PORT ARANSAS, Texas -- Port Aransas, ground zero six months ago for the first Texas landfall of Hurricane Harvey, is still piecing itself back together while beckoning tourists and spring breakers to return to help them on the long road to recovery.
If you cross the Port Aransas ferry these six months later, a boarded up convenience store is the first building you'll see, as dump trucks race past you in the other direction still hauling hurricane damaged pieces of Port Aransas away.
And since the police station and courthouse are among the buildings considered a total loss and scheduled to be torn down, on our visit last week we found the police chief at a plastic table in his temporary office - next to all the empty audience seats in the chambers of the Port Aransas City Council.
Hurricane Harvey causes massive flooding in Houston area
"It's been interesting," said police chief Scott Burroughs.
‘Interesting’ is the kindest word Scott Burroughs could find for a tourist town with damage to 90% its buildings, upwards of 100 homes destroyed, and dozens of businesses, much like the dolphins outside the gutted remains of the Bay Quest souvenir store on W. Cotter Avenue, lifeless and still and waiting for the Hurricane Harvey nightmare to end.
And that includes the police chief himself who, six months later, is still waiting for repairs on his own Port Aransas home to be finished so he and his wife can move back in. Last week the final electrical connections were being made on a new temporary police department office. And final preps were being made for delivery of a manufactured home/trailer that will serve as the city's temporary jail. Right now anyone arrested has to be transported to the county jail 45 minutes away in Corpus Christi.
PHOTOS: Animal rescues during Harvey
"We were ground zero," Burroughs said. "I don't know that we'll ever be what we were before. I mean the question is whether we'll be better or worse."
What is definitely worse, all these months later, is the hotel and rental condo problem. The Clines Landing high rise for example remains empty and boarded up. Burroughs says he has heard estimates of as long as two years to complete repairs. Similar story for the Dunes Condos near 11th street and Lantana Drive at the beach. Battered and bruised too its reopening schedule has not been announced.
"But when you get down to housing in terms of hotels and motels, that's a problem," said Port Aransas mayor Charles Bujan whose volunteer job as mayor has kept him constantly busy with hurricane recovery coordination efforts.
Bujan says restaurants and bars are reopening at a steady pace. But, with Spring Break around the corner, vacationing Texans will need places to stay. And Bujan and the Port Aransas/Mustang Island Chamber of Commerce estimate that only 25% of the 4,000 hotel rooms in Port Aransas are ready. Bujan admits that full recovery for businesses, homes, rental properties, and government buildings could take three to five years, a time frame other Texas coastal cities like Galveston and Crystal Beach have found to be true in their recovery from Hurricane Ike in 2008.
"Absolutely," Bujan said. "And if I'm sitting here (as mayor) a year from now, we'll still be working on this issue."
What Bujan and Burroughs say Port Aransas needs most is for its dedicated legion of tourists and spring breakers to return as they always have, giving the tourist economy the support it needs to fuel a complete recovery. Tourist dollars fuel this town and tourist dollars will help piece it all back together again.
"There's a group of about maybe 10,000 to 20,000 hard core partiers that are here every year. And they're gonna be here. They come," said Burroughs. "We're ready for them. Our operation plans are not going to change," he said. The week before our interview, Burroughs and the county and state agencies who have patrolled and coordinated Spring Break in Port Aransas the last 50 years, held their annual planning meeting. He says they are ready to welcome the crowds but says they just need the Spring Breakers to pack their patience, bring their money, and help bring Port Aransas back.
"There are literally millions of people in the state of Texas that consider Port Aransas 'their place,'" Burroughs laughed. "And they're coming to support us. And if we can keep our head above water until we get some more condos and hotels up and running, I think we're going to be just fine."
Fine, on beaches that were pretty much the only thing that Hurricane Harvey did not damage.
"Come! The beach is wonderful," said Mayor Bujan.
And with help, they're counting on all of Port A, to be just as wonderful, eventually, again.