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#HARVEY: City, county officials reflect on lessons learned from the storm

Posted at 5:10 PM, Aug 25, 2021

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — It wasn't a matter of "if," but "when."

When would a major hurricane strike South Texas? Before Harvey, it was Celia back in 1970.

Four years ago -- to the day -- it happened.

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, but then came the "what?" What about since then?

Action 10 News wanted to know what county and city officials learned in case the area gets hit with another storm.

In 2017, then-port-commissioner-and-now-Nueces-Co.-Judge Barbara Canales had to act fast, on a personal and a public-service level.

“I'm worried about my parents and my grandmother, from just a human level,” Canales said about that time.

Then, her concern shifted to the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

“Worrying about the infrastructure that we have, that is that navigable waterway," she said. "Knowing that, if it goes down, it's $100 million to $150 million of economic impact a day.”

It was after Harvey blew through that attention turned to what happens next.

"It was 'How can I pick up the pieces?' ” Canales said. “How can we make certain that recovery takes places in this county?”

We asked Canales what she thought was the most important thing she learned from the storm.

"I learned we had to invest in ourselves so that we could do our duty,” she said. "That means investing in the people who handle the storm before, during, and after. (Meaning) emergency management.”

They're lessons that don't only apply to the Port of Corpus Christi.

“Make sure your team is adequately prepared and resourced,” she said.

They apply to things that fall under her purview, even now.

"You've got to make sure your infrastructure is hardened at all levels,” she said.

Since the storm, Canales said she's learned a successful recovery means understanding how to put grant money from both the federal and state governments to work.

"And this county really had to work very hard to get our fair share, and I want you to know we're still fighting for those recovery dollars,” Canales said.

Though with the money the county has already received, it's already been able to hire grant administrators who are FEMA experts. They can then, in turn, train local officials.

The county also has signed contracts anticipating debris removal services, drones necessary to survey the damage, and the purchase of high-water vehicles.

Canales also said the fifth floor of the Nueces County Courthouse is beginning to be transformed into an emergency management center.

“But make no mistake, we need to keep investing,” she said.

One of the biggest reasons to keep investing she said, is because of the growth on Padre Island.

Since there’s just one way off The Island, she said she's been in talks with the Texas Department of Transportation to try and remedy that.

"So if you have extreme weather events, and extreme growth, you need to have extreme planning,” Canales said.

But in the end, she said there will always be work to do -- and that's not if, but when, the next storm hits the Coastal Bend..

“The truth is, is that we could do better,” she said.