Disaster declaration extended as recovery begins

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LIVINGSTON -- During a brief meeting Thursday morning, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy’s disaster declaration issued Aug. 25 was extended for an additional 30 days by the Polk County Commissioners Court.

The meeting was held at the Polk County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) where the commissioners and other officials could receive the latest information regarding the havoc created by Hurricane Harvey in Polk County.

Much of the damage was along the Trinity River downstream from the Lake Livingston Dam, which due to the massive amounts of rainfall throughout the region, was releasing more than 110,000 cubic feet of water per second on Monday. Because a cubic foot of water contains 7.48 gallons, there were more than 827,000 gallons of water being released from the dam each second.

The rising waters along the river prompted Murphy to revise a voluntary evacuation order for the area issued Monday morning to a mandatory order the following morning.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Polk County’s Chief Deputy Sheriff Byron Lyons during an visit at the OEM Command Center Thursday. “The community has really been pulling together to help get through this situation.

“People who would normally probably not speak to one another are banding together to help each other. It is just unbelievable,” Lyons said.

Lyons and other officials at the command center also expressed relief that no deaths or major injuries had been attributed to the storm, although a number of medical issues have been attributed to the stress generated by the storm and the destruction along the river and the creeks which feed into it.

Murphy noted there has been an outpouring of support from people wanting to volunteer their time to help with the situation, adding that a list has been created and they will be contacted as needed. Volunteers -- primarily volunteer firefighters -- along with local, state and federal employees have been working to oversee the evacuations and the Dunbar Gym evacuation center in Livingston.

The gym, which was opened Monday soon after Murphy issued the voluntary evacuation order, was set up to house 80 people and ended up providing shelter to 53 local residents. Donations of food, clothing, water and other items poured in to help.

Nancy Brown, who volunteered to serve as the public information officer for this event, noted one major issue being created by some people is the moving of barricades and the removal of warning tape along some county roads covered with flood waters.

“We ran out of barricades and had to start using yellow warning tape to try to keep traffic off flooded sections of roads,” she explained.

Some motorists, apparently those with high-clearance trucks, came along and moved the barricades or took down the tape in order to get through. This meant the next vehicle that came along had no warning and would drive into the high water.

Officials are asking motorists to stay off the roads as much as possible, noting that due to the heavy rains the unpaved county roads are extremely vulnerable to damage.
Brown noted that the OEM Command Center is posting notices of road conditions twice a day and this information is available on the Polk County Emergency Management Facebook page.