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Marinas, refineries dodged a bullet

Cleanup efforts are under way this week after Hurricane Rita smashed into the GulfCoast Saturday.

“It’s been very hectic,” says Peter Davidson, general manager of the municipally owned Corpus Christi Marina and president of the Marina Association of Texas.

Davidson, who evacuated his office and boarded up his home last week as the storm roared across the Gulf, says the marina flooded from a 5-foot storm surge, but that there is little damage to boats and facilities. Though it is considered a hurricane-safe port, Davidson says a direct hit from a powerful hurricane could have been devastating.

Davidson, a former marine surveyor, credits early preparedness and luck. Rita, a former Category 5 with sustained winds in excess of 165 mph, lost much of its early punch by the time it struck. The storm also veered off its projected path, coming ashore further to the east and avoiding a direct hit on the densely populated Houston area.

“You never know until the last minute what’s going to happen with a hurricane,” says Davidson, who twice annually offers a free hurricane preparedness seminar to area boaters. He says boaters and businesses in the hurricane-prone areas of the Gulf should err on the side of caution when preparing for a storm. “It’s something you learn to live with,” he adds.

Davidson says he and his employees last week sent out e-mails urging boat owners to remove or secure their boats at the 600-slip marina. Marina employees secured vessels belonging to out-of-town owners.

“Especially after Hurricane Katrina, people did take note and respond,” says Davidson, who this morning is restoring operations at the marina office, including re-installing computers and phones.

Oil prices today fell as preliminary assessments indicate that key refineries in Texas showed little damage. About a quarter of the domestic fuel products are produced in the Texas coastal area. Crude oil prices this morning fell to around $62 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Still, officials say 16 refineries remained shut after the storm, and at least one facility in the Port Arthur area was damaged. President Bush was meeting this morning with energy officials to discuss the nation’s energy industry, which is still reeling from shutdowns and damage incurred during last month’s Hurricane Katrina.

The administration, which was criticized for a sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, sent in emergency officials and troops into Texas in the days before the storm hit. President Bush visited the area over the weekend.

Cameron, Creole and Lake Charles in Louisiana were hardest hit. Up to 15 feet of water flooded homes and businesses.

Water spilled over the levees in New Orleans, causing additional flooding in the low-lying city, still recovering from Katrina. Nearly a million customers in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi lost power.

Officials say there were only two deaths directly attributed to the storm, but 24 people died Friday when a bus carrying nursing home residents caught fire while evacuating to Dallas. The storm spawned several tornadoes, killing at least one in Mississippi.

The insured damages are estimated to be around $5 billion.

—JoAnn W. Goddard