Wharton mandatory evacuations lifted

Residents are now allowed to return to their homes

By Sara Fatima Dhanji, Kayla Ayres, Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

WHARTON, Texas - The mandatory evacuations in effect since Friday afternoon due to the rise of the Colorado River have been lifted.

The Wharton Police Department posted a statement on Facebook that read, "The mandatory evacuation within the affected area has been rescinded and the curfew has been lifted. Citizens are now authorized to return to their residences within the affected area."

The city of Wharton's mayor had signed a mandatory evacuation notice, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, due to the rise of the Colorado River.

The mandatory evacuation order applies to fewer than 30 homes on Wharton's west side, much smaller than an earlier voluntary evacuation order. City officials believe most people left that area before Friday afternoon.

Mayor Domingo Montalvo said in a press conference that one person was still staying in the evacuation zone, and that if that person needs rescue during the flooding, they will be fined.

A curfew was also ordered for the evacuation area from 8:30 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Saturday.

"With the National Weather Service and River Authority projections, we have decided to bring down the scope and not include the entire west side," Montalvo said Friday afternoon.

"The time to really leave is now," said Montalvo at a news conference earlier Friday.

The Colorado River is expected to crest at 43.4 feet sometime Saturday afternoon. The river rose above 39 feet and entered flood stage by Thursday afternoon.

"The best thing to do is just leave and try to come back," Montalvo said. "But we want to make sure when they do come back that things are safe from them."
Another concern for the city is rain.

"The river's up and ... the city won't be able to drain properly if we have some rain so that's the biggest worry and that's something that we're definitely watching," said Montalvo, "and we're using as many resources as we can."

Resident Cainon Owens is getting his house ready for a flood. He took up the carpet and put his furniture up high.

"(When) you come back in here and it's flooded, you got water, you got mud, all that dirty stuff," he told KPRC 2. "Just makes it easier on me when I come back in."
Owens, like many others in the small Wharton neighborhood, are preparing to head for higher ground. Felicia Jones is also getting her house ready before leaving to stay with in-laws.

"We're going to move that table and set it against our window over here and set our furniture up," she said.

A shelter is being prepared at Wharton Junior High to take in those who have nowhere else to go. By 7:30 p.m. Thursday five people were already there and more than 60 others had pre-registered to stay.

Resident Laurie Robson said when she heard the voluntary evacuation order, she packed clothing and headed to the shelter with her son.

"I'm kind of scared," Robson said. "I just wanted to be safe with my child, that's why I decided to come here."

Wharton County Emergency Management Director Andy Kirkland said the city is trying to get people out of harm's way early, before flood waters swamp the area.

"If you need an ambulance, they can't drive in there any more than you can drive out," said Andy Kirkland of the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management. "So we can't come get you if all that's closed off.

This is the fourth time this area of Wharton has flooded since 1998. Kirkland is hoping people will heed the problems of years' past and grab whatever they can now and leave before it's too late.

"You really don't want to go back there and fight the critters because you left your rocking chair over there," he said.

The earlier voluntary evacuation area set out by the city included 400 homes from the river to the railroad tracks to FM 102 to Highway 59.

"I'm expecting at least a foot or two in the house," said Mary Barnes.

Barnes and her son, Laross, packed up all their belongings, loading them onto trucks.

"I'm hoping it's not as bad as they say, but if we prepare for the worst and pray for the best, maybe it won't be as bad," Laross Barnes said.

Classes were canceled Friday in Wharton ISD because the district will be using one of the schools as a shelter for flood victims.

Wharton ISD released the following statement:

"The Wharton Independent School District administrative team has been closely monitoring the flood conditions of the Colorado River and has also been in constant communication with the city and county officials. Due to the rising level of the Colorado River, The Wharton ISD will be canceling all classes for Friday, May 29, 2015.

"The decision to cancel classes on Friday was based on evacuations that will be occurring on the west side of Wharton and the need to utilize the Wharton Junior High gym as a Red Cross Shelter. We would like to encourage the community as a whole to work together to ensure the safety of all Wharton County residents.

"Wharton ISD will be applying for a waiver from the Commission of Education which will not require this day to be made up at a later time. We agree with the Commissioner's statement encouraging districts to 'stay focused on addressing the immediate needs of their students, staff and communities.'"

Classes are planned to resume at the normal time on Monday, June 1, 2015.

The district will update the public on any changes regarding start times or cancellations for next week via the district web page, call-outs, letters home and Facebook.

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