Editorial

Like everything, Harvey comes down to numbers

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The official death toll from Hurricane Harvey was officially 18 at latest count, but itís sure to rise by dozens more as soon as officials can turn their attention from helping the living to searching for the dead.

Like any human tragedy, the largest storm to hit the United States can be distilled to cold, hard numbers.

A sampling of some of the numbers:

* 13 million people under flood watches or warnings.

*3,400 water rescues (and counting) in Houston.

*30,000 people who will need temporary shelter.

*215,000 students out of school in Houston.

*12,000 National Guard members activated to help.

Harvey is the first storm weíve heard of that has been measured in gallons of rain, 19 trillion of them and counting, enough to cover Alaska, California and Texas in about an inch of water.

The storm is moving into familiar hurricane territory in Louisiana, but left 52 inches or more in Cedar Bayou, Texas, beating another Texas storm from 1978.

More than 6 million people have received at least 20 inches of rain, and about 4.9 million experienced at least 3 feet of rain from the storm, most of them in the Houston metro area.

McCook, by comparison, receives an average of 21.66 inches of rain for the entire year.

It was a 1-in-1,000-year rain event, according to scientists, but that doesnít mean we can expect the next one to hold off for a millennium. Instead, it means any given year has a 0.1 percent chance of seeing such heavy rain.

Donations are pouring into Texas as well, but money is the most useful since local emergency coordinators can convert it into whatever is needed most.

The coming months and years will determine how well the region will recover in the long term.

Southeast Texas can take its cue from New Orleans, where about half of the homes flooded in Katrina were covered by flood insurance.

Harvey struck in an area where only two in 10 homeowners have flood insurance.

Yes, they have homeowner insurance, but flood insurance must be purchased separately.

Homeowners may still be able to collect insurance settlements if their homes are damaged by water, but only if the wind blows out a window and takes off a roof first, allowing the water in.

Flood water pouring in through floorboards or walls wonít be covered.

Federal programs may offer some relief, but itís usually in the form of a low-interest loan, which can result in a double mortgage, especially after an initial home insurance claim falls short of fully covering repairs.

Those who do have flood insurance are covered by a program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which still owes the Treasury about $23 billion borrowed to cover some $8.4 billion in payouts for Sandy in 2012, and $16 billion for Katrina in 2005.

Yes, we hope local residents continue to support hurricane relief efforts, especially through reputable, efficient channels.

But we need to realize recovery will take years, and affected communities will need support long after the media spotlight has shifted to new topics.

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