Texas Coastal Cities Prepare For Onslaught Of Hurricane Harvey

Responses varied, with some cities ordering mandatory evacuation and others, like Corpus Christi, making it voluntary.

By Jill AmentAugust 25, 2017 3:22 pm| ,

Millions of Texans are getting ready for Hurricane Harvey, a storm with current maximum sustained winds of more than 100 mph. It’s also expected to bring life-threatening storm surge, drenching rains and dangerous winds.

Flooding could reach heights of 6 to 12 feet above ground level along the coast between the north entrance of Padre Island National Seashore and Sargent.

Storm surge was already pushing seawater up to the dunes Friday morning at beaches in Port Aransas, which sits on the northeast tip of Mustang Island. City Manager Dave Parsons says a lot of locals didn’t follow the mandatory evacuation orders, and are going to wait out the storm.

“We have a pretty salty, old islander population that like to hunker down, so, granted they’re not out and about a whole lot, but we know they’re there,” he says.

The City of Corpus Christi — which is also on the coast but sits behind barrier islands, including Mustang — issued a voluntary evacuation.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb says the decision to make the evacuation voluntary was based on assessments from various local officials, including the police chief, fire chief, director of emergency operations, city manager and the county judge. And it wasn’t an easy decision to make, he says.

“When you have a mandatory evacuation, that triggers a lot of requirements…that means our children’s hospital has to load up and move all of the children out, our normal hospitals have to move, relocate patients to other places, it just triggers a number of things,” he says.

He also says even with a mandatory evacuation, local officials don’t have the authority to force individual people or families to leave.

McComb says he’s most worried about storm surge because it’s predicted to be higher than what was originally forecasted when he made his decision about voluntary evacuation.

Many Texans may remember that evacuation from cities threatened by Hurricane Rita in 2005 was a disastrous process — more than 100 people died.

Professor Walter Gillis Peacock, director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University, says at that time, people feared a repeat of the chaos that surrounded Hurricane Katrina, which happened less than a month before Rita. As a result, many evacuated unnecessarily.

“Folks that were much further inland that really didn’t need to get out on the road…they all got out on the road and the roads became a massive parking lot,” Peacock says.

Peacock says the state has made an effort to try to prevent evacuation debacles since Rita. He says the state has devoted resources toward developing better evacuation plans, like shifting highway circulation so traffic only flows in one direction: away from the danger area.

 

Written by Caroline Covington.