Best of the States

Latest

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

In this Jan. 30, 2018, photo, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, right, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hurricane Harvey Coordinator, Kevin Hannes, left, are surrounded by local media in Nome Texas, while discussing a home damaged in the storm that is being repaired using federal funds. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tasked Bush's agency with overseeing housing recovery needs after Harvey _ but nearly six months later, victim frustration is growing amid frequent delays and bureaucratic hurdles. (AP Photo/Will Weissert)

AP_18046504282206_1024.jpg

Using federal records and on-the-ground reporting, Weissert and Schmall documented the recovery’s startlingly slow pace.

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Ap 17241622643913 1024 B
Water from Addicks Reservoir flows into Houston residential neighborhoods as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey rise, Aug. 29, 2017. – AP Photo / David J. Phillip

While having coffee with a source, Weissert learned that Gov. Greg Abbott had waited weeks to tap the state agency in charge of housing efforts, Texas’ General Land Office, with leading the recovery.

Based on this tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that the governor’s delay and land office’s steep learning curve meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace. The Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed that victims of Hurricane Harvey didn’t get into trailers until 43 days after the storm – compared to 12 days post-Katrina. What’s more, quick-fix Texas programs designed to get people back home were lagging far behind similar efforts after Super Storm Sandy in 2012 and far less damaging disasters.

Weissert traveled to the Harvey-battered Gulf Coast of Texas to witness residents’ frustration with the delays and obstacles. His iPhone pictures and candid commentary from local politicians and residents provided color and the sentiments of the fed-up communities.

The story played on the front pages of The Dallas Morning News,as well as The Beaumont Enterprise and Victoria Advocate,both areas hammered by Harvey. And it led news broadcasts of major Texas television stations,with anchors reading from the story,word-for-word.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

Contact us