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Thursday * January 6, 2005

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PALACIOS GETS CLAWED BY STRONG
WINDS OF HURRICANE CLAUDETTE

Palacios continues to recover from its first eye-to-eye hurricane attack in nearly 42 years -- this one by a "sneak attack" that came some nine hours before landfall was forecast -- further on down the coast.

Naughty Claudette, a little Gulf storm that grew up fast just before touching Texas land at Port O'Connor Tuesday morning (July 15, 2003), swirled through Matagorda Bay and slammed into Palacios with winds of destruction and sideways rain about 6 a.m.

By 2:10 p.m., Claudette was leaving town. City crews were in the streets at 2:30, unplugging drains and starting to clear fallen trees and limbs from the streets.

A massive rainstorm added to the woes when it swept through the area Wednesday, dumping an estimated 5 1/2 inches of rainfall on top of the about two inches that came with Claudette a day earlier.

Other than an estimated $10-million loss to county farmers and ranchers and an estimated $500,000 damage at the Baptist Encampment grounds in Palacios, no loss estimates have been issued by city and county officials. Three small bay shrimping boats sunk in the Palacios harbor. Minor damages were reported by the Palacios School District.

Not since Carla in September 1961 had a hurricane tagged Palacios as a target. Carla's wind strength was more than twice that of Claudette and included an awesome high tide and storm surge.

The hurricane eye apparently never passed over Palacios. The winds started from the north, shifted from the east, then clearing set in.

Claudette's sustained winds at Palacios were reported in the mid-to-high 80 miles per hour range, as listed for Category 1 hurricanes. Her wind gusts, however, soared to those for Category 2 storms, probably Category 3.

Local Wind Gust 118-mph
John Boettcher told the Beacon that the anemometer (wind gauge) at his home on East Bayshore Drive registered a peak wind gust of 118 mph at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Category 3 hurricanes have winds in the 111 to 130 mph range. No one who was here has doubted the readings on Boettcher's gauge.

The city lost all electric service about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, after about 90 minutes of "on and off" service. Power to some areas was restored by Thursday afternoon and most of the town had service by Friday evening, the rest on Saturday. Some homes in the city lost water service when the roots of fallen trees broke water lines.

Mayor John Connor Sunday said not even a "ballpark" estimate had been completed on the cost of Claudette's attack on Palacios. He said three representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) toured the city on Friday, to assess damages in preparation to decide what federal funds, if any, would be available to the city.

No injuries were officially reported, although damage was extensive throughout Palacios. Although no homes were heavily damaged other than ripped off shingles and portions of roofs and broken windows, several trailer and/or motor homes were either demolished or turned over.

Hundreds of trees, including several huge ones, were either uprooted or split. Some surviving trees had their bark stripped away by the powerful winds. Despite the huge number of fallen trees, it appeared that none actually fell onto a home. A number did fall on parked automobiles, garages, carports and sheds.

Along with the trees and roofs, Claudette claimed fences, signs, canopies, plate glass windows, TV antennas and dishes, utility poles, gas pumps, building facades, etc. Three bay shrimp boats were sunk in the Palacios harbor. Some businesses lost their roofs, resulting in the loss of papers, files, etc., due to the rain and wind.

The loss of electricity also knocked out most telephone service, except for those who had the "old-fashioned" phones that do not require electricity. By Wednesday, most cell phones were also useless. The return of power restored most phone service, although some homes and businesses were having phone problems Monday of this week.

The Palacios Police Department lost its communications antenna early Tuesday. A makeshift arrangement provided the police with a limited system until a temporary antenna-tower was installed Sunday.

Encampment Hard Hit
The Baptist Encampment grounds, a Palacios landmark since 1906, were hard hit. Along with major damage to housing units and a dormitory, the large tabernacle pavilion collapsed. At least nine structures, including the pavilion, sustained damage. A preliminary report estimated damage there in excess of $500,000.

Some 400 people, mostly youth, were attending an encampment at the local facility. They were evacuated Monday afternoon in a caravan of 20 cars and four school buses, under law enforcement escort, to Katy where a unit of the Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief team took over their care.

