March 02, 2018

Best of the States

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Acting on a tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that delay by the governor, and the state land office’s steep learning curve, meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 31, 2017

Best of the Week

Image of Hurricane Harvey rescue tells story of tenderness and unity, dominates front pages

Young Aiden Pham wasn't even awake for his brief moment in the spotlight. But Houston photographer David Phillip was there to capture the toddler in what would become an iconic image of Hurricane Harvey and the historic floods.

The photo of the sleeping 13-month-old, swaddled in a blanket and held in his mother's arms as they're carried to safety, was among the many dramatic rescues of the floods that have inundated southeast Texas.

The image – which appeared on the web and front pages across the country, including the Wall Street Journal – along with others taken by Phillip earn him the Beat of the Week.

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June 15, 2017

Best of the States

Only on AP: Countless inland bridges being raised to prepare for climate change floods

Des Moines News Editor Scott McFetridge was out on his daily run one morning when he discovered that a pedestrian bridge he often crossed was blocked off for reconstruction. He was mystified. Why did a fancy bridge that had been rehabilitated only recently need another overhaul?

The answer put him onto a fascinating story.

This Iowa bridge, and countless others far from the coasts, had to be raised because higher river levels expected from more rain caused by climate change might inundate them. New bridges and old bridges, major multi-lane spans and small rural ones, were in danger. And in not a few cases, this was happening in states where many in government question the validity of climate change.

For discovering something that was in plain sight but no one had noticed, McFetridge wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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