Hurricane Harvey rammed into the Texas coast on August 25, bringing devastating winds and relentless rainfall. The hurricane and subsequent flooding were responsible for 68 direct deaths in Texas--over half of which occurred in the Houston metro area—and an additional 35 “indirect” deaths, caused from electrocution, vehicle accidents, and isolation from medical treatment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates Harvey’s price tag at around $125 billion. It is the most significant tropical rainfall event in US recorded history. Hundreds of thousands of homes and business suffered serious damage or were totally destroyed.
From the very beginning, the event was remarkable in its ferocity as well as in the heroism and spirit of community all along the Texas Gulf Region. As the world watched, contractors from around the country connected in the spirit of members helping members.
“As I watched from my home, I received phone call after phone call from AGC members asking how they could help,” said Art Daniel, national president of AGC of America and AGC of Texas member. “Contractors may do hard work, but they have soft hearts, especially when it comes to helping some of their own.”
AGC leaders mobilized a massive fundraising effort to aid stricken families, including Carl May of Oldcastle.
“The AGC support was great. I filled out the application. Didn’t know if anything would come if it. You’re so stressed. But this is what makes AGC membership feel like family,” he said of help for his severely damaged home.
Daniel, who also sits on the board of directors for National’s philanthropic organization, AGC Charities, Inc., helped coordinate a nationwide outreach to raise money to provide relief in the form of grants for member employees who suffered Hurricane Harvey damage or destruction.
“We created AGC Charities, Inc. a decade ago to provide a place where contractors could come together to help communities and the industry,” said Daniel. “Among the causes we had in mind was making sure there is a way to help members of the AGC family in times of need. And unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey put far too many people working for AGC member firms…in desperate need.”
National AGC led a massive effort on behalf of chapters and members around the country in the months following the disaster. Those impressive efforts raised more than $195,000. The amount was distributed evenly among the 83 qualified grant recipients, each of whom received $2,350 each. Approximately 30 percent were AGC of Texas member employees.
In mid-January, AGC of America, AGC of Texas, and President Daniel coordinated the distribution of funds to the recipients, visiting several of the member companies to meet the grant recipients and to hear their stories.
Grant recipients Diane Moore and Britt Reid of McCourt & Sons Equipment were neighbors in the small town of La Grange. Diane’s home sat on a hill with her note nearly paid off. Britt Reid and his family purchased their new construction home in May of 2017, right down the street. “We had just moved in. Three acres on a golf course, no neighbors—it was a great spot.”
When the flooding came, both agreed that FEMA and the local government did an excellent job alerting everyone. No one had to be rescued, and they had about eight hours to prepare. Still, when the floods came, they came so much faster than expected.
Diane traveled with a friend to the Schulenberg Retirement Center where they took shelter. Britt Reid and his family of four, two dogs and two cats found shelter in a small attic apartment, about a 10x20 space, where they stayed for two months.
“That first month, it was hell. And we were glad to have it,” said Reid.
Reid remembered whitewater rapids through their neighborhood. “We were prohibited from going to check on our homes, but I had to see. I had to know.”
What he did find was a level of destruction he was wholly unprepared for. The floods raised his garage door, releasing his belongings in all directions. While viewing the property from his fishing boat, he unknowingly floated right over his truck.
“When you think of flood damage, you think of water. But this wasn’t water. It was Wolf Brand Chili, and reeked way worse,” he recalled. “The house is awful. Condemned. We are going to have to tear it down.”
Scenes immediately following the subsequent flooding after Hurricane Harvey. The home belongs to Britt Reid of McCourt & Sons Equipment in La Grange. Britt and his wife purchased the home just three months prior to Hurricane Harvey.
Both Diane and Britt agreed that McCourt and Sons’ assistance cannot be overstated.
“McCourt and Sons were great. Eamon [McCourt] kept asking us, ‘What do you need?’” I didn’t even know,” said Britt. Kevin McCourt provided them drone footage of their properties (which is how Britt located his truck). And they sent eight people to help when the floodwaters receded.
Diane agreed. “We were exhausted. I don’t know what I would have done without all the help. Katie [McCourt] helped me pack up before the evacuation, reminding me of necessities I would need for the time I would be away. I wouldn’t have had anything if she hadn’t been there to help.”
The assistance didn’t stop there, and both Diane and Britt easily recalled numerous people and companies who joined together to help. HEB dispatched trucks full of cleaning supplies. Southside Market served free breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for almost a week. McCourt and Sons cooked over 2,000 burgers to feed the displaced community and those who came to volunteer. Fayette County lent Britt a loader, free of charge, and helped with clearing debris.
The outpouring of generosity didn’t stop when the rain did. Cannon Safe Company sent Britt a brand new safe, free of charge. The local vet deloused Britt’s dogs (after terrible conditions in the attic left them almost hairless) and charged about 30% of the cost, then treated them to a “spa day” while Britt and his family worked to establish a new home.
After it was safe to return, Diane began mitigating immediately. While the 16 inches of water caused a significant amount of damage, the home was salvageable, amounting to about $26K in damage. Diane was able to move back in November 1 and rebuild piece by piece.
After the insurance money was used to pay off the note, Britt’s out-of-pocket expenses topped $100,000.
Colin McKeane stands with his two colleagues and grant recipients Diane Moore and Britt Reid.
Both Britt and Diane expressed their appreciation, noting that with the exception of insurance, the AGC Charities grant was the first monetary assistance they had received to help with Hurricane Harvey relief—even almost five months after the storm.
Colin Keane of McCourt & Sons and Associate Division chairman of AGC of Texas, also voiced his appreciation. “In an event like this, smaller communities can be forgotten.
