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Texas Weather Continues To Buffet Gulf Coast Communities

Martin do Nascimento/KUT
Three Harvey-hit towns are cleaning up from tornadoes this week, while Port Arthur is working to get its residents back.

From Texas Standard.

In Texas, where the weather is no laughing matter, it’s not an exaggeration to say storms are wreaking havoc in many parts of the state.

On Thursday, tornadoes touched down near Rockport and Refugio. KUT Ausin’s Jimmy Maas says at least three Texas communities recovering from Harvey – Holiday Beach, Seadrift, and Woodsboro – are once again picking up the pieces.

And in the small city of Port Arthur, city leaders are struggling with Harvey recovery efforts while also worrying that many people displaced by the hurricane won’t come back.

Even before Harvey hit, people living in Port Arthur were already having a hard time making ends meet. The Texas Observer reports the city had double digit unemployment and high poverty rates, which could give some residents less incentive to return.

Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Ford Freeman says the damage is an ongoing struggle.

“From Hurricane Harvey, we lost approximately $26 million worth of service trucks, grapple trucks, vaccum trucks, the things we use to provide service for our citizens,” he says. “We’ve been working to clean it out and get our city cleaned back up, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

He says the city is also coping with other types of damage – the city’s property tax revenue has been hit hard, and some of the aging infrastructure was destroyed in the storm. In total, he says the city needs to come up with around $30 million.

“We’re trying to leverage our state funds, our federal funds, our insurance funds,” he says. “We’re just making sure that we can do more with less.”

Freeman says Port Arthur is focused on getting residents back to the city. He credits the community with a lot of the progress they’ve been able to achieve, like rebuilding homes that have been condemned since the storm.

“We’re a minority majority city,” he says. “We’re about 40 percent African American and 40 percent Hispanic, and our Hispanic community has been resilient.”

Still, Freedman says he’s worried about one particular obstacle on the horizon.

“The census coming up is a great concern to me,” he says. “Because we were teetering on that 55,000 population number, and if we drop below 50, obviously that cuts off certain automatic funding from the federal government and the state. So we want to make sure we get our people back. We’re doing programs and getting dollars from our regional planning commission to make sure that we show folks that this is where they need to spend their rebuilding dollars.”

Written by Jen Rice.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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