Officials Urge Evacuations of Texas Gulf Coast as Beryl Nears Land

Brady Dennis/The Washington Post
Families explore the rough surf along Matagorda Beach ahead of Beryl’s arrival.

MATAGORDA, Tex. – Texas officials urged thousands of coastal residents to evacuate Sunday ahead of the expected landfall of Tropical Storm Beryl as a Category 1 hurricane early Monday morning.

After destroying houses, downing power lines and killing at least 10 in its path through the Caribbean, Beryl was hurtling toward Matagorda Bay on the Gulf Coast of Texas, between Corpus Christi and Galveston, with sustained winds of 65 mph.

At 5 p.m. Eastern time the storm was 135 miles southeast of Corpus Christi and moving northwest at 12 mph. The storm’s outer rain bands were already coming ashore along the South Texas coast with dangerous storm surge, flash flooding, strong winds and possibly tornadoes expected overnight. The storm surge – or rise in ocean water above normally dry land – had reached about 1½ feet along much of the Texas and Louisiana coastline, while waves grew.

Winds were also increasing, with many coastal areas measuring gusts of 30 to 40 mph, including around Houston and Galveston.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) declared a state of emergency in 121 counties and warned residents it would be hard to travel Monday. Galveston officials said they expected a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet, with a potential of up to 7 feet, triggering major floods in the West End section of the barrier island.

Refugio County and the town of Quintana ordered full evacuations, while Aransas County and others ordered evacuations from low-lying areas. Matagorda County, Galveston and many more locales called for voluntary evacuations.

Patrick said he was concerned that too few people were leaving coastal areas while they still could. He said traffic monitors aren’t showing many people leaving the areas most at risk.

At Matagorda Beach on Sunday evening, a man fished for sea trout and a few families played in the growing surf, where waves crashed dozens of yards farther inland than they do during normal high tides.

But the area was mostly empty, with plywood on the windows of fishing shacks and vacation homes. “It’s already looking pretty rough,” said Brittany Tarver, adding that she planned to take her family soon to safer ground, inside a house they had already boarded up.

Texans often say officials are overly cautious, Patrick said. He had a warning for them: “Let’s pray nothing happens where you live, but something is going to happen where some of you live.”

The National Hurricane Center said Sunday that Beryl will bring “a danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation” and “damaging hurricane-force winds” to the lower and middle Texas coast, as well as flash and urban flooding because of torrential rains.

School districts in Houston and along the coast canceled Monday classes, as did the University of Houston. Many municipalities also said non-emergency offices would not reopen until Tuesday. The Houston Independent School District – the eighth-largest public school district in the country, with about 190,000 students – said it will remain closed Tuesday.

The storm gathered strength as it churned northward, putting Houston’s western suburbs at risk of damage. The Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the Texas coast from Baffin Bay northward to San Luis Pass on Sunday afternoon and urged people to speed up their preparations.

President Biden was monitoring the storm, a White House official told CNN. “We are in close contact with our state and local counterparts and FEMA has prepositioned response personnel, search and rescue teams, bottled water, meals, tarps and electric generators in case they are needed,” the official said.

Residents who opted to stay boarded up windows and stocked up on food, gas and medicine. Patrick, in charge while Gov. Greg Abbott (R) traveled overseas on a trade mission, said he worried that tourists in town for the July Fourth holiday might miss news of the storm’s severity and direction. He said 2,000 state responders would be available to help.

The U.S. Coast Guard said its response will be limited during the storm, and it encouraged boaters to prepare.

Even 50 miles inland, the city of Falfurrias, offered sandbags to homes and businesses.

The mood in the coastal city of Rockport was calm, said Robert Haskin, a contractor helping residents prepare. He said he had boarded up 1,500 windows in the past day and a half.

“They’re just doing it as a precaution; they don’t think this is going to be that big of a storm like Harvey was,” he said, referring to the Category 4 hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast in 2017.

In Matagorda, Randy Tarver, Brittany Tarver’s father-in-law, said he is worried about the rain that will arrive with Beryl, given that the ground in the area is already saturated from recent storms.

“The ground is wet; the ditches are full,” he said.

At Buddy’s Seafood and Bait in Matagorda, Stephani McIntosh was preparing to shut the doors and hunker down at home with her boyfriend and young son. While she had endured storms in Texas before, this would be her first hurricane since moving to Matagorda about a year ago, she said.

“I think we’re going to be all right,” said McIntosh, 37. “I never really thought about leaving.”

As the storm drew closer, she acknowledged she felt a little consternation about the night ahead. She said the trio planned to stick together and watch TV until the power or internet went out.

Beyond the 74-mph marker for a Category 1, there was a chance that Beryl could become a more destructive Category 2 hurricane, officials said. It has strengthened and weakened in some surprising ways during its movement, at one point becoming the earliest Category 5 hurricane in history.

It caused major damage in parts of Grenada, Jamaica and the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico along its more than 3,000-mile journey.

Rainfall of 6 to 8 inches was expected in the Houston area through Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported, with rainfall totals of between 10 and 15 inches possible between Galveston and Matagorda Bay. It said wind gusts were likely to reach between 60 and 70 mph in the Houston area late Monday morning.

Hurricane warnings from south of Corpus Christi to just south of Galveston covered more than 1 million people. Storm-surge warnings stretched from around Corpus Christi to the Texas-Louisiana border. Houston was under a tropical storm warning.

The storm was projected to move north through Texas, staying well to the east of Dallas, before curving into Arkansas on Tuesday morning.

Meteorologists have been predicting an unusually active hurricane season. More intense storms are occurring more frequently because of climate change, experts say. Warmer ocean surfaces feed such hurricanes, which can spin off tornadoes as well as processions of smaller rainstorms.

Beryl made landfall in Grenada on Monday, ravaging that country’s islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, where officials said almost 98 percent of homes and buildings were destroyed. Parts of St. Vincent and the Grenadines were also badly affected, including Union Island, where the country’s prime minister said almost all 2,500 inhabitants lost their homes.

Beryl then swirled by Jamaica on Wednesday, weakening to a Category 4 hurricane, before hitting the Yucatán Peninsula on Friday as a Category 2.