Hopkins County monitors weather for potential flood

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 2, 2008 - Hopkins County officials, like those around in most of East Texas, have been closely monitoring weather conditions and staying in close contact with state emergency officials since Sunday, when Hurricane Gustav began approaching the Gulf Coast, threatening flooding as far inland as Hopkins County.

County commissioners met in emergency session Monday evening to discuss how Hurricane Gustav and evacuation efforts would impact Hopkins County, if at all. Emergency responders, the local American Red Cross disaster action team, Texas Department of State Health Services and county officials noted that while their crews are on standby Hopkins County Emergency Operations Center will not be activated unless the storm resulting from Gustav floods the area in 3-8 inches of rain as originally predicted.

Weather predictions as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday were for light rain today, with heavier rain later tonight into Wednesday, state officials noted during the first of the two daily state operations center conference calls, which the county's emergency management coordinators listened in on.

"If accumulation is over 6 inches, we'll look at the flooding and the commissioners will see what we might need. We'll open the EOC if there if flooding in the county. The commissioners are out shoring up culverts on roads to make them as passable as possible in the event of heavy rain. Carl Nix and Steve Caudle, our emergency management [officials], monitored the state call this morning," Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said.

The National Weather Service this morning predicted that "remnants of Gustav" could impact the area as early as Tuesday afternoon, with the heaviest rains occurring Tuesday night through wednesday morning.

"Widespread rainfall amounts of 1 to 3 inches with isolated higher amounts will be possible. Saturated soils due to heavy rainfall over the past 2 weeks will aide in flooding potential. Flooding of low lying areas, creeks ditches and secondary roads is likely," the weather service noted this morning.

County officials determined during the last few days, when shelter locations were being sought to house Gulf Coast residents bused inland during evacuation efforts, that Hopkins County is not currently in a position to offer shelter.

"With the state at the Civic Center, this could not have happened at a worse time. They're just finishing up with the horse show and are in throws of preparations for the Fall Festival. It's booked, one thing after the other. If we have to have [a shelter] if we have an alternate plan, that'd be better," Dottie Ford, who is over Hopkins County Regional Civic Center said of the facility, which is designated in the county's emergency management plan as a location for an emergency shelter.

"We have no plans at this time to open a shelter. There is no need of us opening any shelter at this time," Millsap said.

Local motels have been full since the Saturday, with people in the area for events at hosted at the Civic Center as well as with people who voluntarily evacuated in their personal vehicles north.

Mount Vernon Monday housed 131 evacuees with critical medical needs, including several that had to be taken to the hospital. Other locations better equipped to care for the individuals were being sought for them. The American Red Cross was working to try to get two shelters open in Commerce, and the possibility of a shelter being established in the Yantis area was also noted Monday evening. Tyler was housing 1,250 people, Lufkin 1,000 and Texarkana 550 people who have been evacuated from their homes. Twenty-seven buses of people also were transported to the Dallas Fort Worth area.

Should people who have evacuated to motel require additional assistance before officials give orders allowing people to return to the coast, those individuals can contact the Red Cross Disaster Action Team at 972-563-1030 or Joyce Vaginault with Texas Department of State Health Services at 903-629-5224.

County officials have been monitoring the progress of the hurricane as well as state and federal preparations and aide related to that. They will continue to monitor the weather throughout the next few days, and take action regarding flooding should any become necessary.

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