Out Of Field, But Not Danger

Less than half of Wharton County’s cotton crop made it out of the field before Hurricane Harvey struck. Now it, and the thousands of acres mired in mud, are in jeopardy. What should have been a record crop year, officials say, may now be almost a total loss.

Downed small tree limbs, water on roadways and a half-day power outage through most of the city marked the first few days of Hurricane Harvey in El Campo. Monday, though, brought the hardest rains yet and a mandatory evacuation order for all low-lying areas in the city of El Campo.

Evacuees from Matagorda, Brazoria and Fort Bend counties started making their way through as churches began to set up shelters (please see related story).

By Tuesday, the Colorado River at Wharton was forecast to hit a 50.5 foot-crest, the second highest on record.

And, today officials are still trying to take stock of it all. There were no numbers available on how many people evacuated, how many homes had water inside or even how many were in shelters, Wharton County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland said at presstime. The work of ensuring everyone was safe had to be complete before the counting could start.

Bad Storm On The Rise

The storm which made Texas landfall as a Category 4 (the worst since Hurricane Carla in 1961) on Friday then stalled north of Victoria over most of the weekend, trapped between two highs.

Yet somehow El Campo found itself sitting between the heavy rain bands for a good portion of those first three days.

By nighttime Sunday, rain tallies were holding at 9.19 inches, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority gauge on the hospital grounds, far better than the 30 feared in forecasts.

Harvey made its predicted turn late Sunday heading back to Gulf waters and a projected eastward track that was forecast to pull it clear of the area by today.

Citizen weather watcher gauges in the area showed similar numbers – 10.38 inches through the start of Monday on the Greenleaf Nursery grounds, 9.98 in El Campo and 9.52 inches north of the city.

Monday morning, however, Harvey came back. Rain tallies were not immediately available with the gauges temporarily not reporting data. Information will be posted on the Leader-News website www.leader-news.com or the newspaper’s Facebook and Twitter pages as they become available.

El Campo Connection

“So far we’ve been lucky. We’ve missed the bad things that come with a Category 4 storm,” Mayor Randy Collins told the Leader-News. “We’ve been blessed. It’s just amazing. We dodged the bullet and we all need to say prayers.”

Breaks in the pounding rain found John Gardley Sr. of El Campo in the yard of his Fourth Street home picking up small limbs and leaves.

“I’m working to clear this drain. I’ve got to,” he said, pulling more sticks and leaves from in front of it. “I’m so thankful. I thank the Lord that there have been breaks that do allow the water to run down.

“This Harvey, it’s been so unpredictable,” he said.

Eugene Bustamante clearing his yard on South Street agreed.

“But we were fortunate. We’ve still got electricity and are thankful for the businesses that remained open.”

Nita Hammock, a neighbor, added, “And, it was yellow and red to the east of us (on the radar screen) and yellow and red to the west of us. It was like we were in a little green stripe.”

Skies didn’t exactly clear in El Campo Sunday, but at least the rain stopped for several hours.

Saying Grace

Over at St. Phillip Catholic Church, the doors and stained-glass windows were boarded up, but bright green signs on the plywood assured the public Mass would be celebrated at regularly scheduled times.

Churches in the area held services – many of them without power.

“The only light came through the stained glass window,” Chris Barbee said of the service at First Baptist on Sunday. “No electric organ, video screens, sound system, radio broadcast, choir ... just acoustic guitar, piano and a small battery-powered sound system.”

Bearing The Brunt

El Campo police officers and support staff starting working daily 12-hour shifts Friday working out of the new Public Safety Headquarters on the West Loop.

The new facility offer bunk rooms and plenty of space.

“We’ve had several bunking here they’ve basically moved in,” Police Chief Terry Stanphill said, adding officers habe been extremely busy during their shifts with the burnt of the calls being storm related.

Calls were almost non-existent for the 23 to 25 El Campo volunteer firefighters hunkered down in the public safety building for the first three days.

“We’ve been fortunate so far,” El Campo VFD president Kenny Socha said Sunday.

Monday, they would help with water related rescues in areas.

For AEP and Wharton County Electric Cooperative crews work was steady throughout the weekend.

On the El Campo circuit – an area covering from the city down to Palacios – about 11,000 customers were out at its peak.

“We’ve been trying to restore power,” AEP Lineman Harold Taylor said Sunday while working on a West First Street problem.

There, a super-saturated Pecan tree had uprooted, struck lines and caused a problem all the way back at the substation.

El Campo, they said, was not the hardest hit in the area, the workers gathered there said, despite an outage that covered a large portion of the city Sunday.

“El Campo has been very lucky,” Lineman David Hedges said.

Lineman Russell Dettling agreed, “We’ve been sandwiched between two floods. Bay City caught a lot of it.”

Working her job in El Campo Sunday, Provident City resident Carolyn Russell said she couldn’t help but worry about her home.

“It peeled back the tin on my old farmhouse,” she said, “But I got buckets everywhere.”

In the meantime, it was work – and trying to get there through half-flooded roads.

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