Volunteers from the Texas Baptist Men's organization arrived to assist in the clear-out, clean-up work at the encampment grounds and other local needs.

Mayor Connor said the Palacios Pavilion on South Bay lost the cupola atop its roof. Some railings and planks around the pavilion and the pier were lost, with damages also on the East Bay fishing pier. The mayor Sunday said that both piers and the pavilion are closed to the public until further inspection is complete.

Mostly due to no electricity, Palacios was placed under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on Wednesday and Thursday. Troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and county sheriff's department, assisted city police with security. The mayor said the curfew was lifted Friday.

Connor said the police had not reported any serious problems with the curfew. He did not know if any arrests had been made for curfew violation.

Although the loss of electricity and telephone service caused the city hall to all but be closed, Mayor Connor said he was able to maintain communication with the county's emergency management team in Bay City and others with his "old fashion" non-electric telephone at his home.

Voluntary Evacuation Call
The mayor said he did issue a suggestion for voluntary evacuation of Palacios at 3 p.m. Monday, the same time that County Judge Greg Westmoreland made the same request for persons in Matagorda and Sargent.

"The word did not get out," Connor said about his appeal.

With Claudette forecast at the time as not becoming a hurricane until just before landfall and then only as a Category 1 storm, it is doubtful if a voluntary evacuation on a calm and peaceful Monday would have a major effect on local residents.

It was also a feeling among many at that time that the Freeport area was the No. 1 target, which would leave Palacios on the "clean side" of the storm. A number of businesses had not bothered to board up, or taped, their windows. Much to the now regret of several.

If there was anything fortunate about Claudette is that the storm was not accompanied by devastating high tides and a destructive storm surge. No sea water reached into Palacios homes and only portions of four streets were þooded-- and that for an unusual brief time.

In addition, the city never lost its water service, although lines to some homes were broken by roots of fallen trees.

The tide and what storm surge there was þooded the intersection of Hwy. 35, East Bayshore Drive and Perryman Street, with Trull Marsh overþowing on both sides of Perryman to near Second Street, starting after noon Tuesday. Twelfth Street, near Main, also þooded. Flood waters began receding at 1:30.

School District Report
The Palacios School District escaped serious damages. Supt. Paul Smith listed the damages as including the following at each campus:

High School- About six panels of metal roofing on the boys gym were ripped up. Water got into the gym, but was removed before the þoor could be damaged. Fences at the tennis courts were bent. At the baseball field, the centerfield fence was knocked down, shingles blew off the press box roof and windows at the baseball field concession stand were blown out.
Junior High- Glass in the front door blew out. The wind blew down the hallway, ripping out some ceiling and insulation tiles.
Central Elementary- Two metal light poles on the kindergarten wing were broken.
East Side- Minor tree damage, one light pole at tennis courts broken, water came under several windows on north side. A lot of shingles blown off the roof to wing on the Third Street side and the pool house roof. (Both of those roofs were already scheduled for replacement this summer).
Bus Barn- Wind blew off some siding and damaged metal frame in the wash bay area.

"After we lost power, we brought in commercial generators for all of our walk-in freezers and no food was lost," Smith said. "Overall, we were very lucky."

Navigation District #1
Harbor Master Bill Turner reported three small bay shrimping boats were sunk during the storm. The General Land Office and U.S. Coast Guard was helping to raise the boats Monday.

In addition to signs and fences blown down or away, their was some pier dock damages. Roofs on all buildings were damaged. Some commercial buildings around the harbor suffered extensive damage.

Turner said approximately 285 commercial fishing boats were in the harbor during the storm, in addition to an undetermined number of pleasure craft. At the Marine Education Center, Turner said there was roof damage and two windows were blown out.

Reports On Other Areas
Pct. 3 County Commissioner Leonard Lamar said the county extension agent had, last Thursday, set the county agriculture loss at $10-million. The final estimate may be higher. Along with the crops, barns, tool sheds, etc., took a heavy hit. Water pumps became inoperative with the loss of electricity.

