Southeast Texas is no stranger to severe weather. The region has been battered in recent years by storms like Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda. Now, yet another hurricane is heading toward Texas’ upper Gulf Coast: Hurricane Laura, which could bring winds over 100 mph, heavy rain and dangerous storm surge.
The storm will likely make landfall late Wednesday or early Thursday. Its exact path is still unclear, but communities east of Houston like Port Arthur, Orange, and Beaumont have already issued evacuation orders. It’s made for a hectic period of preparation, particularly since emergency officials are also trying to keep people safe from COVID-19.
Officer Carol Riley of the Beaumont Police Department is also a spokesperson for the City of Beaumont’s Emergency Management Department. She spoke to the Texas Standard about the situation there.
There are still some unknowns:
Although Hurricane Laura will likely affect parts of East Texas and west Louisiana, the exact path of the storm is unclear. As of Tuesday, forecast models show a wide range of outcomes regarding where the hurricane will hit.
“This thing keeps changing,” Riley said. “It’s very unpredictable.”
The uncertainty has forced officials to prepare for a variety of scenarios, including hurricane-force winds and a strong storm surge in coastal areas.
Some communities aren’t taking any chances:
Mandatory evacuation orders have already been issued in places such as Port Arthur, Galveston, Orange County and Jefferson County. In Beaumont, the city has set up an evacuation service for people who do not have their own transportation. But Riley urged people to only use the city’s buses as a last resort. Travel on the buses may be long and uncomfortable, it’s complicated to bring pets and belongings and riders must abide by certain social distancing guidelines.
COVID-19 is complicating evacuations:
“It is proving to be challenging,” Riley said, about dealing with a hurricane during the pandemic. But city officials have had time to make a plan for this scenario.
Social-distancing measures will be followed as closely as possible, including a limit on the number of people on public transit and in shelters. The city is also providing masks and sanitizers to residents.
“We feel confident that we have a lot of measures in place and we’re doing everything we can to make sure our citizens are safe,” Riley said.
Beaumont is no stranger to tropical storms:
Hurricanes in late summer are to be expected in Southeast Texas. They take a toll on the region’s people and infrastructure. But according to Riley, they’ve also prepared officials and citizens for what to do when the next storm arrives.
“We have a lot of experience in our Office of Emergency Management,” said Riley. “Most of the people that are handling business here have been through numerous storms including [Hurricanes] Rita, Katrina, Ike. So we have a lot of experience, but we learn and we have things we take from each incident to improve on.”