a “more thorough cleaning” of the debris.

“It’s going slower than any of us would like, but they are making progress every day,” said the mayor. “They are working seven days a week. I just want people to understand the size of this event. There are massive amounts of debris to pick up all over the city. It’s not just on one road. It’s not just in one neighborhood. 

“I just got a briefing from the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission, and they said about 860,000 claims have been made under Hurricane Harvey in the state of Texas.”

Viator said that Orange County residents living outside the city of Vidor would all get three passes for debris removal, even those living in unincorporated areas of the county where TxDOT is providing one pass for debris removal. He said the county contractors would pass by twice following the state’s pass.

According to Viator, as debris piles go down, spirits rise. He added that those still waiting will soon see progress.

“Please be patient,” Viator asked of city residents awaiting debris removal. “It will be picked up."