Dangerous storm threatens Texas

BY GEORGE PIPER | CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas | August 22, 1999


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Aug. 22, 1999) - Sunday promises to be no day of rest

for Texas' southern Gulf Coast as Hurricane Bret and its Category Four strength

winds bear down on The Lone Star State.

The latest forecast has the storm hitting the shore Sunday evening or Monday

morning near Corpus Christi, according to the National Hurricane Center.

With the storm tracking farther north than earlier anticipated, hurricane

warnings now range from La Pesca, Mexico, to Port O'Connor, Texas. A

hurricane watch extends up the Texas coast to Freeport, and weather

officials may expand that further if the storm continues its northerly

pattern.

Packing 140-mph winds, Bret moved to 135 east-southeast of Brownsville early

Sunday morning. Coastal areas can expect storm surges up to 15 feet with

rainfall total forecast between 8 and 10 inches.

Disaster relief and emergency management officials are preparing for the

resulting storm and its aftermath.

"We put people on alert (Friday), and they stepped it up this morning,"

Larry Buckner, Adventist Disaster Response (Seventh-day Adventist

Community Services) coordinator, said late Saturday. A disaster

relief team is on standby in Keene, Texas, to bring clothing and

toiletries to survivors.

ADR structures its disaster relief teams in clusters of states, much like

Federal Emergency Management Agency regions, and Buckner doesn't anticipate

sending in extra personnel from outside the state. Relief supplies

stockpiles are in good shape, he noted, despite ongoing operations from

early disasters in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The Southwest Texas United Methodist Conference regularly sponsors disaster

training to help clergy and others prepare for the worst, said Richard

Evans, a United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) representative in Texas.

Members of that conference, which includes Brownsville, have taken the usual

precautions of boarding up windows or evacuating the area, and Evans will be

in contact with UMCOR officials to formulate relief plans after Bret leaves.

In Nueces County, emergency management officials evacuated barrier islands

and readying themselves for a large-scale exodus in the morning, said county

Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Lawrence.

The county and the city of Corpus Christi operate a joint emergency

management program and have taken the normal coastal stance of hazard

awareness and public education programs for residents. "The community is as

ready as any community can be," he said.

But it's not just the Corpus Christi area rushing to prepare for Bret.

On the Texas-Mexico border -- an earlier target for Bret's landing --

officials in Brownsville and the Mexican city of Matamoros busily prepared

for a direct hit. Emergency management personnel ordered South Padre Island

evacuated by 8 a.m. Sunday and set up hurricane shelters. Across the border,

Matamoros city officials evacuated some 7,000 people from low-lying coastal

areas.

Stores were busy Saturday as people buy plywood for windows, bottled water

and other items, says the Rev. Dale Brand, minister at Shepherd of the

Valley Lutheran Church in Brownsville.

"A lot of people are shopping and getting supplies," he says. "We're doing

all we can to get ready for it."

Some of Brand's congregation are heading to inland cities like Laredo to

wait out the storm.

Rain from Bret's outer reaches began falling Saturday afternoon. The

precipitation is welcome in southern Texas, which has experienced drought

conditions for five years. But tropical rains can be a curse as well. Last

year, Tropical Storm Charley dumped 18 inches of rain and caused flooding in

Del Rio, Texas, killing 19 people.

Bret, the first Atlantic hurricane of 1999, could make landfall Sunday or

Monday. If so, it would be the first hurricane to hit Texas in 10 years when

Hurricane Jerry killed three people in October 1989 and the first in

southern Texas since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. It's the state's longest

non-hurricane period since recordkeeping began in 1871.

While Bret poses an immediate concern, Tropical Storm Cindy reached

hurricane status late Saturday, and could be in the Caribbean or the U.S.

East Coast later this week.

Posted Aug. 22, 1999


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