Major flooding may be Bret's legacy

BY GEORGE PIPER | MCALLEN, Texas | August 23, 1999


MCALLEN, Texas (Aug. 23, 1999) -- While many people in southeastern

Texas are relieved Hurricane Bret chose to blow ashore in a sparsely

settled part of the coast, emergency officials are concerned that

severe flooding will be the storm's major legacy.

Weather forecasters said Monday morning that 10 to 20 more inches of

rain may fall in southern Texas, including areas of Kenedy County

already hit by nearly 30-inches of rain from Bret. Kenedy County,

home to about 500 people and part of the immense King Ranch Farm,

took the brunt of the storm as it moved into Texas Sunday evening.

Early Monday, as the hurricane moved further inland, the National

Hurricane Center downgraded it to a minimal Category One storm and

predicted it would become a tropical storm later in the day.

Forecasters warned, however, as it continued inland into southern

Texas, the storm was likely to move very slowly, increasing the

threat of major flooding.

Tornadoes also remain a threat for the area Monday. At least four

twisters were reported in the Corpus Christi area Sunday night and

Monday.

Initial reports Sunday night indicated early damage from the storm

was fairly low. High winds and storm-driven rain were reported to

have damaged some homes and businesses, but not to the extent

originally feared. Until just before the storm hit the coast, it had

been rated as a fearsome Category Four hurricane which raised the

specter of widespread destruction.

In advance of the storm's arrival, thousands of south Texas residents

boarded up their homes and sought shelter further inland.

On both sides of Hurricane Bret's path, Salvation Army centers housed and

fed people fleeing the coastal area.

In McAllen, about 550 filled a shelter Saturday and Sunday nights with

hundreds more sites in Brownsville and Harlingen, according to Capt.

Dan New of the McAllen Salvation Army chapter. The main McAllen

shelter also provided

counseling, a children's game room and television programs in English and

Spanish.

While many area churches canceled Sunday services, the Salvation Army church in

McAllen invited people from all denominations to a 90-minute service filled

with song and prayer. The program, said New, helped show that despite the

different cultures and denominations, that everyone can come together in a

time of need.

"We we're here to talk about one Word, one Lord, one Spirit," he said. "We

recognize that we're all in this together and (the evacuees) really

appreciated that."

The scene was similar around Corpus Christi, where nine shelters housed

hundreds of people and Salvation Army crews had served some 3,500 meals since

late Saturday, said Maj. Ernest Branscum of the Corpus Christi unit

of Salvation Army. High winds, rain and reports of tornadoes made

travel between the shelters treacherous for volunteers.

In the event of major flooding, the Salvation Army is staging food

canteens in Houston and San Antonio and is ready to serve an area

from Rockport to Kingsville.

Members of the East Texas Disaster Relief Unit of the Texas Baptist

Men are preparing to travel to the areas affected to provide food

service and debris removal. The relief unit, is related to the

Baptist General Convention of Texas (Southern Baptist Convention)

whose services includes disaster relief, has some 65 volunteers ready

to stream into hurricane-stricken areas to provide food, cleanup

efforts and child care for survivors, said TBM member Mike Brittain.

People and vehicles are being readied in Tarrant County and New Braunfels,

and Brittain expects the crews to be on the move Monday. A new 32-foot

trailer with cooking supplies and food is now available, and the equipment

should allow TBM to handle the disaster without calling in Baptists from

outside of Texas.

While emergency officials continued to survey damages, President Bill

Clinton Sunday night issued a disaster declaration to help local

governments with emergency supplies and debris removal in a seven

county area.

Other disaster response organizations are also preparing to help

those affected by the hurricane. Bishop Ray Owen of the Southwest

Texas Conference has already requested assistance from the United

Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) which will begin to respond

once the needs of the area are known.

A disaster relief team of Adventist Disaster Response (Seventh-day

Adventist Community Services) is on standby in Keene, Texas, to

provide clothing and toiletries to survivors.

The American Red Cross has opened shelters in Hidalgo and Zapata

Counties and four shelters are also open in Brownsville.

As far as hurricanes go, Texans have had a bit of luck lately. Hurricane

Jerry -- which killed three people in October 1989 -- was the last hurricane

to reach Texas' shores. The last hurricane to have a major impact in the

Corpus Christi area was Hurricane Celia in 1970.

That period of hurricane inactivity can create a false sense of security

among the public, said emergency officials. Lawrence has tried to

maintain a high level of awareness with seminars and media

announcements. As Bret moved closer, however, he thinks the message

began to sink in.

"We had a high level of citizen non-concern initially," said Nueces

County Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Lawrence, who estimated

that more than half of Nueces County residents hadn't previously

experienced a hurricane. "I don't think we got taken seriously until

the winds started picking up."

How Bret compares to past Texas hurricanes remains to be seen. Since 1900,

Texas experienced six Category Four storms, and only one of those hit the

Southeast Texas coast.

As Bret continued to meander across Texas, weather forecasters were

warily watching Tropical Storm Cindy and two other tropical

disturbances in the Atlantic which have the potential of forming into

tropical depressions later this week. The National Hurricane Center

is expected to send aircraft Monday afternoon to look a tropical wave

that will bring gusty winds and showers to the Virgin Islands and

Puerto Rico during the next few days.

Posted Aug. 23, 1999


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