ROCKPORT, Texas - As Rockport recovers from the strongest storm to hit the area in more than 50 years, business owners there are working to open their doors.
Only one quarter of the stores, restaurants and hotels in the area are operational today and the mayor said it could take three to five years to mend the broken economy.
“We were about 1300 businesses before the storm and as of this week we've got about 300 of them back and operating,” said Rockport Mayor Charles J. Wax.
Weeks after Hurricane Harvey pummeled the gulf coast, the water is gone, but those who own the stores, hotels and restaurants are struggling to stay afloat.
“For 18 months to 24 months, I think we're going to be a lot slower than we used to be, a lot slower,” said Craig Griffon who owns three businesses on Fulton Beach Road.
All of Griffon’s businesses had some damage. Two are up and running again, but the Inn at Fulton Harbor needed a complete overhaul.
“The vinyl softened and the water went up in the roof and rained into every room, except one four-by-four-foot storage room that was the only thing that survived everything else had to be completely rebuilt from the inside out,” Griffon said.
Craig’s hotel, like the majority of others in the area, is closed for business. In fact, only one and a half are taking customers, making it even more difficult for other businesses to survive after the storm.
“I mean we're not seeing the kind of numbers that we should be seeing and we're not going to for a long time cause there's no place to stay,” said Griffon.
“Very limited accommodations in terms of hotels, motels, apartments, condominiums, any of those kinds of things to support a tourist community,” Wax said.
Even if the customers come back, a chunk of Rockport’s once 10,000 people aren’t around to serve them.
“The other issue, that's a big issue getting businesses going, is getting the employees back,” said Griffon.
“So there's no place for people to move back to,” Wax said.
Craig said four of the nine cooks at his restaurant have been living in other cities since the storm hit and it may be months before they can return, if they do at all.
“The problem with us today is that we have a horrible shortage of affordable housing. All of our apartment buildings were damaged, most of our condominiums were damaged and a lot of our individual homes were damaged,” said Wax.
Conventions planned in the area long ago have been relocated, crushing hope that new customers may be on the horizon.
“People keep cancelling reservations even into the next year,” Griffon said.
FEMA and HEB are still serving families who can't afford to start over on their own, but the mayor said the city still needs more help than they're getting.
“What we need is the State and the federal government to recognize the loss to communities like this one that do not have the resources to handle those kinds of losses,” said Wax.
Still, even on Rockport’s empty streets, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.
“We get a little better every day and people are smiling, they're working hard, they're working long hours, but, yeah, we're getting a little better every day,” Wax said.
Several business owners said they are taking this opportunity to rebuild their establishments bigger and more beautiful than before.
However, it is taking longer than expected for insurance money to come in, delaying construction at the majority of businesses.