TX weekly evacuates in face of storm

October 16, 2017

Paper still keeps
community informed

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary
PORT ARANSAS, TX—On a small island just off the Texas shore, the staff of the South Jetty worked to bring the latest information to its hurricane-ravaged community.
In late August, Hurricane Harvey rolled in from the Gulf of Mexico, dumping an estimated 51 inches of rain, virtually drowning the city of Houston. Smaller communities, such as South Jetty, bore the brunt of the furious storm.
Co-publishers Mary and Murray Judson, evacuated Port Aransas along with most of the residents.
“It was a heck of a way to end the Labor Day weekend,” said Mary Judson. She and her staff got out of the storm’s way, setting up shop in a motel 20 miles away. As soon as she was plugged in and on the internet, Judson and her staff were in business. She was grateful for the tremendous effort her staff put in to cover the storm. She wrote a heart-felt piece for her paper to let readers know what they had to go through in order to continue bringing them the news of their community. See that column on Page 4 of this issue.
In her estimate, this is the worst storm she and her husband have ever faced.
“And he was in Corpus Christi when Hurricane Celia hit in 1970,” she said. “We’ve experienced evacuations before over the years, but we’ve always had something to come back to. Not this time.”
Weeks after the hurricane, she is still waiting to get back to the newspaper’s office.
“If we had internet, we could go back now,” she said, but repairs on the island are going slowly.
“It’s something you don’t understand until you experience it. There was so much destruction. The sense of loss can be overwhelming.”
Mary and Murray bought the South Jetty in 1981. The office is housed in a building constructed in the 1940s. “That’s why it fared so well,” she said. Still, there was some damage and power loss during the storm. Overall, however, the office and their home did much better than others properties on the island.
“Some people had to deal with 18 inches of raw sewage,” she noted.
Normally, there are about 3,400 permanent residents in Port Aransas. But it is a tourist destination, and the population on the island can swell to 100,000 during peak season.
Mary said local businesses were hit hard. But there is a lot of optimism among these owners.
“Each week, we run a list of businesses and their status.” A local artisan, who offers sand sculpture lessons, sent out a message, stating his tools survived and now he’s just waiting for tourists.
“I’ve heard that only one business said it had had enough,” Mary said. “There might be others, but everyone else said they’re coming back, whatever it takes.”
And that’s the spirit of the community she is seeing everywhere. They are going to come back from this, no matter what it takes.
Most of the South Jetty’s customers received their news electronically from the newspaper, either on their phones or on their computers. Printed copies of the South Jetty were distributed to various locations on the island.
One of her staff lost her home. She’s in temporary quarters at a hotel for the time being, Mary added.
To her, it seemed that those who had the least were hurt the most. These are service industry people, she explained. They are so valuable to this community.
Her husband, Murray, tried going up in a helicopter to get photos of the storm’s devastation, she said, but high winds forced him to abort that first try. The ferry out to Port Aransas was not in operation, and the one island road connecting to the mainland was not traversable. Eventually, he was able to view the island from the air. The first paper after the storm printed a day late. The memory card in Murray’s camera was corrupted, so he had to go back out again, forcing the print delay.
Reports from authorities stated that there was only one death, but it was not sure if it was attributable to Hurricane Harvey, she noted.
It might be at least a year before things on the island return to normal, Mary said. But they are coming back. Her ad director has been burning up the phone lines trying to find new revenue. They have one employee still manning the office to take classified ads and answer the office phone.
“The outpouring of concern and help has been amazing,” Mary said. “People just showed up bringing free food and water. Others have donated clothing and tools—everything.”
Once they have internet restored to the South Jetty office, Mary and Murray will be able to move back in to get things slightly back to normal.
“We’re hanging in there for now,” she added. “We plan on being here for the long term.”
stan@nna.org

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