City, county leaders encourage hurricane preparedness

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Tropical Storm Bill may have made landfall north of the Rio Grande Valley, but the storm still served as a reminder of the importance of hurricane preparedness. The topic is one both South Padre Island and Cameron County emergency management leaders discussed recently.

“It’s a good idea to prepare in advance,” said Cameron County emergency management coordinator Charles “Chuck” Hoskins. “The first thing everybody needs to understand is we are responsible for ourselves,” he said. Hoskins also suggested creating a hurricane kit containing items such as flashlight with extra batteries, a radio that doesn’t require electricity to operate, as well as nonperishable food and bottled water.

Hoskins also emphasized the need for residents to pay attention to announcements from public officials as a storm approaches. “(Residents) need to be prepared. They need to heed the warnings,” he said.

At a press conference Tuesday, South Padre Island City Manager Bill DiLibero agreed. “When you have the opportunity to leave, you really need to find a place to go until things are back in order again,” he said.

Though Cameron County officials won’t always issue an evacuation order, for residents of the Island, the situation is a bit different. “The evacuation order is going to be issued by the mayor. He’s the one authorized to issue the evacuation order,” SPI Emergency Management Coordinator Javier Garza said.

Even City personnel will be evacuated, he said. “If the storm is large enough, greater than a Category 1, all personnel — City personnel —  will evacuate the Island,” he said.

During a storm the Island becomes uniquely isolated. The Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway has been shut down during storms in the past. “If the Causeway is closed, it’s closed both ways,” Garza said, speaking of how first responders will be unable to reach the Island during a storm.

And in the event of an evacuation, only residents with City-issued hurricane stickers displayed on their vehicles will be allowed back onto the island in the aftermath of a storm. “These stickers allow you to register your vehicle and yourself with us. … They’re going to allow you to come back to the Island so you can assess your homes or your businesses and determine what it is that you need,” Garza said.

“You really need to get them now. Two days or a day before the storm, we’re not going to be issuing out stickers to the public or to the people who are requesting (them) because we have to get ready for the storm ourselves,” he said. Stickers are available at City Hall Monday through from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For people in the rest of the Laguna Madre region, Hoskins said residents can prepare by signing up with the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR). “We’re looking for people who need a ride” in the event of an evacuation, he said. People with mobility issues or who do not have reliable transportation are encouraged to sign up, he said.

Recently, the state changed the registration process to a yearly one, rather than a one-time process. Hoskins expressed concern about the number of people who have signed up this year, “The numbers are not what they need to be. They’re 10,000 to 12,000 (people). They should be 30,000 to 50,000. We’re concerned about that,” he said.

Cameron County residents can enroll in the STEAR registry by dialing 211 on their phones. “It only takes one (storm) that comes to our area to be devastating,” Hoskins said.Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

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