By BOB PALMER, Jimplecute Editor
and CARLA BASS, City Editor
The Saturday night storm that claimed the life of a Mt. Belvieu mother severely damaged the Brushy Creek Campground on Lake O’ the Pines, according to a Corps of Engineers spokesperson.
“We hope to get (Brushy Creek) at least partially open by July 4, but it is really damaged bad,” Ricky Maxey, Natural Resource Specialist for Corps of Engineers, said.
Maxey emphasized the Corps’ other campsites on the lake were open.
“It just breaks our hearts that somebody got hurt,” Maxey said. “That is the last thing we want in our parks.”
The sudden devastation affected Maxey.
“I was out there Saturday,” Maxey said. “They were having a blast. Everybody looked happy.”
The storm was as violent as it was unexpected.
“The National Weather Service said we had 80-90 mph straight line winds with a down burst immediately on that site,” Maxey said. “That’s the same as a category 1 hurricane.”
Maxey suggested neither campers nor the Corps could have affected the situation.
“It’s a bad situation when it gets like that,” Maxey said. “Everybody is mentally and physically drained.”
Marion County Sheriff David McKnight alerted the area to the situation.
“Please be aware that there was one fatality at the Brushy Creek campground and not four, as was mistakenly reported initially. Due to the tremendous debris field and heavy rain it was difficult to assess,” McKnight stated.
“The deceased was a 40-year woman from southeast Texas. Also, please do not attempt to enter this area until recovery and cleanup efforts are completed.”
Brushy Creek is one of the camping areas managed by the Corps of Engineers on Lake of the Pines, located off of FM726 at the southwest end of the dam. The campground was hit during severe thunderstorms which passed through Marion County and surrounding counties Saturday night and Sunday morning hitting that area at 11:55 p.m. Saturday night.
“A severe thunderstorm tracked southeast across Lake of the Pines in southwest Marion County, producing a swath of straight line wind damage across the south side of the lake, with the majority of the damage occurring at the Brushy Creek Campground. Numerous trees snapped or uprooted with the 80-90 mph downburst. Several trees landed on campers, tents, and vehicles,” the National Weather Service announced.
A downburst is a strong ground-level wind system that emanates from a point source above and blows radially, that is, in a straight line in all directions, from the point of contact at ground level. Often producing damaging winds, it may be confused with a tornado, where high-velocity winds circle a central area, and air moves inward and upward; by contrast, in a downburst, winds are directed downward and then outward from the surface landing point.
Apparent straight-line winds blew down large trees inside the campground and in other residential neighborhoods in the area. Most of the trees affected were pines which have a shallow root system. Due to the already saturated soil they are often the first to go under strong wind conditions. Numerous power lines were down and roads were blocked by fallen trees and debris reported in many of the communities around the lake.
The main concern following the weather event was to keep all non-emergency personnel from around the area due to the equipment going into the park, removing campers, and hazards that unnecessary traffic could create in that area.
With nearly 238 registered campers the death and injury toll was amazingly low, authorities agreed. The campground was full when the storm struck. Many children and teenagers were present and getting an apparent jump start on spring break. There were a few more minor and moderate injured that were transported to hospitals by private vehicle. Debris cleanup and damage assessment will continue for several more days, along with removal of the numerous damaged RV’s and vehicles.
Responding departments included the Texas Department of Public Safety, US Army Corp of Engineers, and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, along with fire departments from Harleton in Harrison County, and Marion County VFD’s from Jackson and Mims. Several private citizens with chain saws and tools also assisted in the effort.