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    Thursday, August 31, 2017

    After Harvey, The Bad News Is Just Beginning

    For Houston and the rest of the Texas Gulf coast, unfortunately, the bad news is just beginning. For the last few days the media has been focused on the daring rescues and the neighbor helping neighbor stories that have truly been remarkable. And that is as it should be. But as the rain stops and the floodwaters start to recede, the focus will now turn to the death and destruction that Harvey has wrought, investigating what could and should have been done to mitigate the disaster, and a real focus on the enormous and years long recovery effort that will be necessary to simply recover a significant portion of what has been lost.

    The death toll will unfortunately continue to rise. Even as the recovery effort intensifies, water is still rising in the Buffalo Bayou and water is still pouring into to Houston's two reservoirs. For many, it will be days or even weeks before their homes are even accessible. Imagine what will happen to a house that has standing water in it for weeks. Texas already has a huge problem with black mold. In Beaumont, the water system has collapsed entirely because of the flooding. And even when power and water are restored, the remaining standing water will be a magnet for all kinds of diseases. And we haven't even mentioned the toxic waste that will be left behind when the water totally recedes. Between the fire at the Arkema plant, the multiple Superfund sites that were flooded, and the numerous chemical and petroleum plants that were also flooded, it will be almost impossible to know what kind of toxic material has ended up where.

    All this will put a real spotlight on the lax regulations of these dangerous materials that Texas has long allowed. The Arkema plant is a perfect case in point, where the dangerous peroxides could have easily been neutralized with a specific agent but that is not required in Texas. Instead, the company was simply powerless to stop these explosions when they lost both regular and emergency power. It will also bring the lack of zoning regulations under scrutiny as well as the inability or unwillingness of the Water Control Authority to adjust to the level of building in Houston.

    In addition, with National Guard units already stretched thin because of our ongoing international commitments, those capabilities will be not be fully available to help contain the chaos that is sure to come as food and water become an issue. Moreover, FEMA itself is already underfunded and the state of Texas is certainly unprepared to provide the amount of help needed.

    No government is ever really prepared for a natural disaster and neither the state of Texas or the US Government is prepared for a disaster on this scale. Besides the red tape in dealing with insurance companies and the government, the price gouging that will go on in the recovery effort will be enormous. Already a reader in Corpus Christi has received multiple outrageous quotes to get the roof fixed.

    Many, if not most, of the homes damaged in Houston were probably not covered with flood insurance. They are potentially total losses. In the initial wave after Katrina, New Orleans lost around 50% of its population and as of two years ago it was still 20% smaller than before the hurricane. Expect the same if not worse for Houston and the surrounding area.

    All of these negatives will become the sad story of the next few days and months and even years. It is the inevitable cycle of how the media covers natural disasters. And none of it will put Republican policies or government in a good light.

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