Hurricane Harvey made landfall overnight as a Category 4 hurricane, but has since been downgraded to a category 1. However, Southeast Texas, including Corpus Christi, still faces heavy rains, floods and damage. Hundreds of thousands are without power and roads have been closed. It falls on the shoulders of Mayor Joe McComb to ensure that the city’s response is well-organized.
McComb was elected for his first term in a special election just four months ago after serving on the Corpus Christi City Council. He also runs his own business, McComb Relocation Services. He has first-hand experience dealing with the tragic impact of natural disasters, as members of his family were swept away in a 2015 Texas flood.
Here’s what you need to know about McComb.
1. McComb Defended Not Calling for a Mandatory Evacuation Before Hurricane Harvey
On August 24, McComb and Port Aransas Mayor Charles R. Bujan issued a joint statement urging residents and tourists to make decisions about evacuating the area. However, the 69-year-old McComb didn’t issue a mandatory evacuation, a decision he had to defend before Harvey hit.
According to the Caller-Times, McComb said he was “at the threshold” of making it mandatory. However, a mandatory evacuation would have meant a quicker stoppage of business and industrial activity in the city that could hurt local businesses.
“This would cause a major, major impact on the way that people do business,” County Judge Loyd Neal said Thursday. “There’s a huge difference when you apply that word.”
Neal and McComb noted that the reaction to Hurricane Rita was hasty, as there was a mandatory evacuation called in 2005. But Rita ended up hitting Louisiana harder than Texas. But even as it was made clear that Harvey would not be another Rita for Texas, McComb insisted that not calling the mandatory evacuation early was the right decision.
“We could mandate [evacuations], but people need to make a decision of their own. I’m not going to risk our police and fire people going to try and drag somebody out of the house if they don’t want to go,” McComb said Thursday. “Because our fire and police, they’re fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles. They’ve got relatives and they’ve got family, and we don’t want to put them in harm’s way because someone just wanted to stay.”
For the most up-to-date information for Corpus Christi residents, click here to go to the Corpus Christi government website on Hurricane Harvey.
2. McComb Said the City Was Prepared for Harvey & Tropical Storms
Before Harvey became a hurricane, McComb said the city was prepared to face any tropical weather, but residents needed to be prepared.
“Just stay aware and do just your normal routine activities, but keep yourself abreast of what the news has going on because these things, they can change overnight,” McComb told KIII-TV.
McComb also said that one thing residents can learn from history is that you can never completely predict what a storm will do.
“If any of us here been through Celia, which I did, that literally is the case,” McComb said, referring to the last hurricane to make landfall near Corpus Christi. “One day it was a day like we see today, it was a Sunday, and by Monday Celia, it wasn’t coming here on Sunday but on Monday it came here.”
The National Weather Services’ history of Texas hurricanes notes that only five other hurricanes have made landfall at Corpus Christi since 1900. The devastating 1919 hurricane killed 284 people in Texas.
3. 2 of McComb’s Grandchildren & His Daughter-in-Law Were Killed in a 2015 Texas Flood
McComb has had his own personal experience with a tragedy caused by a natural disaster. In 2015, a devastating flood in Wimberley, Hays County swept away members of his family.
McComb’s son, Jonathan McComb, went to Hays County to celebrate Memorial Day near the Blanco River. As The Los Angeles Times notes, Jonathan went with his wife 33-year-old wife Laura, their six-year-old son Andrew, four-year-old daughter Leighton and dog Maggie. They went to stay with a group of friends at their house. The only survivor of the flood was Jonathan and the dog.
McComb told the LA Times that this was an annual tradition for his son, who also worked at the family moving company. At one point, the family thought they were safe, despite the flash-flood warnings. But the river surged to a record-breaking 45 feet.
“They got a flashlight and looked out [a window], and all of a sudden the water was up to the top of the pylons, and they realized they were trapped,” McComb told the Times. “They knew they were in trouble.”
They thought the home would hold, but then they heard a thud. Laura McComb called her sister in Austin. “She told her, ‘The house is floating down the river. I don’t know what is happening, but I want to tell mom and dad and you I love you,’” McComb recalled.
When the house was swept away, it hit a bridge, which took off a chunk of the house. Bodies were washed away in every direction. Jonathan was lucky to catch an embankment and crawl out of the river. He found another person’s house and knocked on the door. He told the person something, then passed out, McComb said.
“The outpouring of love and support for our family has been inspiring. People who don’t even know Laura, Andrew and Leighton have spent countless hours searching and praying for them. It’s uplifting,” Laura’s family said in a statement to the Associated Press. “The kindness and hard work of volunteers allows us to take Laura and Andrew home so we can lay them to rest. We can’t thank you enough for helping us through this difficult time.”
4. McComb Runs a Moving Company Called McComb Relocation Services
When McComb isn’t focused on city government issues, he runs a business. Since 1940, his family has run McComb Relocation Services, a moving company that helps families in Corpus Christi and the entire Coastal Bend area.
McComb was elected mayor after the previous mayor, Dan McQueen, resigned earlier this year. He vowed to make wastewater, water quality and street repairs his top priorities.
“We’ve got some challenges ahead,” McComb said after taking the oath of office, The Caller-Times reports. “But I don’t think I’ve found a council that’s more committed to doing the job they were elected to do, and that’s doing what’s best for the city.”
McQueen was in office for only 37 days. In August, he announced plans to challenge Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 Republican primary.
5. He Was Among the Texas Mayors Who Expressed Concerns on a Bill Limiting City Powers
In July, McComb headed to Austin to meet with Texas Governor Gregg Abbott to express concerns with a state legislature bill that could put limits on city powers. The measures would limit a city’s power to tax and pass their own ordinances. McComb’s meeting with Abbott also included Galveston Mayor James D. Yarbrough and San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides.
“It’s not just me, obviously,” McComb told the Corpus Christi Business News. “Evidently, other people across the state are concerned about what in the world is going on in this assault of the legislature on the local level’s ability to handle our own issues.”
McComb said it was a short meeting, but he made sure Abbott heard his case. The three mayors were concerned with the proposed caps on “tax increases, revenue increases and limiting annexation powers,” the Business News notes. “Of course, in a 20- to 30-minute meeting, you can’t solve all the problems of the world,” McComb said.
McComb’s concerns included the high costs of elections and that cities with crises might not be able to raise funds quickly if they can’t increase revenue. McComb also didn’t care for the idea of needing to schedule an election if a neighborhood wants to be annexed.
“I was appreciative of his openness and willingness to listen,” McComb told the Business NEws after the meeting. “This wasn’t just a photo op for him. He listened to us. I don’t know if we changed his mind, but I think it will go into his thought processes as the session proceeds.”