Texas makes preparations in case Gustav strikes

Texas makes preparations in case Gustav strikes 
By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer 
BEAUMONT, Texas — The possibility of Tropical Storm Gustav slamming into Texas as a powerful hurricane put the state and residents on alert Thursday as the deadly storm continued a path toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration for 61 counties in case Gustav arrives early next week along the coast, where some people Thursday were already filling up their gas tanks and stocking up on water and supplies.

Forecasters say the tropical storm could make landfall Tuesday anywhere from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. With top sustained winds just below hurricane strength, Gustav was projected to become a major Category 3 hurricane upon entering the warm and deep Gulf waters.

Authorities say Gustav has killed 67 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

"I urge Texans along the coast to monitor this storm closely, heed warnings from their local leaders, and take necessary precautions to protect their families, homes and businesses," Perry said.

Hotels in East Texas filled up fast as Gulf Coast residents made plans to head north. Tourism officials in Tyler said that most of the East Texas city’s 2,200 hotel rooms are booked for the coming weekend and beyond.

"Flooded — the phone has not stopped ringing since yesterday," said Patty Boaz, a front desk clerk for America’s Best Value Inn and Suites in Tyler. "We’re getting bombarded."

Gustav’s possible path toward Texas caused Perry to suspend his planned trip to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. He activated numerous state resources, including putting up to 5,000 members of the Texas National Guard on standby.

The Texas Department of Transportation used electronic signs along the highway to urge motorists to fuel up their vehicles.

In Beaumont, which bore the brunt of Rita when the Category 3 hurricane landed in 2005, all eight pumps at a gas station were busy Thursday afternoon with drivers reluctant to wait until the last minute to fill up.

"I’m more passive right now," said John Fisher, 45, a retired store manager filling up his car at the crowded station. "I’m going to wait and see what happens with the storm."

At a Home Depot, people were stacking up on water, plastic, gasoline cans and plywood.

Hal Miller, 50, bought five sheets of plywood to help board up his daughter’s home in Mont Belvieu although he wasn’t sure her house would be in the path of the storm.

"For her peace of mind, I’m going to board up her windows," Miller said.

In Houston, officials were monitoring the hurricane and had begun numerous preparations for the storm, said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

With Hurricane Katrina three years ago, Houston’s Astrodome had sheltered 25,000 of the estimated 250,000 evacuees who came to Texas from Louisiana.

Louisiana, Texas and Harris County officials have consulted and any evacuees would be moved inland rather than to Harris County, Stinebaker said.

He said it wouldn’t make sense to move people to a hurricane zone. Tropical Storm Hanna, which was named Thursday morning, is trailing Gustav’s path, and he said it would be disastrous if the storm followed evacuees to the Houston area.

At a Beaumont grocery store, Janice Espree, a homemaker, had three 24-packs of bottled water in her shopping cart, as well as some fruit.

She said she was just buying extra supplies in case the storm comes her way.

"I think most people here are prepared and are ready to leave if they have to, but some people, with the high gas prices, might have to ride the storm out," Espree said.