Dam­age to sting for a long time in hard-hit Refu­gio County.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@statesman.com Con­tact Julie Chang at 512-912-2565. Twit­ter: @juliechang1

As Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey con­tin­ues to rav­age the Houston area, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties hit hard by the storm as it roared through South Texas last week­end are be­gin­ning the ar­du­ous road to re­cov­ery.

In Refu­gio County — home to about 7,000 peo­ple — winds crum­pled a Shell gas station into a pile of yel­low and white metal. They flipped mo­bile homes up­side down, tore holes through roofs and living room walls and top­pled trees, ex­pos­ing their ten­ta­cle-like roots.

On Mon­day, most of the 800-square-mile county on the Coastal Bend was without power, wa­ter or phone ser­vice and county of­fi­cials said it could take up to two or three weeks for util­i­ties to be re­stored.

“We didn’t have a loss of life so I’ll save us­ing the word dev­as­tat­ing, but it was close to it,” said Refu­gio County Judge Robert Blaschke, who also serves as the county’s emer­gency di­rec­tor. “Es­pe­cially for prop­erty own­ers, it will sting for a long time.”

The Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane made land­fall Fri­day night at San Jose Is­land near Port Aransas, 35 miles from the city of Refu­gio. Wind speeds were 130 mph when it crashed ashore.

Refu­gio County is work­ing to set up a shel­ter in the next day or two for res­i­dents who re­mained de­spite the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion. In the mean­time, a small shel­ter op­er­ates out of Joy Min­istries on the east side of the city of Refu­gio.

Many of those seek­ing shel­ter at Joy Min­istries live in the apart­ment com­plex across the street where shin­gles have been wiped clean off of roofs and win­dows blown in.

Manny Govella, 65, lent his re­cently pur­chased food trailer to the church, serv­ing as many as 300 free meals ev­ery morn­ing for area res­i­dents. The trailer and his white pickup truck are among the few pos­ses­sions Govella has left. His house was de­stroyed along with a prized collection of an­tiques he’s been cul­ti­vat­ing since he was 19.

“The whole roof blew off,” Govella said above the din of the gen­er­a­tor that runs his food trailer. “Af­ter that, I went to my travel trailer and a tree fell down inside and hit the air con­di­tion­ing unit. I lost ev­ery­thing. “

Like many of his neigh­bors, Govella doesn’t have cat­a­strophic in­sur­ance cov­er­age on his home.

In other parts of the city, res­i­dents over the last few days have been busy dry­ing out soaked floors and dry­wall, saw­ing through downed trees and mak­ing trips to nearby cities for food, wa­ter and gas.

“I wouldn’t put my fam­ily through it again,” Larry Solan­sky, who like oth­ers re­main­ing said he didn’t think the storm would be that bad.

He is shel­ter­ing about a dozen peo­ple in his home, in­clud­ing friend Dan­nyMc Lei ster,w hose fam­ily es­caped a nearby ho­tel Fri­day night as pieces of the build­ing started to blow off in the storm.

A cou­ple houses down, Todd Lott, a sub­con­trac­tor, and his wife, Sheila Til­ley, who works jobs at a Sub­way restau­rant and a con­ve­nience store, lamented the thou­sands of dol­lars in dam­aged tools and elec­tron­ics that was be­ing stored in a garage that flooded. The ceil­ing in their bed­room, which sus­tained wa­ter dam­age, is crum­bling.

Al­most ev­ery struc­ture in the city ap­pears to have sus­tained some dam­age, but it’s un­clear how much the to­tal cost will be, ac­cord­ing to county of­fi­cials.

The county isn’t com­pletely out of the woods yet; three ma­jor rivers that run through could crest in the com­ing days.

Al­most ev­ery struc­ture in the city ap­pears to have sus­tained some dam­age, but it’s un­clear how much the to­tal cost will be, ac­cord­ing to county of­fi­cials.

PHO­TOS BY NICK WAGNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

Genice Gip­son holds her life­long friend, Loretta Capis­tran, out­side of Capis­tran’s apart­ment com­plex in Refu­gio on Mon­day. “We got to be strong, baby,” Gip­son told Capis­tran. Al­most ev­ery struc­ture in the city ap­pears to have sus­tained some dam­age.

Hur­ri­cane Har­vey de­stroyed this apart­ment unit in Refu­gio. On Mon­day, most of the 800-square-mile county on the Coastal Bend was without power.

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