Harvey Left A Footprint Felt By Many

By Rhonda Oaks

September, 2017

 

If adversity leads to greatness, Texas will rise to even greater heights than ever before.

When the rains of Hurricane Harvey began falling in East Texas on August 25, signs of flooding could already be seen in neighboring counties to the south. The rising waters were enough to make thousands flee their homes and travel north. Lufkin area hotels filled quickly and Nacogdoches opened an evacuation center where those fleeing the storm’s wrath could take refuge.

Citizens and volunteers in our nine-county Lufkin District rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Churches began filling trailers with much-needed supplies and city entities and state agencies began coordinating volunteers and committing employees to help.

Many didn’t think twice about hooking up their bass boats and heading south into dangerous flood waters, while trucks and trailers loaded with food and water made their way to delivery points, all in an attempt to help those who were literally drowning.

I have never been more proud to be a TxDOT employee than when those update calls began days before Harvey’s arrival, long before we knew where it would make landfall. We listened intently to district and division leaders report on how they were activating the hurricane response plan put in place long before we knew there was a Harvey.

We listened as National Weather Service experts told us what to expect, and then we did what we are trained to do. TxDOT executed a plan of action. Men and women went to work all across the state. It was evident through the careful, deliberate actions that were smoothly and accurately executed that we were well prepared to respond in an organized, effective way.

The Lufkin District began sent employees to counties along the Gulf. When it was safe enough to begin work, the TxDOT trucks started rolling – repairing signs, roads, traffic signals, bridges, washed out roadways and monitoring rising water. That work even included helping some who were stranded in flood waters.

Statewide, about 2,200 employees and 1,800 pieces of equipment were deployed to the flood ravaged areas of south and southeast Texas to assist those districts whose employees, many of them displaced from their own homes and families, were also working.

The drivetexas.org website, our go-to site for statewide road conditions, received more than five million visits once the rain began. I have seen many photos of flooded areas and in most of them, a TxDOT truck or employee can be seen nearby either monitoring the water or working in some capacity to help get a roadway open.

In East Texas, Harvey left a lasting footprint with flooding and damaged roads. Once the storm passed another crisis occurred on SL 287 East in Lufkin that no one could have anticipated. The five day rain event was too much for a new layer of seal coat that loosened and became a sticky mess. Our crews worked around the clock and then split into shifts in order to get two lanes cleared and reopened within 24 hours.

It’s impossible to tell the many stories of sacrifice, calculate the missed hours of sleep or describe the working conditions that not only our employees but also many first responders and volunteers experienced during the storm and the days that have followed.

Through all of the adversity and challenges that have come our way because of Hurricane Harvey, the people of Texas have proven:

  • That Texans never give up, no matter how difficult, they will find a way through it;
  • That the true spirit of kindness and compassion shown for those in distress proves we really are our brother’s keeper;
  • That the citizens of Texas expect much from TxDOT and TxDOT delivers.

No matter how Hurricane Harvey affected our lives or the landscape around us, the commitment of TxDOT employees remains the same no matter what storms we face – to deliver a great transportation system to Texas that not only provides a safe route to refuge, but one that will truly make us Texas proud and Texas great.