It Happened Again

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Hurricane Ike swept through East Texas and hit the area hard with several inches of rain and high winds reaching up to tropical storm force.

Numerous power lines and trees were toppled in the storm, and thousands were left without power.

Tyler Junior College opened its doors for the second time this year to evacuees from the Beaumont area.

During Hurricane Ike, Oakwood Manor in Vidor and Magnolia Manor in Groves were housed in the Gentry Gymnasium inside the Ornelas Health and Physical Education Center. During Hurricane Gustav, Silsbee Convalescent Center in Silsbee, was also housed at the gym.

The college had plenty of warning for the evacuation during Hurricane Gustav, with the evacuees having the Labor Day weekend to arrive. During Hurricane Ike, there was only a day to move hundreds of special needs patients.

“In Gustav, [the nursing homes] had 24-hour notice to evacuate before anyone else. [The Ike evacuation] has been evacuation on the fly based on the track variation,” said Turman.

With the recent run of hurricane evacuations in Southeast Texas, the campus shelter management team said they have the process down. During Hurricane Ike, the team was notified of the evacuation at 9 a.m. and had the gymnasium turned into a shelter by 11 a.m. that same day.

Campus shelter team members Police Chief Randy Melton and Purchasing and Central Services Director Brian Turman said their plan for a shelter has been noticed here locally and statewide. The two said they are being asked to present their unique shelter model so that other cities can adopt the model.

Melton said the shelter was started after Hurricane Katrina occurred when the State of Texas and Federal Emergency Management Agency decided they needed a special needs shelter. TJC was called upon to provide shelter to three Beaumont area nursing homes during Hurricane Rita.

Melton said a lot has changed since 2005 when Rita hit and the shelter was first used at TJC.

“When Rita was here, we didn’t know who was coming,” said Melton. “This time the shelter is a little different, we didn’t have the outside agencies managing.”

After the busy 2005 season, the college met with the CEO of Cantex Senior Communities and planned for the future. Robin Underhill said the partnership between the company and the college is reassuring to know they have a place to house their patients during a storm.

“It was a tremendous comfort for Cantex Senior Communities that Tyler Junior College would open their arms to welcome out residents in,” said Underhill. “It is a huge difference [since Hurricane Rita] in that we knew where we were going and we knew we had a safe haven when we arrived, that our residents and staff would be well cared for, and it worked out perfectly for us.”

Overall the city of Tyler took in thousands of evacuees from the gulf coast in dozens of shelters.

The city took in general and special needs evacuees at a registration center set up at Faulkner Park in South Tyler. Buses lined up continuously since the evacuation order for Hurricane Ike was given just a day before the storm was expected to hit the coast. Nearly 100 buses were processed at the site for evacuees. All of the evacuees were given wristbands marked with which shelter they were assigned.

Both the city and TJC said they could not have done this without volunteer support. Students from all over campus volunteered their time to help out in the shelter effort. Various groups helped in the setup, loading and unloading of the charter buses. Chief Melton said the campus opening its doors is just an example of one of the three promises of TJC.

“Outreach is what that is,” said Melton. “Because they brought their stuff we didn’t need as many volunteers as three years ago, but it’s a tremendous effort for the college. The community came out and offered their assistance.”

The evacuees are staying at the shelter until their county judge lifts the mandatory evacuation order. That looks to be quite some time with reports from Beaumont/Port Arthur of enormous damage caused by the giant storm surge from Ike.

Officials hope another system does not threaten the Texas gulf coast, but if it does they know they’ll be ready.

“We’ve got a tremendous force of support from the staff here at TJC,” said Underhill.

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