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UPDATE: Jefferson County issues full evacuation order, according to Judge, Mayors

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for all of Jefferson County.

“I, Jeff R. Branick, duly elected County Judge of Jefferson County, based on most recent information received from the National Weather Service and pursuant to the Disaster Declaration of August 23, 2020 for Tropical Storms/Hurricanes Marco and Laura, do hereby order a mandatory evacuation for all residents of Jefferson County,” a statement read at approximately 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Earlier Monday evening, Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie and Groves Mayor Brad Bailey said the order would take effect at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday (Aug. 25). It comes just a few hours after a mandate was issued for unincorporated areas south of Texas 73 and hours after Bartie made a similar edict for Port Arthur.

A meeting that was scheduled for 10 p.m. (Aug. 24) was moved up and the decision for a countywide order made, Bailey told Port Arthur Newsmedia.

The mayors of Groves, Port Neches and Nederland were awaiting more data from the National Weather Service regarding the path of Tropical Storm Laura, which was coming off the western tip of Cuba on Monday afternoon and expected to make landfall in Southeast Texas and/or Southwest Louisiana by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, before deciding whether to mandate an evacuation.

Port Arthur’s mandatory clearance begins at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Bartie announced the decision at 11:27 a.m. Monday.

“I based it on information I received from the National Weather Service of Lake Charles and the uncertainty of the trajectory of the storm,” Bartie said. “All of that caused me to make that decision, and also the level of confidence the predictors had predicted. They had a pretty low level of confidence.”

National Weather Service Meteorologist Donald Jones upgraded that level to normal confidence before 5 p.m. Monday. Jones added Tropical Storm Marco has dissipated to “a shadow of its former self” and not expected to cause any threats to Southeast Texas.

Hurricane-force winds are possible from Laura starting late Wednesday, however. Other county leaders were waiting to see what direction Laura might take from the western tip of Cuba.

Bartie is asking Port Arthurans to gather all necessities and prepare to leave the city for four to five days.

Emergency evacuation operations in the city will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Bob Bowers Civic Center.

All Port Arthur Transit bus routes will take riders to the Civic Center. Each rider is limited to one bag and asked to bring any medications or medical supplies needed.

As for when those residents can come back?

“We have no idea right now,” Bartie said. “If the weather does what it did during Harvey, it’ll be a little while. You just don’t know.”

Asked how Port Arthur will enforce its evacuation order, Bartie answered: “We ask them and they should comply. If they don’t, they could drown if the city rises.”

Branick was a little more definitive earlier this evening about penalties for violation of the county order — a fine of up to $1,000, jail time of up to 180 days, or both. But he has no desire for anyone to be locked up over the offense.

“The truth of the matter is, when we issue these mandatory evacuations, we’re trying to get people’s attention,” he said. “We re not going to put them in jail because we’re trying to empty the jail.”

Inmates from the Jefferson County jail on U.S. 69 will be moved to the courthouse jail, Branick said.

Certain individuals are exempt from the county order:

• Employees of oil terminals, pipelines and oil supply facilities essential for and actively involved in the transportation and receiving of oil and supplies in Jefferson County refining and petrochemical facilities and other such employees deemed essential to such facilities by the employer;

• Employees of hospitals, trauma centers, nursing homes, convalescent facilities, EMTs, ambulance personnel and other healthcare providers essential for and actively involved in providing medical treatment and/or housing for the ill or inform who are not evacuated;

• Employees of federal, state and local governments, political subdivisions and special purpose districts who are deemed essential by their employer; and

• Employees engaged in communications, utility workers, insurance claims and those engaged in insurance claims, disaster recovery and remediation.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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