2018-06-13 / Front Page

Summer basketball camp is first use of Willacy County safe room, which is ready for this year’s hurricane season

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Reporter


WILLACY COUNTY YOUNG PEOPLE surround coach Galen Robinson Sr., a former Harlem Globetrotter, as his booming voice fills the new safe room at the Labor Camp housing project. The room is being used to hold a three-week basketball camp as part of a county summer recreation program. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) WILLACY COUNTY YOUNG PEOPLE surround coach Galen Robinson Sr., a former Harlem Globetrotter, as his booming voice fills the new safe room at the Labor Camp housing project. The room is being used to hold a three-week basketball camp as part of a county summer recreation program. (Photo by Allen Essex) Willacy County’s new safe room, or shelter of last resort, will be officially opened June 20 but it’s already in use as a gymnasium, hosting a three-week summer basketball camp organized by the Willacy County Youth Organization, spokeswoman Cyndi Cruz said.

The program is being run by someone who knows basketball, Galen Robinson Sr., a member of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters from 1999 through 2005.

The Willacy County recreation program will use the large open area of the new “safe room” and the offices in the south end of the building will be used on a day-to-day basis by the Willacy County Housing Authority.

If a hurricane is approaching the Texas Gulf Coast, the building will be available if anyone who was not evacuated from the county needs a safe place during the storm’s impact, but it is not intended to be used as a shelter after a storm strikes the county.

The county’s hurricane plan is for all Willacy residents to evacuate if state and county officials order residents to leave, Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Torres said.

More information about hurricane evacuation plans and storm preparations will be released at the Hurricane Awareness Meeting at 10 a.m. today at the L.E. Franks Tourist Center, 501 S. Seventh St., Raymondville.

County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra said that, even though there was disagreement in the past about where to lowith the shelter, now that it is built, it will be used.

One of the earlier plans called for the shelter to be built on land in the center of the Raymondville Independent School District. City officials obtained a grant for a large emergency generator to serve the shelter. That generator is in place near the high school gymnasium and the gym will serve as a shelter after a storm hits, Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said.

Guerra said another generator was obtained for the “safe room,” which is located at the WCHA’s Labor Camp housing project, located near the county fairgrounds, between Raymondville and Lyford.

Guerra and Gonzales said there is no longer any confusion or dissension between city or county officials about the safe room or other shelters.

Residents of Raymondville, Lyford, San Perlita and all rural areas will be able to use the safe room and any shelters set up in cities, including the Raymondville High School gym.

Guerra said another generator has been installed at the school gym in Lasara, which would also serve as a shelter after a storm hits.

Gonzales and Guerra said past storms have demonstrated that any part of Willacy County, or the entire Rio Grande Valley, is subject to flooding after a tropical storm or hurricane so officials will have to adapt their plans to fit the situation.

“This project calls for a partnership between the county and the cities,” Guerra said. Even though federal FEMA funds, state and county funding built the shelter, now financial arrangements will have to be worked out to maintain the safe room, he said.

Having the safe room used for recreation and youth programs and offices used by the WCHA will be the best situation because air conditioning must be operated in order to ensure it will in working order if a storm hits, the county judge said.

Gonzales said another situation that would make the safe room and school gyms vital will be the generators if an extended power outage forced people out of their homes. Only buildings with generators will have functioning air conditioning during a power outage.

More information will be available about the new safe room on June 20 when it is officially dedicated.

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