Some farmers made a gallant effort to get as much grain harvested as possible before Claudette showed up. Many operated their harvest equipment throughout Monday night, until as late as 4 p.m., when the first showers began to arrive.

Collegeport: Commissioner Lamar said there was a heavy loss of barns and many trees were uprooted or split. No other report.
Shicke Point: Dale Porter said there was a lot of damage-- boat and storage sheds, fishing piers lost, roof damages, carports, trees uprooted or split.
Jensen Point: Commissioner Lamar said fishing piers and several buildings were lost. Was told electric service would not be restored until Monday, July 21
Carancahua Area: Wind damages at Fuzzy's 1-Stop. No other reports received.
Blessing: AEP said full electric service restored Thursday evening. No reports on damages, etc.

Tracking Claudette
When many Palacians went to bed Monday night, July 14, Claudette was still a tropical storm, but expected to reach minimum Category 1 hurricane status prior to making landfall sometime late Tuesday afternoon

The 10 p.m. Monday bulletin from the NWS said Claudette had finally turned west and was "expected to become a hurricane overnight." The storm was about 200 miles east of Corpus Christi, NWS said and "on the current forecast track, Claudette will be near the Central Texas coast by tomorrow (Tuesday) evening."

For more than a day Claudette had been on a north-northwest course through the Gulf and the Freeport area had become No. 1 among probable landfall areas-- but forecasters kept insisting the storm would turn west and threaten the Corpus Christi area.

Claudette was promoted to hurricane status at midnight Monday, but as a minimum Category storm with 75 mph winds. At that time, NWS said it was 175 miles east of Corpus Christi, moving west at 8 mph, and landfall was forecast for Tuesday evening.

At 4:50 a.m. Monday, NWS placed Claudette 95 miles south of Galveston and 125 miles east-northeast of Corpus Christi, heading west at 12 mph. The NWS warned southwest Matagorda County it could expect 50-60 mph winds, 5-7 inches of rain and a high tide of 5.8.

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, as the high winds were moving across Palacios, the NWS bulletin kept Claudette's location at 125 miles from Corpus Christi, but said the storm was still heading west at 12 mph and was getting better organized.

"This motion is expected to continue until landfall later today. Maximum sustained winds remain near 75 mph, with higher guest. Some additional strengthening is still possible before landfall occurs," the 6 a.m. Tuesday NWS bulletin said.

It was, apparently, at this time that conditions changed and the gateway to Port O'Connor, Matagorda Bay and Palacios suddenly became open.

After The Storm
Three of the most important things needed after a hurricane rips through a community where a great majority of its residents stayed home for what was forecast to be a minimum hurricane are ice, water, electricity-- especially ice in Texas' sweltering July temperatures when there is no electricity for refrigerators, freezers and air-conditioning, nor to operate pumps for rural water wells.

Roberta Ripke of Palacios said she was called shortly after Claudette left town by a cousin in Waco, who asked what Palacios needed. The first thing Ripke said was "Ice." The cousin first called Wal-Mart, then called H.E.B. Within a short time, H.E.B. officials were calling Ripke, who explained the dire need for ice for everyone and water for those whose water systems weren't working.

At 3 a.m. Thursday the first of several-to-come H.E.B. refrigerated 18-wheelers, packed with bags of ice, was parked in the 400 block of Commerce Street. The first truckload of water followed. As word spread after dawn, and with the arrival of food "kitchens" by the Red Cross and others, the 400 block became a beehive of activity for the balance of the week. Shipments of ice and water continued through Sunday.

Although no injuries were reported by city and county officials, Palacios Community Medical Center treated several persons for cuts and lacerations, plus dehydration and heat exhaustion.

American Electric Power (AEP) called in an army of trucks and disaster workers from throughout the state, including Longview in northeast Texas and Marfa in far west Texas, to tackle the task of restoring electricity. Extra crews of Verizon workers tackled telephone problems.

A number of other agencies and/or disaster relief groups brought in volunteer manpower for a variety of tasks.

Shortly after Claudette passed through Palacios and despite the standing water, neighbors began helping neighbors with cleaning up the downed trees, limbs and other debris.

CLAUDETTE PICTURES-CLICK HERE

 

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