HOUSTON – A sign on the doors of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday read that the building was “closed until further notice.”
Water spilled from pipes into the areas surrounding the exterior of the courthouse as pumps worked inside to empty the downtown Houston building of floodwater.
Officials said employees were allowed inside Tuesday only to retrieve important personal belongings.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said that her office has been asked to relocate, and plans have been in the works since the storm to facilitate that move.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the county government is fully operational even though a few county buildings will be closed for some time.
Two downtown facilities, the Criminal Justice Center and the Jury Assembly Building, suffered significant damage. They will be closed for at least eight months.
Also, the county facilities on Cypresswood and Clay roads will remain closed.
The county is working to secure leases for buildings in which those operations can work for the time being.
There will be no civil trials in September and felony trials will be moved to the Civil Court Building.
As a result of the building closures, jury summonses will be allowed to be rescheduled up to three times.
The county has secured a trio of contracts to remove debris.
The same company is doing the debris removal for the city and the county. It is the same company that removed debris after Hurricane Ike hit Houston.
The Harris County Flood Control District has a contract in place to clear the waterways.
Three passes are planned in front of damaged houses. Each pass is expected to take between four and six weeks. The entire operation is expected to last about 90-120 days.
It is expected that compacting debris and taking it to landfills will take an additional 90-120 days.
County commissioners asked for cars to be removed from streets to help workers access debris. Also, debris should not be placed next to mailboxes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said an adjuster does not need to see the damaged items, and a photo would be sufficient.
FEMA disaster recovery centers are being placed across the city.
The city is planning to have three types of disaster recovery centers:
- Mega centers
- Fixed sites
- Mobile sites
Emmett said he wants three mega centers in Harris County. Ideally, he said, one would be on the west side of town, with one on the east side and another centrally located.
FEMA said people can register at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/, through the FEMA app and by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).
Registration is also available at sites across the city.
A FEMA representative said about 600,000 people have already registered.