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Leaders discuss city, community response to Hurricane Harvey

Written by Bobby Vasquez. Posted in News

DPRotaryLogoIN NEWS
From monitoring floodwaters to performing high water rescues to having to dispel social media rumors the City of Deer Park personnel were busy during Hurricane Harvey. At Wednesday’s Rotary Club meeting, city leaders discussed the city’s and community’s response to one of the worst storms in the nation’s history.

Despite forecasts that put Corpus Christi and south Texas in the path of destruction of last month’s Hurricane Harvey, city officials were nervous of reports that the storm would jog slightly northward and stall over the Texas Gulf Coast.

Years and investments of millions of dollars of infrastructure as well as the resolve and patience of a growing community were put to the test as rain continued to pour. Even as flood waters rose in Deer Park and surrounding areas, stories of sacrifice and success began to surface. City Manager Jay Stokes, Mayor Jerry Mouton, Emergency Services Director Robert Hemminger and Police Chief Greg Grigg discussed the city’s and community response to Harvey’s floods and damage in Deer Park.

Unsung heroes
Stokes said the city’s personnel worked around the clock to ensure that any private and public damage from the storm was minimal. While homes and businesses did suffer flood damage, the acts of several city employees saved homes, neighborhoods and possibly even lives.

He told the story of one city employee who waded in chest deep waters to repair a pump in the middle of the storm.

In the area of Reata and P Street, there are two detention ponds designed to hold water. There is a lift station at that location that is designed to pump water, but not at a very fast rate.

“This was an unprecedented storm and it had more water than those ponds could hold,” said Stokes. “There was a time when that pump wasn’t pumping. That’s not good, but that’s not what that pump was intended to do.”

The city’s public works department was contacted and not long after, one employee waded out into the pond in chest-deep waters to work on an electrical box to get restart the pump.

“God bless him,” Stokes said. “Who knows how many homes he saved?”

The city soon installed pumps, including one borrowed from Shell Deer Park to remove water from the area and back into drainage.

Good news, bad news
“I can say without out a doubt that the processes we had in place were efficient. (City) staff did a fantastic job of making sure everything was dealt with in a timely manner throughout the event,” said Mouton. “We were one of the least impacted cities in the county and region because we were prepared.”

Mouton and the other city leaders praised their elected and city planning predecessors for their investments in city infrastructure to lessen the flood damage.

“Looking around the rest of the county and region, we know it could have been much worse,” he said.

Stokes said the number of homes that have reported flood damage has exceeded previous estimates. The city now believes at least 275 homes took on flood waters from Hurricane Harvey. Originally city officials estimated 50 or so homes experiencing flood damage. However, after the city began identifying homes in the days after the storm, that number grew rapidly.

Among the areas that had the most homes damaged were around Crockett Street near Dabbs Elementary; homes on Kentucky Street near North Campus; homes west the South Campus; homes south of the golf course; and homes in the neighborhood behind Papa John’s on Center Street.

“Most of those homes took on inches of water and not feet,” Hemminger said. “We don’t like to see anyone’s homes get flooded, but we were fortunate we did not experience the floods that our neighboring communities did.”

It. Wouldn’t. Stop. Raining.
Approximately 2,225 homes were flooded in La Porte. Volunteers from the Deer Park Fire Department performed rescues in the Brookglen Subdivision on Spencer Highway behind Chili’s. Pasadena reports anywhere from 4,000-5,000 homes taking on flood waters.

Those floodwaters were the result of approximately 1 trillion gallons of water falling over the region in a span of four days. Deer Park rain gauges reported anywhere from 47 to 55 inches during that time. The city’s annual rainfall average is 57 inches.

Hemminger said that amount of rain would fill the Astrodome 3,200 times or run Niagra Falls for 15 days. It would cover the 1,600 square miles of Harris County with 33 inches of water.

“The investment made in this community by our predecessors really paid dividends for this community,” said Hemminger. When you look at our numbers compared to other locations, it seems our drainage systems performed pretty well,” he said.

Still, Deer Park was not without its problems. Virtually every hospital in the area was closed. The city asked residents to only use 9-1-1 for true life-threatening emergencies. During the storm, the city of Pasadena and the state arranged for a mobile medical unit set up in the former Pasadena City Hall building. At least one patient from Deer Park was transported to that location.

Rumors
Grigg said another issue plaguing the community was social media users spreading false information. He said the police department had to use manpower to track down persons who were telling false stories. Those stories spread across social media and inundated the police department with messages.

The major rumor concerned two Hispanic males and a female robbing homeowners. The original message was tracked down to two teens who said they received the information from their grandfather. Grigg said the grandfather claimed the story was true and said it happened to someone named Brad. The grandfather would not identify Brad to police officers, but said he would personally talk to him.

A short time later, the grandfather contacted DPPD and said the incident did not happen the way he claimed. He said he thought the incident occurred off of Fairmont, but instead it happened in another state.

Grigg also addressed the city not issuing a curfew.

“The reason why we didn’t was because if you have a mass evacuation and mass damage and people's property exposed, then you put one in to keep out looters,” he said. “With everyone home, all we would do is infringe on your freedom to move around, and people were moving around, helping each other, it would be an impediment to issue a curfew. Therefore, we didn’t put one out and we got two nasty comments on our Facebook page over it.”

When the mayor issued an emergency declaration for the city, DPPD personnel began working 12-hour shifts. Because of the uncertainty of the floods, many officers slept at the police station, at the homes of officers who lived in the area or at a local hotel where they split rooms.

A grateful city
Grigg said he and the department are thankful for the outpouring of support in the form of home-cooked meals from the city’s residents.

“It seemed like every 30 minutes, we had food coming into the station. We had food everywhere. It wasn’t just to the police department either. When the shelter opened up, people were lined up to donate and volunteer and it got to the point where people who wanted to help were turned away,” said Grigg. “We honestly couldn’t handle any more and we understood that some people were upset that they were turned away. But honestly, that was a good problems to have because so many people were willing to give from themselves.”

“Deer Park shined,” said Stokes. “We’re proud of our staff and our community. The mayor and city council were incredible during this event.”

Stokes said the city’s elected officials personally assisted at the shelter, working alongside citizens and volunteers, tending to the needs of evacuees from other towns.

“The parks and recreation staff did a phenomenal job with the shelter. Our city shined. We heard numerous compliments that the people in Deer Park understood what was happening with the city and we did a good job of communicating that,” he said.

“We’re blessed that overall, we fared well. I’m very proud of the investments this city made in the past into the infrastructure of this town and I’m proud of our city employees, leaders and citizens for their response.”