Coastal Texans Try to Recover From Harvey's Devastation

Hurricane Harvey slammed Rockport with 140 mph winds, heavy rains and a storm surge as high as 5 feet

While live rescues from Houston's swift floodwaters flicker on television screens around the world, Hurricane Harvey's first victims in the coastal city of Rockport pluck through what's left of their water-soaked belongings searching for treasured keepsakes.

The storm came ashore Friday night, battering the coast with 140 mph winds, heavy rains and a storm surge as high as 5 feet.

Even though his family's uninsured beach home is a total loss, Rockport resident Felix Tijerina said he understands why the attention has shifted to Houston, more than 200 miles away. The nation's fourth-largest city continues to be inundated with rainfall totals unprecedented in U.S. history.

"The hurricane moved off quickly from here," he said. "Over there, lives are in danger."

Rockport is a bustling seaside community when the weather is nice, and as the sun returned Tuesday, so too did many residents and owners of vacation homes. Neighborhoods throughout the town were filled with people doing their own cleanup work.

"I've got eight employees. They're taking care of their own places," John Murray said as he worked around his Rockport salon, which sustained damage in a storm that also destroyed his boat. "No one's ever waited on (me). We'll fix it. We'll get it done."

Communities nearest a hurricane's eye often lose nearly all of their trees, especially when the storm is as strong as Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas since 1961. Those still standing have lost their crown layer, and panels of sheet metal sit wrapped around their trunks.

Utility crews have strung new power poles along main routes to carry electrical service to an emergency command center downtown.

The city has confirmed one fatality. Someone died in a mobile home fire as the storm came ashore, though the fire marshal is investigating and additional details haven't been released.

Recreation vehicles that served as camp homes are rolled over — with several of them hundreds of feet down the block from where they were parked Friday morning.

There also was varying damage to structures hosted on stilts. Some beach camps hoisted up sustained damage to the ground levels amid sustained flooding while the upper living areas remained intact. Heavy winds blew away the second- and third-story levels from other lofted homes.

Tijerina is in his 50s and has vacationed in Rockport since he was a teenager, but the family didn't buy a place until four years later. His brother, Joe, owns the home, and they were aware of what they would find when they arrived.

The family was watching television Saturday when aerial footage showed the damage to their $100,000 home. A nephew, 17-year-old Andrew Guerra, spotted his treasured Texas Longhorns blanket on the screen and asked his mother to retrieve it when she came down for the Tuesday cleanup.

The home is just up the road from a gutted boat storage shed shown widely on social media.

"I saw that boat storage on TV and thought, (expletive), I know that place," Tijerina said.

Louis Sirianni, of San Antonio, didn't discover until going inside his home a block away from the Tijerinas that there was a 5-foot-wide hole in his ceiling and that insulation was scattered throughout the living area.

"I've been coming down here 30 years," renting hotel rooms around the community before buying the place five years ago, Sirianni said.

Winds had stripped fresh paint off a post, and a neighbor's trailer had split open when it hit one of the building's pilings.

All fixable, he said, rejecting any notion that Rockport was filled with forgotten victims because of the attention Houston now has. He said Rockport just had Harvey's first victims.

"There's only 10,000 people here," he said. "I don't expect Rockport to have the news coverage. We have no great loss of life. There's no risk here."

His brother, George, said cities don't have to compete for attention because all are suffering: "There are enough problems for Texas."

At Murray's salon, sprays and gels sat on a shelf untouched by the wind in one side of the room while the other had a wall and ceiling gone. As he spoke, a steady breeze would have made a 90-degree day comfortable except for the wafting from a sewage plant upwind was not doing its job.

"Sometimes God thinks you have a bit too much and takes some of it back," Murray said. "I just wish he had left the damned boat."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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