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From the Pen of Carter Smith

The view coming into the Rockport area right after Hurricane Harvey didn’t leave much to the imagination. The vestiges of the storm’s path and its collateral damage were slung and scattered with both abandon and abundance across every street, roadway, ditch, lot, yard, field and pasture. Heartbreaking doesn’t do the scene justice.

Homes, businesses, schools, churches and other buildings were reduced to piles of great rubble. Electricity and telephone lines were blown down, power poles split in half. A large, multilevel boat storage area, replete with dozens of boats, looked as though it had been collapsed in a tortilla press. Other boats, previously moored and secured in their slips, were pushed atop one another or stranded in streets many yards away. Twisted tin and steel were everywhere, as were broken windows, collapsed roofs, and flooded cars and structures. Century-plus-old oak trees, sculpted from years of blowing winds, had been pushed down, split, de-limbed and topped-off from the 130 mph winds.

The scene wasn’t much better up the coast, where the impacts of 30 to 50 inches of rain were evident in places like Dickinson, Houston and Port Arthur. Mounds of flooded and ruined household items were lined up in rows on street after street, awaiting transport to big haul-off yards. Miles and miles of roads and levees were compromised from the voluminous amounts of rain. Water systems were temporarily off-line, and power was days, or even weeks, away for many.

Suffice to say, Hurricane Harvey did a number on communities up and down the Texas coast from Port Aransas to Beaumont and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers continue to steadfastly remain with those families and places most impacted by and still recovering from this catastrophic storm.

Not surprisingly, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department did not escape the storm unscathed. Nearly 100 of our colleagues either lost their homes altogether in the storm or have found them uninhabitable until, or if, they can be sufficiently cleaned, remediated and repaired. Thirty-plus state parks, fish hatcheries, wildlife management areas and offices were damaged, many substantially. A very preliminary estimate suggests that TPWD alone experienced between $50 million to $70 million in costs, damages and losses.

If there was a silver lining in the wake of the storm’s devastation, it was the outpouring of support and help from family and friends, neighbors and even total strangers. People came from all over the state and beyond, loaded to the gills with rescue boats, food and water, batteries, generators, fans, chainsaws, clothes, gift cards and anything else they could think of to help those displaced and in need of a helping hand.

Speaking of helping hands, the state’s first responders were present in droves to help with critical evacuations and life-saving efforts during the floods. The utter fortitude and dedication of these public servants to helping and saving people during their most vulnerable moments was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I am deeply proud of the fact that the department’s state game wardens and state park police officers, as well as staff from our Wildlife, Inland Fisheries, Coastal Fisheries and Infrastructure teams, were among them. All in all, nearly 500 game wardens and other TPWD personnel helped conduct more than 10,000 water-based rescues. Meanwhile, our state parks team opened up our state parks for free to over 8,000 evacuees displaced by Harvey.

Immediately after the storm, TPWD staff went about the difficult business of assessing facility damages, stabilizing compromised buildings, removing fallen trees, cleaning up wreckage, ripping out flooded sheetrock and securing contractors.

And, seemingly in no time, they were out again doing what they do best: surveying oyster reefs and fish populations in the bays, opening up the parks to the general public, getting wetland compartments ready for teal hunters, checking hunters in the dove fields, and making plans for dune, oyster, marsh and other habitat restoration projects.

I have often said that your Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shines the brightest when times are the darkest. While full recovery from the storm will undoubtedly take years, I am deeply grateful that our work to steward your lands, waters, fish, wildlife and parks never stopped.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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