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Life after Rita

Folks are returning back to Port Arthur and Sabine Pass to see how bad the damage from Hurricane Rita was in their neighborhoods. Sadly, it was very bad.

Teresa MacLelland expected some damage to her Sabine Pass home as she returned Saturday for the first time since Hurricane Rita forced her to evacuate.

“I saw other people’s houses and thought they were bad,” the office manager for Black Offshore said. “Then I saw my house.”

Or what was left of it.

Rita struck the Sabine Pass community Sept. 23 as a Category 3 hurricane with 130-mph-plus winds and a 10-foot storm surge that left most of the shrimp-fish-
ing fleet on dry land.

“Sabine Pass is 99 percent gone,” Port Arthur Mayor Oscar Ortiz said. “I don’t know of one home that doesn’t have severe damage.”


The storm surge, which also deposited a 100-foot, steel barge from the Intracoastal Waterway in the yard of a home about a quarter of a mile away, cut the heart from the economy.

The hurricane devastated the shrimp industry and damaged oil refineries, the mainstays of this blue-collar community. Hebert said many of the residents have said they may not return.

Yet a school board member sees the seeds of the community’s revival. Trustee Sam Garrison, 75, said oil rigs damaged by Rita in the Gulf will be coming to Sabine Pass docks for repair.

“Jobs will revive anything,” Garrison said. “Sabine Pass will come back.”

I hope so, and I hope they’ll get all the help they need to do so. Houston and Galveston may have “dodged a bullet”, as everyone keeps saying, but that doesn’t mean that bullet vanished into thin air. It just hit someone else.

On a related note, here’s an update on the Houston apartment market from Nancy Sarnoff.

More than 17,600 apartments have been absorbed since Labor Day, according to preliminary estimates from O’Connor & Associates, a real estate research firm. They also show that Houston landlords will absorb more than 10 times the normal level of apartments in September.

While no one knows how long these units will stay leased as some hurricane evacuees will return to New Orleans or other areas, the bump in leasing already is affecting the multifamily sales market.

“Expectations have increased as far as the pricing sellers are expecting,” said David Wylie, an apartment broker with Apartment Realty Advisors in Houston.

Wylie hasn’t sold a complex since Hurricane Katrina hit, but the number of offers coming in for properties on the market is more than doubling, he said.

The increased leasing activity is also expected to increase rents, giving property owners the upper hand for the first time in a while.

“Now it’s a landlord’s market,” Wylie said.

Will developers rush to build more apartments to take advantage of this market as long as it lasts, or will they wait to see how many of those new residents will be here longer term? I’m just glad I don’t have to make that kind of decision.

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  1. Tom K says:

    Charles, even after the absorption of the units by the Katrina evacuees, Houston still has a pretty big glut of apartment units. Thus, no rational developer will be looking to build more units as a result of this development.

  2. My great-aunt’s home in Beaumont only suffered minor cosmetic damage (flagpole ripped out of brick, broken treetop that brushed the roof) but we don’t know when she’ll be able to go home. The problem for her is when the infrastructure, particularly the utilities, will be restored.