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TPWD Stands Down After Hurricane Gustav
East Texas appeared to have dodged a bullet by this Tuesday, as thousands of evacuees returned to their homes, hundreds of Texas game wardens prepared to de-mobilize and several state parks that had closed prepared to reopen in the wake of Hurricane Gustav’s passage.
For Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, as for various local, state and federal agencies, it was a case of better safe than sorry. In the post-Katrina world, most organizations in the region reviewed and improved their preparedness and response plans, and by all accounts those plans rolled out flawlessly with Gustav.
More than 230 TPWD game wardens equipped with high-clearance vehicles and shallow-draft boats were pre-positioned to respond to rescue and evacuation requests in East Texas and Louisiana as Gustav rolled ashore. While hundreds of thousands of southeast Texas residents did evacuate ahead of landfall, most were returning home or preparing to do so Tuesday.
According to Lt. Col. Craig Hunter in TPWD’s Law Enforcement Division, game warden teams in Tyler and at Camp Allen were released from storm duty Tuesday morning, with expectations that the rest will soon be released to resume their regular duties Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Gustav’s remnants were spinning over Arkansas and extreme Northeast Texas and forecasts predicted 2-to-5 inches of rain in the region. The National Weather Service warned of possible minor to moderate flooding on some East Texas rivers, such as the Neches, Sabine and Sulphur, if rainfall reached the higher estimate.
Gustav’s impacts contrasted sharply with what happened in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit, when 53 Texas game wardens rescued more than 5,000 residents of New Orleans, including about 1,500 patients at Charity Hospital. After Hurricane Rita the same year, game wardens spent weeks delivering food and water to residents of East Texas and assisting local authorities with maintaining law and order. This July, more than 70 game wardens responded to Hurricane Dolly, which struck deep South Texas.
"I think everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief that we did not have a repeat of Katrina or Rita," said Hunter. "However, there are three more named storms out there now, and we are just now entering the peak of hurricane season. We hope we won’t be needed, but if we are, TPWD will be ready."
The TPWD State Parks Division Incident Command center became active Sunday, coordinating information and response for dozens of parks affected by Gustav. By late Monday, 10 state parks in southeast, east and northeast Texas were closed. Lake Livingston reopened at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Sea Rim near Port Arthur is still closed for repairs, having shut its doors after Hurricane Rita. State parks in Region 4 (Southeast Texas) slated to reopen Wednesday include Martin Dies Jr. and Village Creek. Seven parks in Region 8 (Northeast Texas) remained closed Monday but were projected to reopen Thursday, including Atlanta, Caddo Lake, Daingerfield, Lake Bob Sandlin, Martin Creek Lake, Mission Tejas and Tyler.
Assistant State Parks Director Dan Sholly said, "It was pretty routine as hurricanes go, which is good news for state parks. No major infrastructure issues or facilities damage have been reported so far except for a few downed trees."
By Tuesday, about 500 evacuees had been reported staying in state parks. Cooper Lake State Park had the most: 99 evacuees occupying 22 sites at the South Sulphur Unit and six occupying two shelters at Doctors Creek Unit. Lake Tawakoni reported 31 evacuees in 13 campsites and Purtis Creek had 23 evacuees in five campsites. Some central Texas parks reported hosting a number of hurricane evacuees, including Garner (43) and Inks (45). Evacuees from storm-damaged areas were allowed to tent camp at no cost in Texas State Parks, and they could stay in cabins or screen shelters at discounted rates.
Employees in TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries, Inland Fisheries, and Wildlife divisions were likewise busy with Gustav preparation and response. Several offices and sites along the coast and East Texas were evacuated temporarily, but most were either reopened Tuesday or planning to be open for business as usual Wednesday.
The Governor’s Press Office is coordinating official communication about Gustav for the State of Texas, including TPWD activities. The information above is provided as a service and convenience for TPWD’s audience. For complete information, see the Texas governor’s web site at http://governor.state.tx.us/, or news media may phone the press office at (512) 463-1826.
For the latest information about Texas State Parks affected by Gustav, the public may phone the Texas State Parks reservation center at (512) 389-8900 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. — 6 p.m., or see the TPWD Web site (tpwd.texas.gov). Also, visitors can phone individual state parks to check a park’s operational status.
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