DICKINSON, Texas — Every single mode of transportation Katrina Chadbourne’s family owned was swallowed in Hurricane Harvey’s flooding.

“My husband’s truck is gone,” Chadbourne said. “My daughter’s Lexus is gone. My husband’s Harley is gone.”

A pair of water scooters went under as the flood climbed her front steps, and then a kayak was lost in a failed attempt to save the scooters. Her “baby,” a red 2015 Mustang GT, was the last hope, and it was sitting at the McRee Ford dealership 20 miles southeast of Houston, where it was receiving new tires on a service lot. But that, too, was a goner; the dealership was among the hardest hit in the region, losing 700 vehicles to the murky floodwaters.

Harvey appears to be the most destructive event for cars in the nation’s history, based on early estimates, with floodwaters destroying hundreds of thousands of vehicles in a sprawling city that relies on them for much of its transportation.

The loss is having an immediate impact, preventing many people from being able to return to work, sending craftsmen scrambling for new vehicles as they hope to rebuild the region, and leaving auto dealers who face millions of dollars in losses racing to restock amid unprecedented demand.

“They say 500,000 total in Houston,” said Mitchell Dale, who owns McRee Ford, referring to initial estimates of how many cars were destroyed last week in the Houston area. Dale said his own automotive stock was worth about $28 million, and almost all of it is destined for the crusher.


Sandy destroyed about 250,000 vehicles and Katrina claimed about 200,000, according to estimates. Harvey ruined 300,000 to 500,000 cars and perhaps far more, early analysis indicates, leaving as much as $2.7 billion to $4.9 billion worth of automotive damage in its wake, according to Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive.

Houston is a metropolis crisscrossed by some of the nation’s widest freeways, plagued by some of the nation’s longest commutes and home to a culture that treats driving like a constitutional right.

Driving here is not just a choice but a way of life. Not being able to drive is an extremely disruptive aspect of the widespread flooding here, keeping families at home, workers from their jobs, and much of the city’s recovery in limbo.

For countless Houstonians like Chadbourne, 42, a crane operator who has no reliable way to get to work without her Mustang, the immediate outlook is dour. But for Chadbourne’s family, it’s perhaps even dangerous.

Her 18-year-old daughter underwent a heart transplant and has a suppressed immune system, she said. The last time they had to call an ambulance, it took an hour to get to the hospital and the girl nearly died.

At McRee Ford, the week was a complete disaster, beginning with an early morning call on Aug. 27 as floodwaters rose.


“The night watchman called me at 6 a.m. and told me every vehicle in the lot was flooded and water was in the building,” Dale said.

By Friday, as floodwaters had begun to retreat, insurance adjusters had arrived and they were eyeing the mud-streaked vehicles. The situation was bad: Cars that looked OK were useless under the hood because of destroyed electrical systems. Even with repairs, managers said, the vehicles would be unsafe to drive.

Luis Sahagun, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance, said the company had received 9,000 auto claims at the end of last week. Asked to describe a typical payout after a flood, Sahagun said he couldn’t answer.

“A car could be in 6 inches of water with minimal damage or 6 feet of water, where it’s a total loss,” he said.

Dealerships are going to sell a lot of vehicles, but the lack of inventory may drive prices up by several thousand dollars. Higher prices mean more challenges for buyers as they try to get auto loans, which are determined by blue-book value, not retail prices, he said.

The higher prices will create another obstacle for buyers: Some dealerships may quietly hawk storm-salvaged vehicles full of hidden kinks.

After Hurricane Katrina, storm-damaged vehicles were found in 26 states.

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