Domed shelters ready for hurricane season

HARLINGEN — Four federally built shelters stand ready to protect residents in case of a hurricane.

But Tom Hushen, Cameron County’s emergency management coordinator, wants residents to evacuate before a major storm strikes.

In the event of Category 3 storms, which pack winds of as much as 130-mph or greater, Hushen calls on residents to evacuate.

“If it’s a bad hurricane, we evacuate — not shelter,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has helped fund domed storm shelters in Los Fresnos, Brownsville and La Feria, which has built two shelters.

“They seem to be well-constructed,” Hushen said.

Meanwhile, the area’s cities might open their own shelters, Charles Hoskins, the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator, said.

The FEMA shelters were built to withstand 200-mph winds in an area where most buildings are constructed to stand up to 120-mph winds.

“They seem to be able to withstand a certain amount of wind,” Hushen said.

As part of FEMA’s specifications, the shelters were built at least 24 feet above sea level.

The domed shelters spread out as much as 20,000-square-feet.

Hushen said they are built to hold as many as 400 people.

But Cameron County has a population of about 423,725.

“The population of Cameron County is pretty big and they can only house so many,” Hushen said of the shelters. “If people don’t leave in a Cat 4 or 5 storm, where are we going to put them?”

However, the county will not open the domed shelters during a hurricane, Hushen said.

“These domes are going to be open after the storm,” he said.

In the wake of a major storm, the shelters can house residents whose homes sustained damage.

“Save the shelters for people with property destroyed and need temporary shelter,” Hushen said.