Hurricane Harvey: About That Wall …

Harvey as a hurricane, 08/24/17. NASA Goddard Space Center — public domain.

by Thomas L. Knapp…….

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey hovers off the Gulf Coast, menacing Louisiana and possibly ramping up for another go at Texas. Much of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, is under water.

It may be weeks before the storms end, the waters recede, and basic utilities are restored. But this, too, shall pass — and then begins the rebuilding. Who’s going to do that rebuilding?

A few years back, a contractor who built houses in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 answered that question for me. Demand for construction workers was high, but many American workers weren’t especially interested in spending months away from home, living in trailers or tents. And those who were willing to take jobs that didn’t have them home every night understandably commanded premium pay.

If not for large numbers of largely “undocumented” workers who showed up ready to work for reasonable wages, the contractor told me, the work simply couldn’t have been completed in any reasonable time-frame or at any reasonable cost.

Even before Harvey, an April 2017 poll by Texas Lyceum found that 62% of Texans believe immigration helps the US more than it hurts, and that 61% of Texans oppose US president Donald Trump’s “border wall” project.

Hopefully those numbers will go up as the bills for Hurricane Harvey start to arrive and the need for (re)construction labor begins to mount.

Hopefully, President Trump will re-think both his border wall proposal and his emphasis on immigration enforcement, and order at least a temporary draw-down of Border Patrol and Immigration & Customs Enforcement operations, especially along the Gulf Coast.

The conflict Donald Trump faces now is one of priorities. He can indulge his immigration obsession or he can let the market rebuild Houston. He can’t do both.

To put it bluntly, America can’t afford to live without Houston and the rest of Gulf Coast Texas for even a moment more than absolutely necessary. If the Houston metro area was a country, its GDP would rank 28th in the world. It routinely ranks near the top of US job creation and paycheck indices.  Even setting raw human suffering aside — and we shouldn’t — the rest of America will feel each day without Houston in our pocketbooks (possibly to the point of recession).

Impeding immigration has always been morally evil and economically stupid. In the wake of Harvey, it will remain morally evil and become economically suicidal.


Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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7 thoughts on “Hurricane Harvey: About That Wall …

  1. I agree it will take a lot of workers to rebuild. And yes dam few will live in a tent away from family unless being paid far higher than normal wages. Is no reason after a few areas are cleaned up that travel trailers or motor homes could shelter them but the pay would likely be triple or higher and will have a huge turnover of workers.

    But no smart contractor hires workers that are illegal and have no workers comp. insurance. It is illegal. There are always legal workers at some price that will take the jobs. Many live in Houston and are out of work now. So NO we do not need illegals and few of them have the skill levels needed. We are talking about 10 hour days 7 days a week. If you want quality buildings it requires skilled trades people.

    If many houses and commercial buildings are insured they still might have a problem because the coverage was based on normal wages and materials. Often this turns into the insurance company paying the limits of policy and the people take the money and leave. Then the property goes without taxes being paid.

    Does anyone remember ANDREW ? It actually helped places like Homestead. There were piles of trash on both sides of Krome ave. for about 3 years. End result is it cleaned that city up better than ever.

    Yes it will take years to rebuild and insurance will go up.

    Part of the blame falls on the people that had days to run but stayed. Anyone with half a brain could see this was going to be a disaster.

    Somehow people will want to blame Trump LOL

    The reality is many will leave Houston because of no jobs or home and unemployment will not pay enough or long enough.

    The place I worry about is Key West if it ever got hit that bad. Many of the houses are 100 years old and in weak condition. They were not build to any serious codes such as strapping. Without them the charm of KW would be gone and never return.
    Think what would happen if a hurricane was to hit on Fantasy Fest week. Is no way in hell anyone would leave and risk being stuck on the highway with no gas. Be better off risking riding it out than a sure death on US 1

    1. “The place I worry about is Key West if it ever got hit that bad.”

      So far, the Key West hurricane of Labor Day 1935 remains the most intense to ever hit the US. It was a Category 5 and killed more than 400 people.

      “Part of the blame falls on the people that had days to run but stayed. Anyone with half a brain could see this was going to be a disaster.”

      Great minds think alike, although I focus less on blame (in any city of substantial size there will be people with no cars and nowhere to go — so they stay; and property owners afraid of those poor people looting decide to stay too). My second column on Harvey (it’s here — the Blue Paper didn’t choose it this week)a discusses preparedness. When I edited for length, I hat to cut the admonition “if you know one of these things is coming and you are at all able to do so, GET OUT — book a hotel room far away and take a mini-vacation.”

      And don’t wait for the evacuation order. The reason Houston’s city government didn’t order evacuations this time was that when they did so ahead of Ike in 2008, about 100 people got killed in car wrecks on the clogged highways.

      1. It is great that we sometimes agree LOL

        Yes many are too broke to fill the gas tank to leave. I know this for a fact as I am a landlord. If down to $20 till pay day they will buy smokes and beer and hope nothing breaks on the car. Had they got out of Dodge they still might have a car. They clearly were going to get slammed and stayed. Hard to feel sorry for them but I do. Your big screen TV would likely be destroyed anyways so let them loot.

