Texas watches as Hurricane Dean nears

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Chuck Lee and Butch Courtwright leaned against a pickup truck and gazed across the rolling surf as sunbathers basked on the beach Saturday. Hundreds of miles away, Hurricane Dean gathered strength as it churned across the Caribbean, its destination still unclear.

If the fierce storm appears to be bearing down on Texas Monday, they'll be boarding up windows and fastening down roofs, preparing for the worst. But on Saturday, Lee and Courtwright were more interested in surfing.

"It's too far away, a little too early to panic," said Lee, 56.

Dean, a Category 4 hurricane, ravaged Caribbean islands on Saturday and was expected to roll across the Yucatan Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday. The Texas coast was a possible target, and some South Texas areas began taking precautions Saturday.

City officials in Brownsville called for voluntary evacuations while in Edinburg, another city near the Mexico border, the Texas Youth Commission began evacuating nearly 270 inmates and staff members from its Evins facility. They were being transferred to another facility 400 miles north in Brownwood, according to Gov. Rick Perry's office.

In the coastal city of Galveston, residents remember the disastrous evacuation before Hurricane Rita in 2005. Lee and Courtwright said many who tried to evacuate then plan to stay in Galveston this time, no matter how vicious Dean becomes.

State officials say they've worked out the kinks in the system, but many Galveston residents aren't ready to believe them.

"I've talked to a lot of people about this," Lee said. "They'd rather die in their homes than die in their cars on some highway."

The Rita evacuation quickly turned into a disaster, as motorists from the coast ran into residents fleeing Houston, clogging evacuation routes for miles in sweltering heat. Gas stations closed after running out of fuel and supplies and motorists sat stranded and helpless for hours.

On Saturday, lighted signs along the highways usually reserved for Amber Alerts flashed an ominous message: "HURRICANE FORMING NEAR GULF. KEEP YOUR GAS TANKS FULL."

James Quigley, 78, has lived in a beach house for 25 years and fled early enough in 2005 to avoid the massive gridlock.

If Dean takes aim, Quigley will put his valuables in storage and head north early next week. Until he's sure it's coming, Quigley is content to track the storm on TV and take appropriate steps only when necessary.

"I've been through all of this a few times," he said. "Now, they have the technology to tell you what you're looking at and where it's going to go. You should have enough time, if you pay attention, to get out of the way."

In New Orleans, where the memory of Hurricane Katrina is still fresh, people were already preparing.

Patrice Garibaldi said her family was beginning to pack things they might need if they left the city and put things they'd leave behind higher. The family rebuilt a house in eastern New Orleans, and Garibaldi said the threat of Dean was nerve-racking.

"I pray it doesn't come," she said, but her family is preparing because she's not satisfied the levees will be able to withstand a strong storm.

John Cannon, who's family still hasn't rebuilt their flooded house, said his family also has a home in Jackson, Miss., and that he's learned the back roads to avoid heavy traffic should they have to evacuate. He doesn't expect to wait for a mandatory evacuation to be called.

"If it even looks like it's coming this way, I'm going to take my kids and go," he said.

Some Galveston residents also weren't content to wait.

Richard Markiewicz, 39, hammered plywood against the windows of his beach house, about 100 yards from the seawall.

"I just figured to just get this over with now," said Markiewicz, who's lived on Galveston Island for 12 years. "If it's a Category 4 or a 5, I'm not going to stick around."

The city and some businesses started taking precautions. A public works crew removed giant logs, grocery carts and other debris that had washed ashore and were pinned inside the seawall. The objects could turn into dangerous projectiles if the storm makes landfall here.

At Arlan's Market, a grocery store less than a mile from the coast, manager Nick Arlan ordered more than three times the usual amount of bottled water on Friday and planned to do it again if Dean turned toward Galveston. He was also overstocking shelves with batteries and various canned goods.

State and federal governments were also getting ready.

President Bush signed a pre-landfall emergency disaster declaration for Texas, allowing federal equipment and supplies to be moved in now, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. Gov. Rick Perry asked for the declaration late Saturday morning and Bush approved it at his ranch in Crawford.

State and local officials were holding conference calls twice a day to assess the storm's progress and further coordinate preparations.

Perry activated 4,750 military personnel and said up to 10,000 could be mobilized if the hurricane strikes Texas. Nearly 50 utility and cargo military helicopters were also activated as well as 250 special boat crews.

Perry said more than 1,000 buses and drivers were ready in San Antonio to transport special needs evacuees.

Road construction was suspended along interstates in southeast Texas on Saturday afternoon and Perry said fuel was being delivered to coastal area retailers.

"The state of Texas will be ready if Hurricane Dean makes landfall on our shores," Perry said.


Associated Press Writer Becky Bohrer in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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