Willacy County ready to open $1.6M storm shelter

RAYMONDVILLE — After eight years of planning and setbacks, Willacy County is opening its $1.6 million storm shelter.

Capable of withstanding 200-mph winds, the 8,000-square-foot shelter is located at the Willacy County Housing Authority, where its secondary purpose will include housing the agency’s offices, said Executive Director Jaime Serna.

The so-called “safe room” was funded through a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $405,250 in county money, Becky Saenz, an assistant county auditor, said.

Saenz said the county tapped money the wind farms pay in lieu of property taxes to fund its share of the project.

In the event of a hurricane, the so-called “refuge of last resort” will house residents who do not evacuate as ordered, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said.