        I have often wondered why KW seems safer than other coast areas. My thinking is the lack of back pressure being it is so small.

        Yes if caught down there we know our new Mustang would be destroyed but that is why we have insurance. Can buy another new Mustang in a few hours but can”t buy anything if sitting in it dead. Hell no we would not even try to leave and end up stuck on the road. Seen what happens in the keys far to often over wrecks that could be cleared in 30 minutes. But in this case they had plenty of roads to leave on. We would have ran if we were there.

        Sadly many do not buy or can afford flood insurance. Is there any place in KW that is not in the flood zone ? Keep in mind in KW it is not about the houses value it is about the land value. Do not want to think what would happen if KW got hit with a 4 or 5 today.

        As for Houston it might be 5 or 10 years to fully recover. Many have lost everything and out of a job. The real problem will be getting building materials. Am sure some contractors will hire illegals and make a huge profit for the risk. I am not racist but do not want illegals here taking jobs from legal workers.

  2. Good point, the economic significance Houston is to USA.

    HQ of the US carbon fuel industry, it could be said.

    HQ of Halliburton, whose CEO became US vice president rumored to have pushed the baby Bush president to finish what the daddy Bush president did not finish – take Iraq and its oil fields, on which venture Halliburton made mountains of yellow gold, and also in the equally successful never ending Afghanistan war.

    Texas seems to really like the wish he were king president, yet, as you point out the irony, Texas needs is many illegal Mexican and other south of the Texas border immigrants to recover from the Harvey devastation. That has been on the news coming out of Texas.

    FEMA is deeply in debt. Much of the Harvey devastation in Texas was not covered by Federal Flood Insurance. The dollar costs of recovery in Texas is beyond comprehension. How does anyone, even the wanna be king president, still think the US can still come up with the money to build his wall he promised Mexico would build? A promise anyone with half a brain knew was not going to pan out. Where’s the money coming from to fix what Harvey did to east Texas?

    A Tampa college professor got fired for tweeting Harvey was what Texas deserved for voting for Trump. Yet, Trump pulled the US out of the international climate accord. Here then comes Harvey, and then here comes my homeless girlfriend dreaming during Harvey, “Houston, we have a problem!”, and Huston replying, “This is Houston, we have a problem.”

    There really is karma, and it is painted all over Harvey’s visit to east Texas and Houston, which, fortunately did not result in much loss of life. The economic loss, however, is horrendous. A message from above?

    Key West’s assistant city manager John Jones told me in the late fall of 2005, that during one hour, Key West lost 10,000 cars and trucks to Hurricane Wilma’s tidal surge which put 3 1/2 feet of seawater over the low lying areas of Key West and all the way up through the bayside of Marathon. I have photos of North Roosevelt Blvd in Key West covered with a couple of feet of water during Wilma’s tidal surge.

    For months after Wilma,, there were huge piles of debris along the side of every affected street in Key West and the keys up to Seven Mile Bridge, even along US 1 roadside. Dead trees and shrubs. Dead household appliances. Dead furniture. Dead sheetrock. Dead plumbing. Dead motor scooters and bicycles and lawn mowers. And all the dead cars and trucks. It took mainland contract haulers two passes to remove all the Wilma debris just from Key West.

    Imagine how much greater the material loss is in just Houston alone, a city that dwarfs Key West and the Florida Keys in human population and homes, apartments and condominiums and personal possessions.

    Will Donald Trump and his administration respond to Harvey’s devastation with the gusto they are pursuing the two baby Bush wars that never should have been started? Two not worth one American killed or wounded and/or battleshocked soldier wars, which were and still are darn good for US Corporate War Machine, Inc., and especially good for Halliburton.

    Karma always has her say.

  3. Houston likely has more damage than any recent disasters. Trump alone can not rebuild it.Many buildings will be total loss and to rebuild requires them to be built to current codes. Often that means raise the height of the land to above flood level. Some might not ever get rebuilt. You only have about 48 hours to dry out a building before mold can become a major issue. So by now most will be seriously damaged some to above the value and will be rebuilt new. While they rebuild other places will expand because of the demands that Houston can’t provide.

  4. Sorry, missed a couple of typos and a syntax flub, please use this instead:

    In today’s Key West Citizen is a syndicated news article: now the tussle between Trump and Congress and different factions in Congress is, will the US debt limit be raised, to fund Harvey relief in Texas? No mention of the Great Wall of Trump in the article. From what I have seen on fake TV and fake online videos and read in the fake mullet wrappers, it’s all fake news, Harvey did not smash Texas and flood out Halliburton America’s carbon fuel capital all that long after Texas’ president pulled the US out of the climate control accord and ramped back up the US Halliburton war in Afghanistan.

    Watching college football last night in Jack Flats sports bar in Key West, a Hurricane fake news report flashed onto one of the big screens, I asked a Key West resident sitting next to me, if Irma clobbered Trump’s home and golf course in south Florida, would that be a sign from above? The fellow’s answer was, if that happened, “That will cost me a lot of money”.

    The damage in Houston alone might cost America more money than any natural disaster has to date. Perhaps America should consider removing “under God” from its Pledge of Allegiance” and “In God we trust” from its currency?

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