Two and a half months after Hurricane Ike blasted the shoreline, alligators and snakes crawl over vast piles of shattered building materials, lawn furniture, trees, boats, tanks of butane and other hazardous substances, thousands of animal carcasses, perhaps even the corpses of people killed by the storm.
State and local officials complain that the removal of the filth has gone almost nowhere because FEMA red tape has held up both the cleanup work and the release of the millions of dollars that Chambers County says it needs to pay for the project.
Elsewhere along the coast, similar complaints are heard: the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been slow to reimburse local governments for what they have already spent, putting the rural counties on the brink of financial collapse.
"I don't know all the internal workings of FEMA. But if they've had a lot of experience in hurricanes and disaster, it looks like they could come up with some kind of process that would work," said Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia, the county's chief administrator.
I met Judge Sylvia in 2006, in Anahuac with David Van Os on the Texas county courthouse tour he made as part of his run for state attorney general. And of course it's not just Chambers County; everybody knows Galveston is still wrecked but in Bridge City -- where they had to rescue people off the roofs of their houses when the 12-ft. storm surge came up -- many of the Orange County residents are still living in tents, waiting for FEMA trailers to arrive.
Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough tells the story of receiving word on Sept. 12, as Ike closed in on Galveston, that FEMA was sending him $1.8 million of his $3 million request for storm cleanup — from Hurricane Rita, three years ago.
"Good Lord! The red tape and rules you have to go through to get anything done," Yarbrough said. "On Hurricane Ike, when we're putting out tens of millions, we can't afford a three-year reimbursement program. It would bankrupt most entities in this area if it takes that long.
It's not just Ike that Texans are still suffering from, either:
Near the Mexican border, thousands of families remain in homes damaged by Dolly, the storm that blew ashore on South Padre Island on July 23. FEMA was helpful at first, but bureaucracy and the distraction of the other hurricanes have slowed the recovery, local officials said.
A farmworker rights organization and 14 poor South Texas residents sued FEMA last month, accusing the agency of refusing to help thousands of poor families repair their homes.
"I understand they have Hurricane Ike, but we had a Category 2 come through the Valley, too," Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said.
Whoever gets to be the next FEMA director inherits this clusterfuck.