Rebuilding After Harvey: Port A Prepares For Summer Visitors
Tourism is the heart of the Port Aransas economy. But after Hurricane Harvey, the town was essentially shut down right before the usually bustling Labor Day weekend. Since then, business owners have been scrambling to reopen before the season many depend on for their income: summer.
Angler’s Court is a collection of brightly painted fishing cottages near the center of Port Aransas. Owner Flora Buerger pops out of a pink one.
“We had four checkouts. All the rentals are back, four checkouts, two check ins, two tomorrow,” said Buerger, while cleaning up after a guest.
That’s much different than last August when Harvey destroyed and severely damaged four others.
You know, really, it seems like the hurricane was five years ago, but we’ve been going at it straight, couple weeks off we had. But it’s done, the whole thing, Angler’s is back,” said John Scott Buerger, Flora’s husband and co-owner.
She shows off the newly restored cottages. Everything had to be replaced: furniture, décor and the walls. About $50,000 worth of repairs.
She’s marked the reach of Harvey’s storm surge with a permanent marker. A squiggly line of waves 22 inches from the ground.
Their first cottage was reopened right before Christmas, "and then one just after. This one that we’re in now we relisted in March,” Flora said.
“We’re at full capacity now. It’s a good thing,” she said. “... It feels like we’re not throwing out money anymore and nothing’s coming in. It’s good to feel like we have a cushion again.”
The Burgers live on site but couch surfed and stayed with family during repairs.
“We felt defeated a lot of days, coming back, driving back and forth from Corpus, living in a hotel, and then an RV,” she said.
She says they got back into their house right before Thanksgiving.
“It’s like a bad dream that you remember really well, but now it’s fading a little bit. Now hurricane season is back ... it’s like, “Oh gosh, here we go again,” Flora added.
Hurricane season officially kicked off June 1, which coincides with tourist season.
Meanwhile, the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce is still operating out of a trailer.
“We were virtually 100 percent shut down as a destination,” Chamber CEO Jeffrey Hentz said.
The town has about 4,000 hotel rooms. Forty-five days after the storm made landfall, only 10 to 20 percent were operational.
“What little was open was primarily used for housing — long-term housing,” Hentz said.
He said Port A is ready for visitors. In fact, the city’s livelihood is depending on it, he said. Right now, about half of Port A’s hotel and short-term rental rooms are back up for rent, and 75 of retail stores are open.
“All the favorite restaurants — Moby Dicks, Castaways — is not open yet, it should be open in about two or three weeks, that’s a staple. Trout Street just opened; Shells is back; I mean I could go on and on,” he said.
WATCH | Nine months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Port Aransas
Shells didn’t suffer much damage. In the weeks after the hurricane it was offering free food to people on the island. Around dinner time over Memorial Day weekend, there’s a 30- to 40-minute wait for a table.
Noisy golf carts zoom down the busy street out front. Owner Heber Stone says its been good since Spring Break.
“Since then, the weekends have been steady; the weekdays have just died off completely. And I think after next week we should be back into the full swing of summer,” Stone said.
His real problem, he said, is finding workers. There aren’t many places for people to live on the island at the moment, and he said he only has about 10 employees right now.
“And that’s at least half of what we used to have,” he said.
Some commute from Corpus Christi. To help, he said he plans to buy a manufactured house for his employees.
“That’s going to be the first thing I put in, even before my house. We’re putting a five bedroom, five bathroom just to try to have somewhere for people to stay,” Stone said.
Stone said he plans to live in one of the bedrooms until his own new house is finished. His was a total loss.
This summer, he says, his priorities are the people who cook the pasta and seafood in his kitchen, wait on tables, and the hungry beach goers he’s glad to have back.
This is the second episode of our three part series: "Rebuilding After Harvey."
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules