Galveston officials are getting ready for a tropical storm that could reach shore as early as this afternoon.
Tropical Storm Cindy emerged in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and has been steadily making its way toward the Gulf Coast ever since. The National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center issued flash flood and tropical storm warnings Tuesday for a wide swath of the gulf, from the Houston area all the way to the Florida panhandle.
Meteorologists predict the storm will make landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border before curving northeast toward Tennessee. With winds between 39 and 73 miles per hour — by definition, anything outside this range is not a tropical storm — Cindy could drop as much as a foot of water in some places, according to the National Weather Service. The National Hurricane Center estimates East Texas will get around two to six inches of rain.
The governors of Louisiana and Alabama have declared states of emergency in preparation for the storm. Texas Governor Greg Abbott hasn’t, but has sent Texas Military Department vehicles to the Houston area. And on Tuesday evening, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry issued a voluntary evacuation for Bolivar Peninsula.
The evacuation, which runs from noon Wednesday until noon Thursday, applies mainly to the elderly, people with medical conditions and/or anyone who requires electrical devices like breathing machines. Judge Henry told the Houston Press his decision was based on concerns that the peninsula could be cut off from the mainland.
“We don’t want it to happen, but the elements are in place that it could happen,” he said. “That’s enough for me to be concerned about the residents that can’t stand to be there without power for any length of time.”
Since the evacuation is voluntary, and since the population of Bolivar Peninsula fluctuates dramatically with tourism and weekend-only residents, Henry said it was difficult to know how many people would be affected. “It’s very much a moving target,” he said. And while he didn't think winds would be strong enough to knock down electrical lines, he said there was "no guarantee" that power would stay on.
Brittany Viegas, a spokeswoman for the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management, said Bolivar Peninsula was the area her agency was “really concerned about.”
The reason, she said, is that there are only two routes on and off the peninsula: Texas State Highway 87 and a ferry service. The ferry service shuts down when winds reach 45 miles per hour or when tides reach four and half feet — both of which seem increasingly likely.
Highway 87, meanwhile, can end up underwater even during typical rain storms. “That is a very low-lying area that tends to flood,” Viegas said. “We already received pictures this morning of water and debris on the roadway.”
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In Galveston, winds have already passed the 20-mile-per-hour mark and are expected to reach almost 40 miles per hour by 4 p.m. But with most projections showing Tropical Storm Cindy making landfall east of that, Galveston proper looks as if it will be spared the worst effects.
Still, city officials are taking precautions. Galveston Island Beach Patrol put out a “red flag” advisory for Galveston beaches, issuing at least four warnings over social media. And Jaree Fortin, a city spokeswoman, published a news release outlining preparations made by the city. Galveston has serviced its power generators, prepared high-water rescue vehicles, moved lifeguard towers, cleared storm drains, notified the tenants of Scholes International Airport and found locations for possible barricades in low-water parts of the city, according to the release.
Cindy isn’t the first big storm to hit the Houston area and it certainly won’t be the last. But if you’ve never dealt with a tropical storm or hurricane before, you should heed the advice of the Department of Homeland Security, which has put out a guide for staying safe in a storm like this.
The guide recommends that residents avoid high water, move lawn furniture indoors, create an evacuation plan and stockpile at least three days worth of food and water. Check out the full preparedness plan at ready.gov.