Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Sunday that it could cost as much as $180 billion to rebuild Texas following Hurricane Harvey, more than four times what most experts expected ($40 billion). If accurate, Harvey would beat out Hurricane Katrina (total: $160 billion) for costliest storm in US history.
“Katrina caused if I recall more than $120 billion but when you look at the number of homes and business affected by this I think this will cost well over $120 billion, probably $150 to $180 billion,” Abbott told Fox News, adding, “this is far larger than Hurricane Sandy.”
Aside from a handful of meteorologists like Dr. Joel N. Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather, who predicted – apparently with a surprising degree of accuracy – that Harvey-related costs could pile as high as $190 billion, few anticipated the extensive flooding damage the storm would cause in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US, which contributes some $500 billion to US GDP every year.
Abbott, who offered his assessment of the damages during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the devastation wrought by Harvey could be costlier than Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.
But whatever the final total, Abbott said he's confident the federal government will authorize the assistance that President Trump promised, adding that the $8 billion that the White House asked for is merely a “down payment.”
Texas is still in “phase one” of the cleanup effort – i.e. first responders are still rescuing people in Beaumont and other parts of Southeastern Texas, where the storm made its second landfall.
“The president has made it clear, Congress is making it clear, this is just a down payment. Let’s not compare this to Sandy let’s compare this to Katrina. The population size is larger and the geographic size is far bigger than Hurricane Katrina and Sandy combined. It’s going to require even more than what was funded for Katrina which was $120 billion dollars…In the overall equation, the cost of this, if I understand it correctly, to rebuild Katrina was over $120 billion and when you consider the magnitude of this storm, when you look at the number of homes that have been mowed down and damaged, this is a huge catastrophe that people are going to have to come to grips with. It’s going to take years for us to overcome this challenge.”
"When you look at the number of homes and businesses affected by this, I think this will cost well over $120 billion...probably $150 [billion] to $180 billion."
Worse, according to preliminary estimates, less than 20% of Harris County homeowners are insured against flooding (some estimates have the number as low as 15%). So what will Texas do to aid these homeowners? Abbott said the state had established a fund to help ensure that all homeowners affected by the storm are “taken care of.”
“Waters are receding in Houston, but remember there are so many other parts of the state that are affected such as the Beaumont, where we’re still doing search and rescue missions. We are still in phase one of response. As it comes to the homeowners, we’re working on multiple levels to make sure that these homeowners will be taken care of. Trump has had all his cabinet members in Texas constantly.”
Meanwhile, Houston was still struggling to recover on Sunday, when the city forced the evacuation of thousands of people on the western side of town to accommodate the release of water from a pair of reservoirs that otherwise might sustain damage. The storm stalled over Houston, dumping more than 50 inches (127 cm) on the region in a matter of days. The city cut off power to homes on Sunday morning to encourage evacuations, but conflicting information about who must leave angered some residents.
The area was barricaded and military vehicles were stationed on the periphery to take people out. Some living near the reservoirs were told their homes were in danger of new flooding and would not be allowed to return if they left.
“It’s hard to get the real story. We’re having to make decisions on what we do day by day. Do we stay or go?” said Todd Kellenbenz, who lives in the affected area.
About 37,000 refugees stayed overnight in 270 shelters in Texas plus another 2,000 in seven Louisiana shelters, the highest number reported so far by the American Red Cross. Some 84,700 homes and businesses were without power on Sunday, down from a peak of around 300,000, according to the region’s major electric companies.
Still, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said his city was making progress on several fronts, resuming city services and helping get people into housing and out of emergency shelters.
Trump visited Houston on Saturday to meet evacuees and rescue workers, an opportunity to show an empathetic side after some criticized him for staying clear of the disaster zone during a previous visit on Tuesday. Trump had said he did not want to hamper rescue efforts.
Trump and his wife Melania marked a national day of prayer for hurricane victims on Sunday by attending church services at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.