Texas Watches As Hurricane Dean Nears

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 18, 2007; 9:00 PM

GALVESTON, Texas -- Chuck Lee and Butch Courtwright leaned against a pickup truck and gazed across the rolling surf as sunbathers basked on the beach Saturday. Hundreds of miles away, Hurricane Dean gathered strength as it churned across the Caribbean, its destination still unclear.

If the fierce storm appears to be bearing down on Texas Monday, they'll be boarding up windows and fastening down roofs, preparing for the worst. But on Saturday, Lee and Courtwright were more interested in surfing.

"It's too far away, a little too early to panic," said Lee, 56.

Dean, a Category 4 hurricane, ravaged Caribbean islands on Saturday and was expected to roll across the Yucatan Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday. The Texas coast was a possible target, and some South Texas areas began taking precautions Saturday.

City officials in Brownsville called for voluntary evacuations while in Edinburg, another city near the Mexico border, the Texas Youth Commission began evacuating nearly 270 inmates and staff members from its Evins facility. They were being transferred to another facility 400 miles north in Brownwood, according to Gov. Rick Perry's office.

In the coastal city of Galveston, residents remember the disastrous evacuation before Hurricane Rita in 2005. Lee and Courtwright said many who tried to evacuate then plan to stay in Galveston this time, no matter how vicious Dean becomes.

State officials say they've worked out the kinks in the system, but many Galveston residents aren't ready to believe them.

"I've talked to a lot of people about this," Lee said. "They'd rather die in their homes than die in their cars on some highway."

The Rita evacuation quickly turned into a disaster, as motorists from the coast ran into residents fleeing Houston, clogging evacuation routes for miles in sweltering heat. Gas stations closed after running out of fuel and supplies and motorists sat stranded and helpless for hours.

On Saturday, lighted signs along the highways usually reserved for Amber Alerts flashed an ominous message: "HURRICANE FORMING NEAR GULF. KEEP YOUR GAS TANKS FULL."

James Quigley, 78, has lived in a beach house for 25 years and fled early enough in 2005 to avoid the massive gridlock.

If Dean takes aim, Quigley will put his valuables in storage and head north early next week. Until he's sure it's coming, Quigley is content to track the storm on TV and take appropriate steps only when necessary.

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