What now? A look at Harvey's impact on Houston


Hurricane Harvey began with raging winds, but its legacy will be the amount of rainwater it poured on southeast Texas — a staggering 40 inches or more that swamped parts of Houston in just five days.

The water — and the muck and mold that followed — will create problems that will linger for years and likely cost tens of billions of dollars in damage.

For many of the displaced in southeast Texas, floodwaters stole every possession, leaving them to navigate insurance forms and federal disaster aid applications as they figure out how to move forward.

Here's a look at some long-term effects Houston residents will face from from the flooding.

How will it affect homes?

It's too soon to know how many of
(Credit: The Associated Press)

It's too soon to know how many of the more than 37,000 heavily damaged homes in Texas are salvageable, but Houston officials say some will be submerged in water for up to a month. Thousands of homes in the state have already been destroyed.

Furniture, refrigerators and other appliances will almost certainly be ruined. Water can compromise or ruin wallboard, electrical systems, insulation, doors, windows and cabinets. Wooden floors warp, swell and can even float away; mold grows in the moist, humid interior, posing the risk of respiratory problems.

How will it affect the roads?

The relentless pressure of water can loosen
(Credit: The Associated Press)

The relentless pressure of water can loosen the foundation of asphalt roads -- compacted soil, gravel or sand -- leading to cracking and potholes. Pieces of pavement can slide away.

Andy Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, says the great majority of Texas bridges aren't vulnerable to damage from heavy rains because they're built on piles or caissons -- often hollow pipe filled with concrete.

But the smaller ones that sit on soil or rock, he says, could run into trouble if rapidly moving floodwaters eat away at the foundation, a process known as scouring. If that happens, a bridge could tilt or collapse.

How will it affect Houston's economy?

(Credit: The Associated Press)

"I think Houston will rebound much more gracefully, more quickly than New Orleans," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "People aren't going to leave. It's a diverse economy."

Houston's economy depends on health care, transportation, oil refineries and the chemical industry, among others, according to Zandi.

It's part of a coastal region that supplies nearly one-third of U.S. oil-refining capacity. Its port is the nation's second-busiest. The city is headquarters to 20 Fortune 500 companies. NASA's Johnson Space Center is also based there.

Though Zandi expects Houston to come back strongly, he says, that partly depends on a strong federal disaster aid package.

Moody's Analytics estimates the total economic loss from Hurricane Katrina at $175 billion and that Harvey's could swell to $108 billion. But it's too early to know the full scope of the Texas disaster.



How will it affect physical health?

Thousands of Houston-area storm survivors who fled flooded
(Credit: The Associated Press)

Thousands of Houston-area storm survivors who fled flooded homes found refuge in large shelters, but those temporary living quarters can become incubators for infections.

Also, new health problems can arise once flood victims return homes. Inside, mold can cause trouble with breathing, but that can be avoided by wearing a mask. Outside, standing pools of stagnant water contaminated by chemicals and garbage become ideal breeding spots for mosquitoes. A bite can have serious consequences.

How will it affect mental health?

The epic disasters from superstorm Sandy in the
(Credit: The Associated Press)

The epic disasters from superstorm Sandy in the New York-New Jersey area and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans left residents in both places wrestling with the emotional anguish of losing their homes, their livelihoods and their sense of security. The same psychological trauma is likely to emerge in southeast Texas.

Such feelings can linger for years. One study found that residents in the path of Sandy suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another concluded that children displaced by Katrina still had serious emotional or behavioral problems five years later.

Some of the most common stress-related reactions to such natural disasters are anxiety, a change in appetite, insomnia and a sense of uncertainty -- a feeling of what's next, according to Dr. Anita Everett, president of the American Psychiatric Association. Headaches or aches and pains can also surface, she notes.

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