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Post-Harvey cost of living drove many people out of Port Aransas

"We had to wade and swim through seaweed and nails with boards in them, dead birds, rats, possums," Dee Wallace said.
Port Aransas resident shows the six foot water line that Hurricane Harvey left behind
Posted at 1:29 PM, Aug 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-25 19:28:31-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Dee Wallace, a man who grew up and lives in Port Aransas, pointed to a line on the outside door of his garage as he recalled the hours leading up to when Hurricane Harvey hit Port Aransas.

“This is the water line,” Wallace said. “You can see it’s just a little over 6 feet of water.”

Fewer than 24 hours before the storm, he sent his wife and daughter to a hotel in Laredo.

“Don’t ask questions,” he told them. “Don’t argue. Pack up your most important stuff.”

“That’s one of the most horrific parts of these hurricanes is the sound they make. It’s deafening. The wind howling.”

He stayed behind and hunkered down at a home on higher ground with friends across the island.

“It was right on top of us and it just ground and ground and ground for hours,” Wallace said. “That’s one of the most horrific parts of these hurricanes is the sound they make. It’s deafening. The wind howling.”

When it was finally over, he was able to make his way home.

“Somebody called me on the phone and said ‘Was it bad?’ and I said ‘It was bad,’ " he said.

Hoping his home would still be standing, he said he tried to make his way home before daylight.

“We had to wade and swim through seaweed, and nails with boards in them, dead birds, rats, possums," he said. "All kinds of stuff. The wreckage of people's lives.”

Also discovered was a live gator he said likely from the nature center a block over.

When the water finally receded, Wallace found a pink plastic flamingo he keeps in his garden today.

“It’s my buddy,” he said.

A happy thought, compared with the more than $75,000 in damages to Wallace’s property.

“All the insurance in the world, you know, it still never replaces what you lost,” he said.

Francis Stokes and his family evacuated.

“Our back fence was knocked down, and so there was a lot of seaweed and, of course, shingles from the roof,” Francis Stokes said. “I’m on the high side of the subdivision so we had a little over a foot of water."

Stokes said his neighbor's damage across the street was much worse, with about three more feet of water in their homes.

“We were lucky to actually have people who came and helped us move stuff out of the house,” Stokes said.

His family lived in a Padre Island condo while contractors gutted and repaired his house.

“We were there for about six months,” Stokes said.

While Stokes and Wallace were eventually able to move back into their homes. Some weren’t as lucky.

“The old houses that were affordable housing for the people that work here mostly blew away or were so badly damaged that they were torn down,” Wallace said.

Port Aransas officials said at the time that 1,200 people were without homes or places to stay after Harvey.

In October 2020, ground broke on an affordable housing complex that would house many of Port A’s workforce who would commute from Corpus Christi, Rockport, and other areas.

“What we’ve done recently, in the past council and city administration, really helped us put the Palladium,” said Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brett Stawars.

Through the Texas Department of Housing and other state and city funds, the 188-unit complex originally was set to open in November 2021, but because of labor and supply shortages, residents weren’t able to move until Spring 2022.

“We have about 500 residents living in those units right now,” Stawars said. “A little over 30 of these are actually students enrolled in our school district.”

Stawars moved to Port A in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have seen an explosion of growth,” Stawars said.

Stawars said, between the snowbirds and vacationers, money is helping their economy.

“People have really chosen Port Aransas as their respite, or second home in which they can work remotely,” he said.

He said Port Aransas currently has 2500 short term rentals registered with the city, and that the chamber is working on a comprehensive plan with the city to help it grow — a plan which also includes long-term housing opportunities.