Rolling updates on Hurricane Harvey
By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Friday, 4:15 p.m.
The Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway is open once again, reports TxDOT. Too, the City of Port Isabel has shut down its Emergency Operations Center and has resumed normal City functions. The City has also closed the hurricane shelters it opened last night at midnight.
The City of South Padre Island Emergency Operations Center remains in operation, but has downgraded its alert level from Level II to Level III. Personnel will now work 12 hour shifts versus 24 hour shifts, according to a statement released by the City.
South Padre Island will begin mobilizing clean up operations and continuing to monitor storm activity.
Port Isabel is also seeking information from business owners about the extent of any wind damage sustained during the storm. Contact Fire Marshal John Sandoval at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valley Metro will reactivate its Route 50 service to Port Isabel, Laguna Vista, Laguna Heights and the Willacy County Demand Response service as early as tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 26. Island Metro services on South Padre Island will resume at 7 a.m. Saturday.
Friday, 11:50 a.m.
TxDOT has closed all lanes on the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway. The City of South Padre Island will notify residents when it reopens via the Swift911 system and on Facebook.
Friday, 10:40 a.m.
The Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway eastbound lane has been closed. The westbound lane remains open as of 10:30 a.m.
Port Isabel residents and businesses can still pick up sandbags at the Public Works Department, 217 W. Hickman, while supplies last.
Thursday, 5:55 p.m.
Officials on South Padre Island have ramped up preparations ahead of arrival of Hurricane Harvey. A hurricane watch has been issued for the area and the Island has issued a voluntary evacuation.
The strengthening storm is expected to make landfall north of the Rio Grande Valley — near the Corpus Christi area — sometime tomorrow, but rain and strong winds are still expected locally. As a result, SPI first responders are on high alert. “It’s all hands on deck. We’ve called in all our officers,” said South Padre Island Chief of Police Randy Smith after a press conference late Thursday afternoon.
“We’re going to assign two shifts out of four, so we’ll be doubling up,” the number of officers on patrol, Smith said. SPIPD’s entire force will be bunking near City Hall in order to best respond to any potential emergencies, the chief said.
Both the City and Cameron County initiated a voluntary evacuation of high profile vehicles. Motorhomes, RVs and other vehicles could be seen heading west on Highway 100 throughout the day. SPI Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Fowler said the response to the voluntary evacuation has been good, with many people who live in RVs and mobile homes choosing to leave the Island until the storm passes.
But as for residents who live in brick and mortar structures, the fire chief said the City will not be issuing a mandatory evacuation. “We’re not going to effect a mandatory evacuation,” Fowler said. “The emergency services has their hands full dealing with what we have now and so we give the advisories as we can and we help the people follow those advisories,” he said.
Both City and County beaches were closed to all pedestrian and vehicular traffic Thursday, as well. Storm surge of between 2-4 feet is expected to cause the waves to reach up to and past the dunes, Fowler said. “The City beaches are closed as of 2 p.m. We expect that by sundown we won’t have the beach anymore so we can’t patrol the beach per se, but we do have personnel out ready to respond if necessary,” Fowler said.
Fire department and beach rescue personnel will remain on standby in the fire station living quarters for the next 36 hours, the fire chief said.
Even with the beaches of South Padre Island closed, Fowler said he knows some thrill seekers will try to take advantage of the high surf. He strongly discouraged them from attempting to surf as the storm approaches and makes its way inland. “(We) try and let them know there are times where they truly are on their own and we’re not going to risk our personnel in a hazardous situation because somebody wants to go out and catch a wave,” Fowler said.
Chief Smith urged residents not to become complacent simply because the storm track shows Harvey making landfall north of the Valley. He reminded residents that things can change. “The point is that we’re still going to have a lot of wind and a lot of rain. And the other thing is, what if?” he said.
“We can’t make this storm go where people want it to go. It’s going to go where it wants to go,” Smith said. “If it doesn’t (turn northwards) we need to be prepared,” he said.
Those wishing to evacuate the Island will need to make a decision soon, as winds could force the closure of the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway as soon as midnight tonight. If winds reach speeds of 45 mph or more, TxDOT will announce the Causeway’s closure and it will remain close for up to 12-15 hours.
The City will create a checkpoint at the entrance to the Island beginning at 7 p.m. tonight and will limit entry only to those with residential or business interests, according to a statement released by the City. The City will also stop issuing hurricane stickers at 7 p.m. Latecomers can apply for a sticker at the police department until then.
In other news, Valley Metro bus service will be suspended beginning Friday. City offices in Port Isabel and on South Padre Island will be closed Friday, as will Point Isabel Independent School District offices and facilities. The Laguna Madre Water District will also be closed until Monday.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. announced the closure of all County offices except those deemed essential. The County’s Emergency Operations Center has been activated, he said via a statement.
The County will be distributing sandbags until 8 p.m. tonight at several locations. Sandbags will be limited to six per family. Precincts 1 and 2 can pick up bags at 3243 E. 14th St. in Brownsville, Precinct 3 at FM 510 and San Jose Ranch Rd. in San Benito, and Precinct 4 at 201 N. T St. in Harlingen.
Precinct 1 and 2 residents can also shovel their own sandbags at two additional locations: Oklahoma Street Public Works Yard between Boca Chica Boulevard and FM 511 for Pct. 1, and at the Carrizales-Rucker Yard on Old Alice Road and Naranjo Road for Pct. 2. Both locations are in Brownsville.
Port Isabel residents seeking information or assistance can call the City’s Emergency Operations Center at the following numbers: (956)943-0719, (956)943-0713, and (956)943-0793. According to a statement released by the City, technical issues mean residents will have to try each number in turn if they receive a busy signal.
On South Padre Island, residents can call (956)761-8101 for non-emergency issues. Those with medical conditions or who have special needs that require uninterrupted access to electricity are strongly encouraged to evacuate immediately.
The Town of Laguna Vista has extra police and fire personnel on standby and distributed sandbags earlier today. City Manager Rolando Vela asked residents to secure their homes and property and bring any items that can be blown away indoors and to secure their boats.
The Port of Brownsville has ordered the suspension of the activities of its tenants and users, effective midnight tonight until further notice. The Foust entrance road will be closed from 8:30 p.m. until further notice. The SH 550 entrance will remain open.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) drivers license offices will be closed throughout Cameron County Friday.
Check back here for more updates as they become available.
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