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Many Gulf State Lawmakers Have Worried About Storms Like Harvey

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Texas Congressman Pete Olson has been vocalizing concern for years about a storm like this and the devastation it could bring. He's a Republican representing the state's 22nd District, which includes the Houston area, and he joins us now from his home district.

Congressman Olson, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

PETE OLSON: Good morning, Rachel. How y'all doing this morning?

MARTIN: We're OK. How are you doing?

OLSON: I've had better days. We've had better days. We have had enough of Hurricane Harvey. But it appears she has not had enough of us.

MARTIN: Yeah, she's just kind of staying with you. I understand you're in Sugar Land, just outside of Houston. What's the situation there?

OLSON: Well, ma'am, we're doing pretty well here. We've had the power the entire time, but the floods have gotten - they are unprecedented. For example, our major freeway is Interstate 69, United States Highway 59. That is basically closed on both the southwestern end and the northeastern end at the Houston Galleria and a road down there called - (unintelligible) road 762. So if we had to evacuate, it'd be very difficult. But right now there's no evacuation necessary in Sugar Land.

MARTIN: I understand you've been surveying the damage over the weekend in the broader Houston region. What have you seen?

OLSON: Well, I've just seen floods that are unprecedented. Again, we've got - we've had three hundred-year floods in the last 18 months. This one looks like a thousand-year flood. As David mentioned, we've already had 2 feet of rain. We expect Harvey to come back and hit us one more time on Wednesday, dropping maybe 15 to 25 inches of rain again on top of rain that's come. That may be 50 inches of rain in less than a week.

MARTIN: So you have been talking about the threat of a storm like this for a long time and the impact, the broader impact that it could have. Last year you told ProPublica that if a storm hits your region in the right spot, quote, "it's going to kill America's economy." Do you think that fear will come to pass now?

OLSON: Well, not quite now because we haven't hit - that was a direct hit on Houston, in the Port of Houston, is what I was concerned about there. But the fact of the matter remains. This flood is happening. This city is about to be the third largest city in America, that industry is very important to our country. And right now it's unprotected. We're working hard with the state and local officials on what's called the coastal spine to prevent flooding on the Texas Gulf Coast by the Galveston-Houston area, but that's a long way from being operational.

MARTIN: Hurricane Ike in 2008 brought horrible flooding. Seventy-four people died in that storm. It's drawing a lot of comparisons to Hurricane Harvey. Based on the response you saw after Ike, how are you feeling about how federal and state authorities are responding to Harvey?

OLSON: Things are going pretty well here in the region. I've talked to all the mayors in my district - last Monday, right before a conference call with FEMA - and they were glowing about D.C.'s response to the hurricane. In fact, a few examples - one small town up there in northwest Fort Bend County had a crisis the night the hurricane eye came ashore.

They were about to run out of fuel. Because our governor, Greg Abbott, asked for a mercy declaration early and President Trump approved it before the eye hit, they were helped by FEMA to get that fuel in the time of crisis. So that's one good example of how FEMA, the state and local authorities are working together to prevent the damage, and the most important thing - prevent the loss of life.

MARTIN: There have been people calling for years and years to build floodgates for Galveston Bay, which leads into Houston, to prevent even more catastrophic flooding from a future storm. You have been a supporter of building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. That's an expensive endeavor expected to cost between $10 billion and $20 billion. Is this storm making you reconsider that allocation of money?

OLSON: No, ma'am. That's a whole separate pot of money. You're talking about what was known as the Ike Dike after Hurricane Ike. That's been changed to the coastal spine. And it's basically a thing they have in the Netherlands to model that after for the entrance to the Port of Houston and the Port of Galveston, the Port of Texas City through the Gulf of Mexico. We're working hard with our local senators, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, and Randy Weber, my colleague in the House, with - and George P. Bush, our land commissioner, to have a study done to make sure how much it will cost. We think the cost is much less than the Ike Dike would be. So that's promising, but we have to move forward because right now, if this thing had hit us directly, we'd be in a world of hurt much worse than we are now.

MARTIN: Congressman Pete Olson, he's a Republican representing part of the Houston metropolitan area. Thank you so much for your time this morning, and our thoughts are with the people of Houston and the people of Texas.

OLSON: Thank you, Rachel. One humorous story. I had a reporter on a boat with a guy being rescued. The guy said, hey, man, you want a new home with a huge pool? I've got a deal for you. That's how Texans operate in storms.

MARTIN: Texas pride. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

OLSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.