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Many South Padre Island Hotels and Restaurants Suffer Major
Damage from Hurricane Dolly; Bahia Mar Resort Hit Hard

By Allen Essex, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 24, 2008 - SOUTH PADRE ISLAND -- Shell-shocked vacationers and Island dwellers checked damage to their property Thursday and then lined up for ice, water, food and hygiene packets that were passed out by Texas National Guard troops outside the Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark.

The distribution of emergency supplies was to continue today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., said Melissa Zamora, town of South Padre Island emergency management department spokeswoman.

National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were on the Island early Thursday to assess damage and provide relief supplies, Zamora said.

The U.S. Coast Guard launched a 33-foot inflatable law enforcement boat to patrol and respond to emergencies.

Many hotels, condominiums, beach houses and businesses suffered major damage.

Among the hardest hit were the Bahia Mar, Palmetto Inn and Coral Reef Lounge, which was wrapped up in power lines.

Downed utility poles, signs and roofing material were scattered across roads and police barricaded sections of streets Thursday morning.

Pam Romer, general manager of the Howard Johnson hotel at Padre Boulevard and Palm Street, said she toured damaged areas late Wednesday as winds were still howling.

She said she saw numerous power lines, gas station canopies and roofing materials scattered across streets and buildings.

The most serious damage she saw was on Laguna Boulevard.

"There's a boat in the entranceway of Amberjack's," Romer said. "Louie's (Backyard) and Wahoo Saloon lost roofs. There's a boat way up on the ground (at Jim's Pier); there's a mobile home clear upside down. Coconuts is demolished. There's some new apartments up on that street where the whole top story was taken off. There's a mini-storage place that got smashed up."

"Howard Johnson's is so lucky," Romer added. "We had the least damage of anyone."

But at Howard Johnson's, the swimming pool was half-filled with plastic lawn furniture, potted plants were scattered all through the patio around the pool, water was blowing under doors and around windows and into the building.

The wind blew open a door to the Howard Johnson swimming pool area and water from the overflowing pool seeped into the hotel's ground floor main hall, soaking most of the carpet.

On Wednesday night, remaining tourists and hotel guests gathered in the breakfast buffet area next to the front desk to eat chicken, salad and other food brought in by hotel workers.

They dined by candlelight because power had been out since 7 a.m. Wednesday. Hotel workers and guests dipped water out of the swimming pool to carry up to rooms of the three-story hotel to flush toilets. Water pressure gradually had decreased to the point where it was no longer possible to take showers.

Hotel emergency alarms made beeping noises and hallway emergency lights functioned for a time until they exhausted the batteries.

"Every sign on every business, the canopy at Exxon is down," a Howard Johnson employee said. "Tequila Frog's is totaled."

Zamora said emergency fuel supplies were only being used for emergency vehicles.

An ambulance was being loaded onto a wrecker at the SPI Town Hall on Thursday. Zamora said the windshield of the vehicle was blown out on Tuesday when paramedics responded to a call for the 17-year-old Mexican youth who fell from a seventh-story balcony.

The youth received multiple leg fractures, a broken pelvis and head injuries, but survived, city spokesman Dan Quandt said.

He was cared for at the fire station until winds subsided enough on Wednesday to allow the ambulance to cross the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge to take the teen to a hospital, Zamora said.

The causeway did not reopen to traffic until Thursday morning.

During the height of the storm, as winds circulated from the west, metal garage-type doors were ripped from the rear of Pirate's Den, an arcade and pool hall on Palm Street.

More and more pieces of corrugated metal were torn away and the pool tables and other equipment inside were ruined.

"That place is totaled," two Howard Johnson workers said.

Romer said Thursday that the few remaining guests at Howard Johnson's would have to leave because there was no water pressure or electricity.

An insurance company would inspect the property and a total cleanup will be needed before the hotel is reopened, an employee said.

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To see more of the Valley Morning Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.valleystar.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

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