2 years after Hurricane Harvey, ‘we’re still feeling the impact,’ says Smithville mayor

Bastrop County

Smithville, TX (KXAN) — Sunday marked two years since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. In 2017, Central Texas began feeling the impacts of the storm on August 26 and 27 as homes began flooding and infrastructure was affected.

A drone photo of Smithville following Harvey. Photo courtesy Wayne King.

In Bastrop County, the city of Smithville was one of the hardest-hit areas during the storms. Smithville has a population of around 4,000 people and in 2017, the city estimated that between 30 and 40 homes flooded during Harvey.

“Two years ago today, we had no idea that it was going to be just hours away from one of the most historic events the city of Smithville has ever had,” said Smithville mayor Scott Saunders.

“We’ve had eight federally-declared disasters in as many years and so we immediately picked it up here, we got everybody together, all the city staff, the police department, to make sure that everyone was prepared to do anything that we needed to be safe,” Saunders recalled.

Saunders’ home is along the Colorado River with a bluff separating his property from the shore. He pointed to a rebar pole at the bottom of the staircase of his property leading to the river bank. That rebar marks where the water reached during the flooding — nearly forty feet high.

Right after the storm, Saunders said there are some people who were put up in hotels while public entities worked to get them temporary shelter.

But now, he says, “for the most part, everybody is back into their homes or with a family member after losing their home to the floods.”

Though the Smithville community is housed, there are still traces of Harvey that impact people who live in the area. Sauders explained that there are some people in his city who have been flooded eight times since 1998.

“That wears on them, you know, some of them are some of the older people that are in the community and they just can’t take another flood,” Saunders said.

Since the storm, the city was able to complete construction of a detention pond which was only partially ready at the time when Harvey hit. The goal with the pond is to create a place for water to go in case of another heavy downpour, thus decreasing the risk of flooding in low-lying areas.

Some neighbors near the pond told KXAN that so far it seemed to be working well, but they weren’t sure yet how much it would help them during another big storm.

“There’s no way to be prepared for 36 inches in two days, but we can do the most that we can with what we have to make sure that if there is an event that we at least are as prepared as possible,” Saunders said.

Saunders said that Harvey has cost the city more than $300,000 in un-budgeted expenses so far, which is tough for a small city with a tight budget.

“We’re still feeling the impact of hurricane Harvey two years later,” Saunders reiterated.

He explained that at a local dump where people can take tree leaves and limbs, the community had plenty to drop off in the aftermath of Harvey.

Saunders said the dump is almost at capacity and that 90% of the debris is from Harvey. To handle this debris, the mayor said the city will need to hire a company to grind up the debris and haul it out — something that may cost around $100,000 to do. The debris has caught on fire before, Saunders said, and part of the goal of moving it would be to avoid future fires.

Debris is piled high at a city dump in Smithville for tree limbs and leaves. The mayor tells KXAN that the dump is almost full and is occupied by debris that is largely from Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard)

“Unfortunately we did not receive any of the Hurricane Harvey grants,” Saunders said. Smithville had applied for $1.8 million in relief following the storm.

“But I think [those dollars] went towards the coastal region that was hurt a lot worse than we were and that’s fine, you know they needed it more than we did,” he said.

The city is working on its budget at present and Saunders says they have a line item that may be able to help with removing the debris at the dump.

“Even though that the homes were filled with water, the communities hearts were filled with compassion for their neighbors, everyone did come out or bigger stronger better than ever here in Smithville,” Saunders said, adding that his city was lucky they weren’t hit as hard by Harvey as other parts of Texas.

He says there’s still plenty of rebuilding going on in Smithville after Harvey, but he noted that the neighboring city of La Grange has had to rebuild and rehouse even more.

Back in 2017, the city of La Grange told us that more than 300 people were initially left homeless by the storm and that more than 170 people in trailer parks and more than 70 people living in homes were completely displaced by the storm.

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