To see the national association step up to help everybody—McCourt & Sons really appreciates that.”
Seleste Esparza of Costello, Inc. took a minute to prepare herself to retell her story. The house she grew up in, located a quarter mile from Cypress Creek, had been there since her parents built it in 1965. It had flooded 3.5 feet in 2001 and her family had been able to repair the damage. This time, it was different.
“The flood was incomprehensible,” said Seleste. “This time, it was over 6 feet of water. It destroyed everything. It was so misleading that the hurricane didn’t even hit near Houston.”
Seleste moved back to the home years prior to care for her aging and infirm parents. “I lost my father two years ago, my mother one year ago. Everything we lost in this flood, it felt like losing them all over again.”
Because the home was in probate court, FEMA rejected Seleste’s claim. There was no insurance on the house, and the repairs needed outweighed the value of the property.
The family has decided to sell the property as-is. “We still have our family business. We have our memories and will go on from there. But it was a very, very great loss.”
Costello, Inc. sent 15 people to Seleste’s home to help clear debris. “It was like a godsend. My whole family was so grateful. They came out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Everybody was helping. They brought sandwiches, water, beer.”
Assistance came from other places, as well. Seleste recalls the insurance agencies who erected tents and handed out water. “It was so hot,” she said. “So many small businesses did whatever they could to help. The [dry] cleaners were wonderful.”
Seleste also recalls her attempt to replace her lost motorcycle helmet. The owner of the shop donated it to her. “I tried to pay, and she refused. ’I’ve always wanted to help,’ she told me. ‘This is my way.’”
Dustin O’Neal, president of Costello, Inc., offered his own appreciation for AGC’s efforts. “I’ve been associated with AGC since 2010. They’ve always supported the industry. Not only working with legislators to preserve our interests but funding all those scholarships. I’m very proud to be an associate member of AGC. I’m still surprised by what they can do.”
Steve Gbur, design and construction manager of Costello, Inc. nodded his agreement. “We are so thankful as a company, between these [Hurricane Harvey assistance grants] and the scholarships, we’ve benefited greatly as a company.”
Carl May of Oldcastle has a 3,000 square foot home that suffered massive damage from the flood. “Since we moved there in 1982, we’ve never had any problems. This time, my mother, sister—everyone—had to be evacuated by air boat.”
From left to right, Steve Gbur, Design and Construction Manager; Seleste Esparza, grant recipient, Dustin O’Neal, President; and Christopher Pauley grant recipient, all of Costello, Inc.
JD Abrams engineer Pattana Chansiri, Art Daniel, and Maintenance Director Juan Santana
Carl May with Oldcastle Gulf Coast with AGC of American President Art Daniel.
The final stop also boasted the most recipients, mainly from the work payroll manager Syntoria Flagg (pictured, center) did in getting the word out to fellow employees. In total, eight recipients from Pulice Construction were awarded Hurricane Harvey grants. Here, a few of the recipients pose for a picture with Ed Mears and Art Daniel.
May did not have flood insurance, and the ensuing chaos made it difficult to get anything done. “As contractors, we’ve been really busy because of the storm. There’s not a lot of time to work on your own problems. And it’s hard to even find people to help work.”
Carl had been commuting 2.5 hours every day to get into work before an AGC member out-of-state offered a camper to Oldcastle. The time saved in the commute has helped him get started on repairs to his house. Still, with the estimated $113,000 of damage, Carl expects it to take a long time to do the repairs. “I’m still more fortunate than many others,” he said.
At a stop at JD Abrams, President Art Daniel sat with two of the recipients, Juan Santana and Pattana Chansiri.
“I stayed home,” said Pat. “I’ve been in the same house 30 years. But this one was bad.”
Pat’s home was not damaged by the initial storm but by the subsequent release of the dam. He suffered approximately $15,000 of out-of-pocket expenses but is back in his home.
“The check will help a lot. AGC is a really nice community,” he said.
Juan Santana also thought his home would be spared. “I almost made it,” he said. But the 3-year-old home finally succumbed to floodwaters the final night of the storm. Juan packed his valuables, medicine, and important papers in a cooler before he was rescued by boat. “It floated so I could just push it.”
“It’s pretty bad to see your home flooded. It feels really good to be a part of an organization that can help like this. It will take at least $20,000 to get the house up and running. This will help a lot.”
Ken Burge of JD Abrams noted the importance of both men at Abrams. “They returned immediately to work, even amidst their own problems.”
The final stop for the day also had the most recipients: Pulice Construction with eight recipients.
“We prepared the best we could,” noted Syntoria Flagg, payroll manager at Pulice. “It [the Hurricane Harvey Grant Assistance Program] was an awesome gesture. It’s been a real blessing knowing that so many people from around the country came together to heIp us. I tried to share with as many employees as possible.”
Syntoria’s home sat four feet above the ground but still flooded. “We prepared for the hurricane. But no one was prepared for the rain,” she said.
Other colleagues voiced their agreement. “We’re used to floods. We made it through the Memorial Flood. We made it through the Tax Day Flood. But they were nothing like this.”
As Art Daniel distributed the checks to the member employees, he told them “These checks won’t make everything right, but I hope they will help you as you get back on track. On behalf of the entire AGC of America family, let me express my sympathies for the losses you have suffered. Please accept these grants as a small token of our association’s appreciation for your spirit, your tenacity, and your resiliency.”
As Diane Moore of McCourt & Sons recalled, a neighbor had asked her if she thought they would ever get over Harvey.
“I think it will always be with us. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”