ROCK­PORT: Res­i­dents re­turn­ing to ru­ins af­ter di­rect hit from storm that left 1 dead

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By James Pinker­ton

ROCK­PORT — Trop­i­cal­force gusts whipped the frizzy hair of 19-year-old Nathan Kauf­man as he made a des­per­ate search Satur­day of what had been his home.

His up­stairs apart­ment was de­stroyed, and he care­fully picked among the sod­den piles of in­su­la­tion and shat­tered wall studs that lit­tered a place that was now mostly open to the sky and re­lent­less rain.

All he could find Satur­day af­ter­noon was a pair of Jor­dan sneak­ers still in a box, two white shirts and some video games. There was no sign of his lost dog Binky, a 2-year-old Rot­tweiler.

He was both des­o­late at his losses and in awe of the power of the storm.

“All of my stuff is gone,” said Kauf­man, the words rush­ing out as if he had been punched in the gut. “I have no idea what I’m go­ing to do. But it’s in God’s hands.”

Kauf­mann, who spent Fri­day night in a shel­ter, was among the first to re­turn to the pop­u­lar bayfront tourist town in South Texas, which took a di­rect hit from Hur­ri­cane Har-

vey when it came ashore Fri­day night as a Cat­e­gory 4 storm.

Har­vey was the strong­est hur­ri­cane to hit the Texas coast since Hur­ri­cane Carla in 1961.

Wide­spread dam­age from Har­vey also was re­ported in nearby Port Aransas and Cor­pus Christi, the Nue­ces County seat where res­i­dents were told to boil their wa­ter.

In Rock­port, one per­son died in the storm in a struc­ture fire, and about a dozen peo­ple were treated for mi­nor in­juries. Of­fi­cials said dam­age was likely in the hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

On ev­ery block, there were shat­tered shops and boat yards, homes with­out roofs that were open to the sky with­out roofs or crushed by the mag­nif­i­cent oaks that en­close the town. Mo­bile home parks and com­mer­cial RV lots were filled with trail­ers that had been flipped on their side by the winds.

Power lines and downed traf­fic sig­nals lit­tered the road­ways, along with dozens of wooden power poles snapped by the winds. Even the wel­com­ing sign at the en­trance to Rock­port and the neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity of Fulton was wrapped in me­tal de­bris, torn from a roof and twisted by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey. ‘We’ll re­build’

Fulton Mayor Jimmy Ken­drick fought back tears, his voice chok­ing as he spoke of the loss to the town, which in­cluded ex­ten­sive dam­age to the school build­ings shared by Rock­port and Fulton, along with the county court­house.

“Our town is de­stroyed, and it hurts,” the mayor said, ex­plain­ing that he felt he did not do enough to pro­tect the com­mu­nity.

Aransas County Judge Burt Mills said the com­mu­nity will re­build.

“It’s very dis­heart­en­ing,” he said. “We’re go­ing to get through it. We’ll make it. Work­ing to­gether, we’ll re­build and we’ll be bet­ter.”

The Salt Grass Land­ing apart­ment com­plex where Kauf­man lived is now lit­er­ally in shreds. Of the six two-story apart­ment build­ings fac­ing each other across a park­ing lot, some had lost sec­tions of the roof above the sec­ond-floor apart­ments, while bricks and sid­ing had been shorn from the oth­ers, leav­ing bare wooden studs and bats of in­su­la­tion.

Kauf­man and his room­mate, Deantre Thomas, also 19, had been walk­ing from the shel­ter when Rock­port Po­lice of­fi­cer David Rollins saw them along the road, soaked from the rain.

“It’s town­wide,” Rollins said. “It’s all over. There’s not a part of Rock­port that you can drive into and not see some kind of dev­as­ta­tion — homes, busi­nesses, schools. It didn’t leave any­one un­touched.”

The po­lice of­fi­cer ap­peared dazed, and he and other lo­cal of­fi­cials were heart­ened by the rapid re­sponse of the state and fed­eral govern­ment to aid the bat­tered sea­side re­sort towns. Out­side the po­lice sta­tions, green-and-white Bor­der Pa­trol SUVs were parked next to a grow­ing con­tin­gent of Texas De­part­ment of Pub­lic Safety pa­trol units. Buses with work­ers to help sur­vey the dam­age were ar­riv­ing in car­a­vans.

“This is ter­ri­ble,” Rollins said. “It’s go­ing to take of lot of time for the re­cov­ery.”

One of Rock­port’s most vis­i­ble land­marks — a cav­ernous, five-story boat stor­age fa­cil­ity — was ripped open by the hur­ri­cane-force winds. Scores of boats were ex­posed high in the air, tucked into their spa­ces, but oth­ers had been ripped from the fa­cil­ity and had landed be­low.

Next door, a sprawl­ing boat yard, called the House of Boats, had been the scene of a har­row­ing es­cape by worker Fer­min Gar­cia, 46. Af­ter he helped the own­ers lift a num­ber of boats out of the wa­ter, he and his son and an­other young worker re­tired to their house­boat, moored be­hind the yard. Hun­kered down in fuel tank

Hours af­ter Har­vey ar­rived, Gar­cia felt the winds was about to lift the boat into the air. The trio quickly aban­doned ship and made their way in the howl­ing wind a short dis­tance to a large iron fuel tank.

They pried open the end of the tank, climbed in­side and spent the next 12 hours lis­ten­ing to the storm and the crash­ing of large boats be­ing thrown from their cra­dles.

“It wasn’t hard to do, es­pe­cially with the fear we felt,” Gar­cia said of the danger­ous sprint from the sink­ing boat to the empty diesel tank. He hasn’t had time to be­gin try­ing to sal­vage his house boat, but he, too, is op­ti­mistic.

“The good thing is we are alive, and we are ready to re­ally get back to work,” he said.

Har­vey’s left a path of de­struc­tion from the coast to more than 70 miles in­land, where the small Texas town of Refu­gio was also hard hit by the storm.

At the Amer­i­can Best Value Inn, por­tions of the roof at both ends of the 43-unit ho­tel had been ripped off. The en­su­ing sheets of rain and wet in­su­la­tion even­tu­ally caused the ceil­ings to cave in.

“We did a lot of pray­ing,” said man­ager Pete Lopez. “It was tin­flap­ping and the wind was roar­ing like a train com­ing down with no whis­tle.” james.pinker­

God­ofredo A. Vasquez / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Nathan Kauf­man looks around what used to be his home at the Salt Grass Land­ing Apart­ments com­plex in Rock­port on Satur­day.

Hur­ri­cane-force winds ripped apart the House of Boats’ stor­age fa­cil­ity in Rock­port. “This is ter­ri­ble,” Rock­port Po­lice of­fi­cer David Rollins said of the dam­age to the city.

God­ofredo A. Vasquez pho­tos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

A man clears de­bris to make room for his Jeep as he at­tempts to leave an in­un­dated area of Rock­port on Satur­day. Hur­ri­cane Har­vey made land­fall Fri­day night in the small Gulf Coast city that is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion.

Dave McGrew peers into the cabin of an 18-wheeler that was flipped onto its side Satur­day on U.S. 59 West af­ter Har­vey hit the cen­tral Gulf Coast of Texas. McGrew stopped while on his way to check on his fam­ily in Vic­to­ria.

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