The Aftereffects Of Hurricane Harvey Have Been 'Overwhelming'

Aug 28, 2017
Originally published on August 28, 2017 10:17 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As you just heard, many people who have been evacuated or rescued are still trying to figure out where they can stay and seek shelter from Harvey. We're going to bring another voice in now. Brad Kieserman has worked in emergency management for more than 30 years. He is coordinating relief efforts for the American Red Cross. He joins us on the line from Fairfax, Va. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

BRAD KIESERMAN: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Does the situation feel in control to you at this point?

KIESERMAN: The situation feels, I think, as well-managed as any situation like this could be. I mean, the very definition of catastrophe is when the very capability and capacity you need to respond has been destroyed or deeply affected by the thing you're responding to. And that's what's happened here. And everyone who is involved in this response is coordinating and cooperating, but it is overwhelming.

MARTIN: Overwhelming how? Where are you being stretched the most?

KIESERMAN: Well, I think that first of all, I just want folks to understand what everyone down there is dealing with. The area in which you heard David talk about getting heavy rain is an area that is about the size of Lake Michigan. So what I want folks to think about is southeast Texas has been - Harvey has turned southeast Texas into basically an inland lake the size of Lake Michigan.

That's what we're dealing with down there. And so we had - you know, people reported the number in shelter last night as 8,000. I think that is a deeply underreported number, and that's because people are being rescued. And they're still trapped, and folks are worried about just trying to make sure that people are warm and dry and have food and have a place to lay their head. The good news is we have resources in Texas today to shelter over 50,000 people. So I don't think we're going to be overwhelmed from a resource perspective. The biggest challenge we have is that we can't get our workers around because there's this water everywhere, and there's just a very limited number of high-water vehicles. And right now they're properly focused on rescue.

MARTIN: So what's the solution there? Do you need more vehicles? Does the federal government need to appropriate those or the money for those?

KIESERMAN: No, the vehicles are there. And I think all the vehicles that are - potentially - that are available in the area are being used for rescue. It's this whole idea of prioritization, and that's - rescue is exactly what should be being prioritized. I expect, based on my communications with the federal government, to receive high-water vehicles today in order to move shelter workers around.

But we are getting people where they need to - as best we can. We're getting people where they need to go so that they can take care of the people of Texas. And we are staging people in Austin, in Dallas, in Baton Rouge so that as the roads begin to clear, as we get access to high-water vehicles, that we can get more people in to provide assistance.

MARTIN: But are those roads expected to clear? I mean at this point, it looks like the rain is sustaining. There could be - the storm could even be taking another - getting new life in some way, getting worse.

KIESERMAN: And Rachel, you're absolutely right. I expect that we are going to see rivers out of their banks, at major flood stage, well after Labor Day weekend, well after the 10 of September and that we are going to be dealing with this all the way through Christmas. There is no question, from a response perspective, that this is going to go on for a while. So that's why we're putting the people in place. That's why we had people prepositioned before the storm.

And my expectation is that we will continue to receive the resources we need so that we can put people, put shelter workers where they're needed. But I think everybody has to understand that the priority right now is search and rescue and life safety because it's - as you heard, it's just - it is catastrophic down there.

MARTIN: We knew the storm was going to bring a lot of rain and flooding. Were you surprised that Houston wasn't evacuated? Or do you think that was the right call?

KIESERMAN: I would never second-guess the judgment made by a local official on the ground. That is one of the toughest jobs in the world to have, and you go with the best information you have available. There will be plenty of time for Monday-morning quarterbacking when this is over. I'll tell you what I'm seeing right now. I am seeing everyone, and I mean everyone, acting in good faith, cooperating together and trying to do the best thing for the people of Texas.

And I am - I continue to be convinced that that will be continued. We'll see the emergency management community, whether it's local officials, federal officials, state officials, volunteer organizations - people are just pulling together to pull out all the stops to help the people of Texas.

MARTIN: You've been in emergency management, as I mentioned, for a long time, spent some time working at FEMA. How does this storm compare with other natural disasters you have had to - had to address?

KIESERMAN: I think that - I think that we had some of the best alerting and warning you could possibly get on what is one of the most unpredictable type of weather events. And so I think that that was a definite positive in this. But in terms of what this storm has done and what it's going to continue to do and what we're going to - this is, for my - in my career, the most catastrophic event that I have seen. And I put no caveats on that and I put no limits on that statement. It is a - it's, at a minimum, a two-disaster problem.

The hurricane came in. It brought all of these winds and storm surge and rain. And now we're going to deal with 50 inches of flooding basically turning the entire southeast portion of the state into an inland lake. We're going to deal with rivers out of their banks for weeks, massive destruction, structural damage to homes. And we're going to have an incredible long-term housing challenge. So this is, in my opinion, the most catastrophic event I have seen in my career.

MARTIN: Brad Kieserman is the American Red Cross' vice president for Disaster Services, Operations and Logistics.

Thanks so much.

KIESERMAN: Thank you. Thank you to everybody. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.