All original images (C) Steve Douglass unless otherwise noted.

All original images (C) Steve Douglass unless otherwise noted. Permission required for commercial use or publishing.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Waco mostly spared damage from Ike; evacuees worry about home

By Erin Quinn

Tribune-Herald staff writer

While Waco and most of Central Texas seemed to have dodged major damage from Hurricane Ike, many of the 1,000 or so coastal evacuees who are holed up in local makeshift shelters were not so lucky.

Through fuzzy cellular service and repeated dropped calls, 28-year-old Rainah Hadley, her husband and four children spent Saturday morning at Waco’s Seventh & James Baptist Church, able to hear only bits and pieces of the damage their Conroe home sustained from the massive hurricane.

Something about damage to the carport. And roof. And furniture. Then the harried service would fail. Again.

“I can’t get through to anyone long enough to find anything out,” a frustrated Hadley said late Saturday afternoon.

Juan Maldonado, a 33-year-old forklift driver from Willis, didn’t need to hear details of the damage his trailer home sustained Saturday morning. His neighbor called and told him enough — everything was gone, Maldonado said Saturday afternoon through a translator.

He, his wife and five children said they didn’t know what they would do Saturday, or where they would go.

While coastal areas saw 110 mph winds and widespread power outages and flooding, Waco was calmer, as Ike pushed off further to the east than was originally expected, said Jennifer Dunn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The official rainfall reading at the Waco Regional Airport Saturday was .25 of an inch, Dunn said. Wind speeds averaged 22 to 25 mph with gusts up to 38 mph, Dunn said.

American Airlines and Continental Airlines, Waco Regional Airport’s primary carriers, canceled all flights Saturday, an airport spokesman said.

Both companies are offering free flight changes to some customers whose plans were altered by Ike.

Freestone and Limestone counties reported downed power lines and trees after receiving as much as 2 inches of rain Saturday, Dunn said.

Widespread power outages were reported for Entergy Texas Inc. customers, and service had not been restored late Saturday, the company’s Web site stated.

Up to 500 customers were without power in an area including Tehuacana, Mexia, Groesbeck, Lott, Marlin and Cameron, the site stated. Up to 1,000 were without power in and around Buffalo, and up to 5,000 in Caldwell, Calvert, Franklin and Bremond, the site stated.

Two accidents were reported on Interstate 35 Saturday.

A heavy wind gust around noon lifted the driver’s side front tire of a northbound 18-wheeler over the highway’s concrete median just north of the Hewitt exit, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper David Murphy said.

The driver hauling the empty trailer complained of a leg injury, Murphy said, but a DPS spokesman later said the driver was not taken to the hospital.

Just minutes after the 18-wheeler accident, Murphy was sent south to Bruceville-Eddy, where two Federal Emergency Management Agency employees headed to Waco’s evacuee shelters were involved in a wreck on northbound I-35.

Murphy said the two FEMA workers spotted a vehicle spin out of control on the roadway, and they pulled off to the side of the interstate to see whether its occupants needed help. While that vehicle’s driver corrected its steering and continued to head northbound, the Chevrolet sedan in which the FEMA workers were traveling was struck from behind by a man driving a Mazda sedan, Murphy said.

Both Austin-based FEMA workers were treated by paramedics at the scene. One was taken to the hospital as a precaution, said Mike Jones, a FEMA community relations field officer who was traveling in the vehicle ahead of the Chevrolet.

No one was ticketed, Murphy said.

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