|Trinity Standard - Local News
Stories Added - September 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
County was ready but Gustav swerved
Trinity Standard - September 2008
GROVETON – Local officials were breathing a sigh of relief Tuesday after warnings of possible “catastrophic flooding” ended with a change in the path of Hurricane Gustav.
The storm, which made landfall in Louisiana Monday morning, had been expected to move into East Texas and drop major amounts of rain as it passed.
Early projections of the storm’s path had the eye of the storm passing close to or directly through Trinity County.
As time passed, most projections had the eye moving farther north, but still threatening the county, but in the end the storm swerved even more to the north and stayed mostly within Louisiana.
Although Trinity County did experience some minor wind gusts and small amounts of rain, it was nowhere near what had been expected as late as Sunday.
“Last night was the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in several days,” Trinity County Judge Mark Evans said Tuesday.
Evans also serves as the county’s emergency management coordinator and has been working on storm preparations with regional and state officials for almost a week.
He said regional and state emergency management teams implemented disaster plans late last week in preparation for the storm and had been working closely together to make sure the area was ready for evacuees coming from Louisiana and Southeast Texas.
“In the state’s disaster plan, Trinity County is a ‘pass-through county,’ which means that evacuees are not supposed to stop and take shelter here. We are supposed to help them move through the county to reach designated shelters,” he explained.
Part of the problem that occurred in 2005 with Hurricane Rita was that evacuees reached Trinity County, ran out of gasoline and were forced to take shelter here, Evans noted.
To try and prevent that from happening again, the judge said he worked with Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to conduct surveys of the local gasoline supply to make sure enough was on hand to meet the need.
Troopers visited each of the county’s gasoline stations, determined how much fuel they had on hand and when they expected to be resupplied.
“We had a couple of stations run out over the weekend, but they had trucks in fairly quickly with more gas so that turned out not to be a problem,” he said.
To help get the county ready for the predicted storm and flooding, Evans said he issued a “Declaration of a Local State of Disaster” on Saturday, which implemented the county’s emergency management plan.
During the pending crisis, Evans said he took part in twice daily conference calls with the regional Multi-Agency Coordinating Center (MACC) and with the statewide MACC.
“We were monitoring the progress of the hurricane and preparing to handle evacuees,” he said.
Fortunately, the storm shifted away and while the county saw a number of evacuees pass through, it was not on the same scale that occurred as Rita approached the region in 2005.
“Back then we had a number of shelters set up simply because we had to. We had evacuees who were stranded here without gasoline and we had to get them out of the storm,” he said.
He noted that many of the evacuees from Rita took shelter in local schools, churches and community centers.
“Those shelters are fine for housing people overnight, but in situations like this, a lot of these evacuees are going to need 24-7 help for up to a week or two. That means you will need showers – really multiple showers – restroom facilities, kitchens and other accommodations.
“An awful lot goes into setting up a shelter like this and it can be very challenging, which is why our task was to help evacuees pass through the county to reach those shelters,” he said.
Because of the change in Gustav’s projected path, the local effort turned into a training exercise and gave local officials a chance to see how the local, regional and statewide disaster response will work.
“Every time we have to do something like this, we learn something, which means that the next time it happens it should go even smoother,” he said.