In the midst of hurricane season, the City of Los Fresnos received approval for a $1.8 million to $2.4 million dollar "safe room" - a shelter for times of disaster. City Manager Mark Milum said 75 percent of the project is funded by FEMA. The city, Los Fresnos school district and the Town of South Padre Island will pay the remaining 25 percent, he said. The two cities will each pay $150,000 for the project. The school district will pay about $300,000 to build the shelter, plus the maintenance and operation costs after, since the shelter will also serve as the new gym at the Los Fresnos United ninth grade campus.
"Historically the school district has helped us in sheltering through the years which many school districts do, Milum said. Los Fresnos is really the first community from the coast that you could have (a shelter) - Port Isabel is not high enough (above sea level) to have one (and) Laguna Vista is not high enough to have one."
Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator Humberto Barrera said plans for this type of shelter began several years ago.He said the state lost about $30 million dollars when they sent buses to the Rio Grande Valley to evacuate residents due to a hurricane threat in the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane didn't hit the Valley, Barrera said, and the state started looking at a more cost effective plan of action.
"This time around, as soon as these shelters get plugged into place, it will give everybody a place to go in the event that the buses either don TMt get here or there's not enough buses."
The city will upgrade and relocate their emergency operations center from city hall to the new 20,000 square-foot shelter.
It TMs designed to resist winds reaching up to 200 miles per hour. For a short period of time the dome shaped building will be able to hold about 3,200 people and 800 people for an extended amount of time.
"We'll still (ask people to) evacuate, Milum said. (However), we do know some people will not. Some people last minute (will need) a place and that will be available for them. We'll have a safe place."