Austin County prepares for hurricane season

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AUSTIN – With the hurricane season less than one month away, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) urges all Texans to learn how to protect themselves and their families from hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricane season starts June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.

“Hurricane season is unpredictable, and as we saw last year with Hurricane Harvey, these powerful storms can cause dangerous conditions and leave behind major devastation,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “By preparing ahead of time, we can help ensure our state is ready when natural disasters strike. I encourage all of my fellow Texans to plan now in advance of hurricane season, and to closely monitor any weather warnings and evacuation orders in the coming months.”

Austin County Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Chislett is attending a conference this week where representatives of all 254 Texas counties will be present to discuss plans for disaster coordination.

“Harvey didn’t hit Austin County as hard as it did some of the counties south of us,” Chislett said. “It was more of a rain and flood event. As always we learn during the emergency. We always revise. It’s a learning experience, and hopefully the next time around, it works a whole lot better.”

He noted that thousands of volunteers from outside the county assisted locally in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“Everybody comes together,” he said. “The folks in our area over the last few years with the flooding have become really knowledgeable. They have a plan in the place.”

All Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas are subject to hurricanes and tropical storms. It is possible for a storm to severely impact Texas, even prior to or without making direct landfall locally. Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines, and winds can vary from 74 to 157 mph (or higher). In addition, hurricanes and tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes, create dangerous coastal water conditions, including storm surges, and cause extensive flooding damage. Also, the rainfall associated with a tropical system can have an extremely wide reach, so monitoring changing weather conditions during hurricane season is critically important for all Texans.

“As Texans know all too well, the damage caused by a hurricane can be catastrophic, and the impact these storms have on our lives does not go away when the storm warning expires,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Our neighbors along the coast are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. By taking a few simple steps — like developing a hurricane plan and assembling an emergency disaster kit — we can ensure we are ready when a storm hits. It can mean the difference between life and death.”

Here are several measures residents can take now to prepare for potential storms:

• Assemble an emergency kit that includes essential documents, supplies and provisions.

• Review hurricane evacuation maps, and select a route for you and your family.

• Plan how all family members and pets will evacuate safely.

• Consider any special needs for individuals with disabilities or the elderly.

• Stay informed about changing weather conditions in and around your area.

• Follow the instructions of local officials if a storm develops.

Residents are also encouraged to review their property’s flood risk and current insurance coverage, and to consider whether a separate flood policy should be part of their home protection plan. (Remember most flood policies have a 30-day waiting period before taking effect).

Chislett, Austin County’s emergency management coordinator, noted that he and other city and county officials are in constant contact with the National Weather Services and the American Red Cross as hurricane season approaches.

“We have mutual aid agreements with the surrounding counties and we’re meeting together and coordinating on things like evacuation routes, shelters and road closures,” he said. “If they’re not directly hit, they’ll send us personnel and teams. All we can do is plan and prepare and hope for the best.”

For more information about hurricanes and how to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season, visit the DPS website and www.texasprepares.org. Hurricane preparedness information also is available at austincounty.com and on the National Weather Service website.

The Texas Department of Public Safety contributed to this report.

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