Thursday, 31 July 2003 17:00

Texas shops sustain damage from hurricane Claudette

Written by Karyn Hendricks
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Hitting land about five hours earlier than expected, hurricane Claudette caused massive damage when she slammed into the Texas Matagorda Peninsula on Tuesday, July 15 right about mid-day. Although 15 counties were affected, the hardest hit cities were Port O'Connor, Victoria, and Port Lavaca, along with the west coast of island city Galveston. 

Port Lavaca

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One mobile home in Port Lavaca is blown to bits, while others are left standing.
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Sheet metal didn't stand a chance when Claudette hit Port Lavaca.

"It came, it blew, it went!" was how Tad Dio, owner of Tad's Paint and Body Shop in Port Lavaca summarized Claudette. The 60-foot canopy over the frame room of his shop "just took off," but it could have been worse. Dio felt relatively lucky that the storm moved through quickly and did not leave much rain. The situation would have been aggravated had there been more flooding in the area. The rain that did fall was blowing horizontally, right through the gable vents of people's houses.

According to Dio, most of the body shops in town fared pretty well. Shops that were strongly constructed weathered the storm, whereas those that were not properly put together just came apart and blew away. Some shops that were not equipped with heavy-duty doors had their overhead doors blown in.

Residents of Port Lavaca were caught somewhat off guard, claimed Dio, because forecasters did not expect the storm to hit until later in the afternoon. Instead, Claudette hit Port Lavaca at about 10:30 a.m. with the eye of the storm crossing over around noon. The trailing end of Claudette hit between 1 and 2 p.m. Although winds were expected to be about 70 mph, barely hurricane strength, they clocked in at 105 mph.

One of the biggest problems was the flying debris. Wind whipped through the trees, bending and breaking them, then scattering limbs everywhere. Surf churned up by Claudette dumped large amounts of trash onto the beaches necessitating a massive clean-up operation.

Dio went out to check his home and ended up actually driving during the height of the storm. He noted that the high school had lost its roof and there were trees, signs, awnings and various other debris scattered everywhere. A 40-foot motor home was blown over on its side out near the WalMart. Power was out in most areas and, at this writing, there are still parts of Port Lavaca without electricity. Dio was fortunate to have the power back on in his shop by 5 p.m.

During our interview, Dio watched a 50-foot antenna come down across the street from his facility. He speculated that the owner had cut it down, before it actually came off on its own, causing serious injury. As we spoke, he watched the National Guard roll into town to help with the clean-up and prevent looting.

Drive through paint booth door survives
 

Atzenhoffer Chevrolet-Cadillac-Mitsubishi-Mazda suffered door damage when the 100-mph winds slammed through Victoria at noon.

Body shop manager Bob Mahaffey described how all the roll up and slide out doors were blown out. Whereas there was only minor water damage inside the shop, the painting process was curtailed until the doors could be repaired, because the only door to the building left unscathed was the one for the drive-through paint booth. All cars had to go in and out through the booth!

In addition, debris flying from across the street tore up a number of the new cars sitting on the dealership lot.

The facility ended up sending the staff home, since the electricity went out. A few people stayed behind to protect the property and make sure no looting took place.

As in Port Lavaca and other towns, major problems occurred as signs, roofing material and basically anything that was not nailed down went flying around, crashing into everything that was nailed down. Trees fell into windshields. And people found their carports to be worthless as the covers were torn off and structural pieces landed on vehicles.

All over town, as the storm subsided, residents took out their chain saws to cut up the tree trunks that were blocking roads and access. Clean-up is expected to last well into August.

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Tragedy in Victoria

One of the two tragic deaths attributed to Claudette occurred in Victoria, when a 33-year-old woman, Sharon Bauer, was hit by a falling tree limb after the storm had moved on and she was outside surveying the aftermath. Because of the ferocity of the storm, medical personnel were unable to reach her and she later died at the hospital.

Ms. Bauer's last wish was to be an organ donor. Due to the perseverance of her family, various organs were saved, despite the passage of time, and 30 lives were impacted by her desire to help others.

An unidentified 13-year-old boy in Jourdanton, near San Antonio, was also killed by a falling tree.

Aftermath

Claudette was a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the Saffir-Simpson scale of strength. These storms generally pack winds of up to 95 mph and cause minimal damage.

"There's nothing minimal about Claudette," said Jack Colley, state coordinator for the governor's Division of Emergency Management.

"Fifteen counties were impacted, we're still in the response mode, and our objective now is to ensure the health and safety of our citizens," continued Colley, shortly after the storm passed.

Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that "Hurricane Claudette has forced thousands of Texans from their homes, damaged businesses and caused flooding and power outages," as he requested state and federal aid for his state.

The Red Cross was on hand to meet the needs of those who lost or evacuated their homes. And FEMA inspectors were in Texas to assess the damage and determine what steps would need to be taken to help those Texans devastated by Claudette get back to their normal lives.

 

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