Hurricane survivors discuss why they don't evacuate

May 25, 2011 at 12:25 a.m.

Port O'Connor as seen from the air after Hurricane Carla struck in 1961.

Port O'Connor as seen from the air after Hurricane Carla struck in 1961.

Charles Spurlin handwrote a political theory lecture at his kitchen table, even though Victoria College had closed because of the approaching storm.

The college instructor's back was to a window so close he could have reached for and opened it if so inclined.

"Hello to those brave people who chose to ride out the storm in Victoria, Texas," a California-based host said via the nearby radio. Hurricane Carla, a devastating 1961 storm, zeroed in on the Crossroads. "Be safe."

Like so many others, Spurlin remains put during hurricanes. He prefers to avoid jam-packed evacuation routes and leaving his private property unprotected. That philosophy won't change when the season begins next week, he said.

"If I were on the coast, it'd be an entirely different matter," he said. "But now I've got wood to board up my windows. We stay in the interior of the house. We feel like we're safe here."

Spurlin moved his family to a small Inwood Terrace home in 1961, just months before the strongest storm to hit Victoria in recorded times rumbled into town. Where he is from just east of Waco, hurricanes were monsters you heard about but never experienced.

"Then it came flying in," Spurlin said. The Category 4's gusts pried a shingle from his roof and flung the rough square in through his window. "Your darn right it scared me."

Jeb Lacey, the Victoria County emergency management coordinator, warned those who stay during hurricanes about the potential pitfalls.

"If people stay, they're taking responsibility for themselves," Lacey said. "They're likely to have a very unpleasant experience for a very considerable period of time. Most who go through it once don't ever want to do it again."

Hurricane Claudette, a Category 1 storm in 2003, left some Victoria County neighborhoods without power for 10 days. Many roads were closed or impassable. Imagine the effects of a bigger, more catastrophic storm.

Often, approaching hurricanes force voluntary or mandatory evacuation notices. Lacey suggests residents heed such warnings. By his definition:

A voluntary evacuation order encourages residents to leave town.

A mandatory evacuation order legally requires residents to leave. Those who ignore the warning can face civil and criminal penalties, although such charges are rare. Expect, however, to foot the expensive bill for a rescue if needed.

"The only thing I'd say to community members who choose to ride out a Category 4 or 5 storm is good luck," Lacey said.

Cora Jo Hummel had luck on her side when Carla hit 50 years ago. Hummel, now 68, watched as a teenager from one of the city's few basements as the storm's eye passed overhead.

"It was just really quiet, really eerie," Hummel, who lived with her parents on Vine Street at the time, said. "To me, it's a fascination. I can't say I was ever terrified. I've stayed for all of them except for one - the one they made us evacuate for."

Hummel, too, plans to stay if a hurricane hits Victoria this year. She has plenty of water, a generator and heaps of courage, many would say.

Maybe Hummel learned this philosophy from Spurlin, who taught her at Victoria College decades ago.

It's not as if Spurlin is a thoughtless man. The 78-year-old published historian also has a master's degree in history and political science.

Looking back, though, even Spurlin admits he was unprepared for Hurricane Carla.

His kitchen window, which the roof shingle smashed through, fell to within inches of his writing table. Wind and water gushed inside. Luckily for him, Spurlin heeded a warning from a neighbor: He duct taped his windows.

"If it wasn't for that tape, the shingle probably would have decapitated me," Spurlin said. "I'm not sure what it'd take for us to leave today, but the decision would be made early. I would not want to be on the highways when they're busy."



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