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Governor Abbott: Surviving Category 4 Laura is a miracle

Dodging a bullet and sighs of relief were common talking points during Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest news conference at Orange City Hall on Thursday (Aug. 27).

Abbott toured Southeast Texas hours after Hurricane Laura downgraded from its Category 4 onshore arrival to Category 1 on its way toward Arkansas. He told reporters the most extensive damage he witnessed on the ground and in air was in Orange, the last town on Interstate 10 going east before heading into a much more battered Louisiana.

“Everyone had the same phrase, and it was: ‘We dodged a bullet. It could have been worse,’” Abbott said.

Texas’ U.S. Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, U.S. Reps. Brian Babin and Randy Weber, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Reps. Joe Deshotel and Dade Phelan joined Abbott in the news conference. All of them, along with Orange Mayor Larry Spears, touted the cooperation among governments in keeping the citizens protected and helping those impacted to recover.

“If we make it through a Category 4 hurricane that ripped through the coastline … that is a miracle,” Abbott said. “It shows prayers were answered, that so many people cared about their neighbors and preparation paid off.”

The storm surge that was predicted to go anywhere from 5 to 15 feet into the coastline rose only 3 feet, Abbott said. He and other public officials credited the levee system in Southeast Texas for protecting residents that did not evacuate amid calls from local leaders to do so.

“That 7-foot differential means all the difference,” Abbott said. “We would not be sitting here if we saw a 10-foot storm surge.

Laura is the second hurricane to land on the Texas coast this year. Hanna impacted the Corpus Christi region on July 25.

No deaths in Texas have been confirmed from Laura, although Abbott mentioned word of an unconfirmed death in Sabine County, located further north in east Texas.

Entities including the Texas Military Department and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are scouring Orange and surrounding areas on search-and-rescue missions, however, Abbott mentioned.

Abbott was in contact with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards before the news conference and mentioned a typically jovial Edwards told him Louisiana stood ready to help Texas. Louisiana, however, experienced the brunt of Laura, which has resulted in three deaths, according to multiple reports.

“I know the people of Louisiana are dealing with challenges right now,” Abbott said. “Texans stand ready to offer help to our neighbors.”

Orange County Judge John Gothia said he felt a “huge sigh of relief” at about 2:30 p.m.

Both President Donald Trump and Abbott declared disaster in 62 Texas counties impacted by Laura, which made landfall in Cameron, Louisiana, at 1 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane. As it downgraded to Category 1, Port Arthur sustained winds of up to 38 mph with gusts reaching 51 mph, and Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Nederland experienced winds surpassing 51 mph with gusts of up to 66 mph.

Orange County Judge John Gothia described a sense of relief he felt almost 2 hours after Laura hit the coast that the hurricane didn’t do extensive damage in his jurisdiction.

“With that sigh of relief, there was sadness it was going to our neighbors,” Gothia said.

Road report

The first goal for Orange County emergency crews, Gothia said, is to clear the roads. He urged those returning to the area to exercise caution.

Interstate 10, Abbott noted, is open all the way to the Louisiana side of the border. Port Arthur City Manager Ron Burton said roads within and going into that city are open, as well.

Laura caused about 160,000 power outages, Abbott said. He added 8,500 Texans were provided with shelter and more than 3,000 hotel rooms have been occupied by evacuees.

Asked how the next 48 hours will look in Orange County, Abbott answered: “Saving lives is job No. 1, then clearing pathways, then restoring power. Anyone with insurance is asked to call an agent today, [or] tomorrow.”

Many in Southeast Texas took buses to shelters in Walker, Harris, Ellis and Tarrant counties ahead of Laura’s arrival. Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said those who took buses would return home by the same transportation method.

Goods and services

In Port Arthur, the Medical Center of Southeast Texas remained open and fully operation throughout the storm. Appointments for elective surgeries, imaging studies, outpatient therapies and other services are being rescheduled for as early as Friday, the hospital said.

H-E-B announced that its H-E-B Plus! store in Beaumont and Groves neighborhood store are open. Its locations in Port Arthur, Mid-County, Orange, Lumberton and six other Beaumont stores remain closed as officials assess damage.

Help for affected residents

Texans who have been affected by Hurricane Laura can visit gov.texas.gov/hurricane for resources and more information.

The United Way announced the activation of Louisiana 211, a program in which those affected by Laura can access information on shelter locations, where to get food, water and other supplies, accessing disaster programs and other non-life threatening emergencies. Those in affected areas can call 211 or text LASHELTER to 898-211. Specialists are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week and offer 180 languages.

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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