Rebuilding After Harvey: Nine Months Later, Port Aransas Cleanup Continues

Jun 6, 2018

School’s out in Texas, and it’s hot. That’s got many people heading for their nearest pool, or, if you’re more ambitious, the Gulf.

But one of the state’s most beloved beach getaway destinations, Port Aransas, took almost a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey back in August, and the town’s still bouncing back.


It’s around 9 in the morning, and the Port Aransas ferry is chugging across the Corpus Christi Channel. Onboard are at least 20 cars. Some riders get out and linger on the decks. They’re dressed in bathing suits and flip flops.

This classic early-summer scene is a world away from from nine months ago, when Hurricane Harvey tore through Port Aransas with 130 mile winds. It ripped apart houses and businesses — piles of debris and displaced boats littered the city.

That exact moment is immortalized on a clock above Mayor Charles Bujan’s desk.

A clock behind Mayor Bujan's desk shows the moment Harvey made landfall.
Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio

“That’s when it came ashore — 3:07 in the morning,” he said.

Bujan said he’s tired, but satisfied with the city’s progress so far. About 250 damaged homes and four businesses have been demolished. Most of the debris is gone, but as repairs continue, the costs keep adding up, he said.

“And it’s an estimate but we believe it’s between 500-million and a billion dollars in damage in Port Aransas,” he said.

Before the hurricane, 3,800 people lived in Port Aransas. Today, the mayor says about 300 are still living elsewhere.

“I think on an average, most of the people have returned,” he said. “And then even with that 300 people it could be even a little higher than that. There are those that are going to come back as soon as their places are fixed.”

Also returning, he said, are the tourists, with more of hopping on the ferry each week. That’s a big deal, he said, since tourism is basically Port A’s entire economy. Spring Break turnout was better than Bujan expected, and Memorial Day weekend was a hit.

Now one of the city’s priority is fixing the harbor.

“It was totally devastated — 100 percent. We’re laying docks now as a matter of fact – floating docks. We’ve got most of our electricity back down there,” he said.

MORE | Slide toggle back and forth to see progress nine months after Hurricane Harvey

At the Harbor, the dock remains and sunken boats have long been hauled away. It’s almost empty. except for a couple — Randy and Diana Burgess — in a golf cart, sitting listening to the Beach Boys. The expanse in front of them was once filled with rows and rows of boats. Today, just one long floating dock remains.

“This was the newest dock they had just finished it like June, july, they finished it last summer,” Diana Burgess said.

Their boat is one of about a dozen tied to the lucky dock. The Burgesses say they feel lucky too. Two days before mandatory Harvey evacuations, they packed up their belongings and brought their two boats inland. Randy said he had a gut feeling — and he was right.

MORE | Slide toggle up and down to see progress nine months after Hurricane Harvey

“We had six feet of water in our bottom floor. We had almost two feet of water in our split level and we’re still rebuilding,” Randy Burgess said.

It’s been a long road. They’ve battled insurance claim denials — and won — and are living on the top floor of their house while the rest is repaired.

“We had such a great response from volunteers and folks that came in that didn’t know anybody from anybody and that just kind of restored our faith in humanity, you know,” Randy said.

Randy and Diana call Port Aransas home, and while some may consider leaving after a storm like Harvey others are actually moving here.

Mark Davis, left, and Cynthia Frank evaluate the work on Davis' recently purchased house.
Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio

On the other side of the island, a gutted two story house sits a block from the beach. There’s a roof but no walls. Port A resident Cynthia Frank is helping renovate it for a San Antonio man who purchased it after the hurricane.  

“He actually bought this at a good price so he could fix it,” she said.

The flooded home went for $200,000 and Franks said it probably needs another $200,000 worth of work.

“If he was going to buy this house fixed, it’d be a half a million dollars,” Frank said.

MORE | Slide toggle back and forth to see progress nine months after Hurricane Harvey

She said the new buyer plans to rent it out for a few years and then retire there.

Frank owns several properties herself — some that still need repairing — and has faced scamming contractors.

“I gave a gentleman $11,000 and he blew town and didn’t do anything and I’m sure if that happened to me it happened to other people as well,” she said.

Cynthia Frank and the Burgesses are just three of the thousands in Port Aransas taking their own steps to rebuild. They say they hope to never see another a storm like Harvey, but love their town enough to take that risk.

This is the first episode of our three-part series: "Rebuilding After Harvey."

Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org and on Twitter at @joeycules