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Mandatory Gustav evacuations begin in parts of southeast Texas
11:15 AM CDT on Sunday, August 31, 2008
PORT AURTHUR, Texas -- Thousands of people on the edge of Hurricane Gustav’s path packed up and headed to higher ground hours before officials began mandatory evacuations early Sunday in coastal southeast Texas.
Residents in Sabine Pass, a port city most recently battered three years ago by Hurricane Rita, were ordered out of the area first.
Gustav, now a powerful Category 3 hurricane with forecasts of strengthening over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, turned slightly east overnight and was now expected to barrel into eastern Louisiana Monday afternoon.
Heavy rain and winds are still expected in flooding-prone Southeast Texas.
Port Arthur, a refinery town of about 57,000 also badly damaged during Rita, was virtually abandoned.
“The public heeded the warning,” Port Arthur Police Chief Mark Blanton said. “Last time we were still fighting people who didn’t heed warnings.”
City streets were empty Sunday morning, with just a few stragglers walking around in quiet neighborhoods. Nearly every business, save for a few gas stations, were closed and homes were boarded up. The same was true in nearby Beaumont.
In Sabine Pass, some residents defied a mandatory evacuation order as they waited to see where Gustav was heading as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico.
Following the mass exodus Saturday, hundreds of remaining residents in Port Arthur prepared to board chartered tour buses bound for Texarkana, about 270 miles north, Sunday morning.
Kevin Paul, 30, said he and his family decided to flee because of what they saw after Hurricane Rita.
“You’ve got to think about how bad Rita messed up Port Author,” Paul said as he and two women in his group stood outside the city’s civil center.
Paul said his family came back to “nothing” after Rita slammed into the region, where some people still live with the now-familiar blue tarps over their roofs.
Wendy May, a 36-year-old day care worker traveling with Paul, said she was kept out of the city for nine weeks after Hurricane Rita. The pair said they haven’t been told how long they may be gone this time, but they’ve packed for a week.
The last of about 20 evacuation buses was set to leave the city by midday, Blanton said. As in other areas preparing for the massive storm, Blanton said anyone who stays behind should be ready to be stranded without city services, including emergency help.
Buses and drivers from as far as Mississippi were brought to Texas this week to help with evacuations.
Scott Capers, a 29-year-old driver from Ocean Spring, Miss., said the evacuation of Texas residents seems nearly flawless.
“I was part of Katrina and Rita,” Capers said. “This is so organized. Over there it was just get in your bus and go.”
Capers said he and other drivers haven’t been told yet whether Texarkana will be their last stop. He said they are also prepared to head to Louisiana.
Click here for an extended weather blog from the News 3 Weather Center.
As of Friday evening, Texas's military response to Hurricane Gustav is centered in Bryan. Commanders for Task Force Gustav began arriving at the Bryan National Guard Armory this afternoon.
By Saturday, 90 people from all over the state will be at the armory managing Texas military forces.
Governor Rick Perry has activated 7,500 military personnel and 15 aerial resources in preparation for Hurricane Gustav's landfall.
The Governor's office has also activated Texas Task Force 1, based in College Station, as well as Texas Task force 2, based in Dallas.
According to spokesperson Jay Socol, the Texas Engineering Extension Service, or TEEX, in College Station is coordinating all search and rescue teams in the state. Sunday morning, just under 300 rescue personnel are expected to arrive at TEEX headquarters.
Teams from Texas Task Force 1 and 2, as well as search and rescue teams from Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Public Safety, Texas General Land Office, the Civil Air Patrol, and Texas Forest Service will all report to College Station. Socol says they will likely be pre-deployed to Houston Sunday afternoon.
The military personnel have begun pre-positioning in Beaumont, Houston and Galveston. The Governor's office says another 30 aircraft will be provided by the Department of Defense. Four C-130s will be positioned in Beaumont Saturday in preparation for medical evacuations.
Friday evening President Bush declared an emergency in Texas due to Hurricane Gustav, and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts.
The president has authorized FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief efforts in over 60 Texas counties, including Brazos and Montgomery.
The Texas Governor's Office has also put Department of Public Safety troopers on standby to inspect buses that may be used in potential evacuations.
The Department of Family and Protective Services is contacting foster parents in areas that may be affected by the storm to make sure they have an emergency plan and know what to do in the event of a disaster or evacuation.
Electronic signs along the coast are urging residents to fill their gas tanks now. TXDOT personnel are also sweeping roadside shoulders and patching pavement along potential evacuation routes.
News 3 will continue to provide the latest information on Hurricane Gustav at kbtx.com.