Galveston residents, visitors stay calm as Hurricane Harvey nears coast

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GALVESTON — Cindy Warner spread across her beach towel Thursday morning. Metallica played in her white earbuds. The 60-year-old soaked in the warmth of the beaming sun, knowing it might be a few days before she could return to the breezy beach once again.

“I get all the beach I can,” Warner said, her face covered with freckles.

Around Warner’s usual spot off the seawall, the beach felt practically empty. A mother and daughter here from Kentucky strolled by and picked up seashells. Two brothers from a town near Dallas splashed in the still-gentle waves, there to celebrate one of the brothers’ 16th birthday.

It was the calm before the storm, so to speak.

In the coming hours, as the strength of Hurricane Harvey became more clear, the city of Galveston would issue a voluntary evacuation for those on the west end of the island with medical needs. Another would follow for residents in Bolivar Peninsula, to the east.

The storm is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane farther down the coast, closer to Corpus Christi, but Galveston is among the areas under tropical-storm and storm-surge warnings. Forecasters have warned of dangerous surf conditions and severe flooding.

Hurricanes in the past, of course, have done their damage in Galveston, most recently the devastating Hurricane Ike in 2008. But many planned to stay put this weekend in the salty, seaside city 50 miles southeast of Houston, expecting the storm to pass without major issue.

That didn’t mean they weren’t preparing. Though storm clouds had yet to gather above them, a current of anticipation spread among residents. Islanders moved furniture inside homes. They secured boats. They stocked up on water, food and, yes, beer. They asked each other about their plans.

Staff at the Galveston Yacht Basin began prepping the marina Wednesday, harbor master Lance Parks said. He didn’t expect the storm to be more than a rain event with a high tide, cautioning against the media hype, but his phone had been ringing constantly since 5:30 a.m. Thursday, he said.

“This isn’t Hurricane Ike,” Parks said. Some had even taken their boats out that morning to fish.

Nearby at the Marina Bar and Grille, owners Paul and Michele Murdoch said they planned to stay open through the weekend, serving up dishes like burgers and fish and chips. Staff prepped containers of sauce. They still had live music scheduled.

News reports about Harvey flashed on the TV screens on the walls.

“What storm?” Paul joked. “It’s just business as normal.”

On the beach by the suntanning Warner, the mother collecting shells, 46-year-old Paula Thomas, expected her family, from Louisville, could weather the storm, too. Thomas had come to spend time with her son, 21, who is stationed at Fort Hood and scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan next month. It was also her 12-year-old daughter’s first time to see the beach.

They bought cards to play inside, in case it rained all weekend.

Outside his home on the west end of the island, 58-year-old Mike Boyce said that, for islanders, hurricanes were simply par for the course.

“It’s part of living here,” Boyce said. “I just shut the shutters and hang on.”

Boyce had spent the morning delivering golf carts back to residents that he had been repairing at his business down the street. He’s lived on the island since 2005 and said, were it a Category 5 hurricane, he would leave. Category 3? No problem.

On a neighborhood Facebook group, his 36-year-old neighbor Tim Foley said, people had been recounting that this was their fourth or sixth major storm to experience on the island. “I’ll take their lead,” he said.

Down the road, Kroger told a story of greater concern. Shoppers pulled cases of water off the shelves nearly as quickly as staff restocked them.

Carmen Aceves, 29, entered around noon for her second trip of the day.

She’d come at 6 a.m. to get extra supplies for her family’s restaurant. Now she was back to get water for worried employees who wouldn’t have time to get it themselves.

“Hopefully it doesn’t get as bad as everyone’s thinking,” said Aceves, who grew up in Galveston.

Karyn Barr, 67, meanwhile placed Tostitos and a roast chicken in her cart. She bent to survey the canned meats.

“I’m even buying Spam,” she said, laughing.

She didn’t really like it, she conceded. But, like a true islander, if she had to she would eat it.

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