SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Locals and business owners woke with sighs of relief Thursday to news that Hurricane Alex had left South Padre Island largely unscathed, despite alarming predictions of the storm’s severity earlier this week.
The hurricane, which made landfall late Wednesday roughly 100 miles south on the Mexican coast, brought with it heavy rains and strong winds that closed the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge. Still, the storm failed to cause any serious damage to Island homes or businesses, officials here said Thursday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety reopened the causeway linking the Island to mainland Port Isabel by 7:30 a.m. Thursday, letting traffic flow on and off the Island once again.
SPI resident Michael Cisneros walked his two dogs along the beach Thursday morning, staring out over mounds of seaweed and debris that washed up during the storm surges.
Cisneros, who evacuated to Brownsville two years earlier during Hurricane Dolly, explained his decision to stay on the Island and wait out Hurricane Alex.
“I wasn’t too worried,” he said. “It didn’t really seem like it would get that bad.”
Cisneros said he boarded up some windows, stocked up on necessities and rode out the storm.
“I was actually expecting the storm to get a lot closer and be a lot worse, but that never happened,” he said.
Except for a small leak in the roof, his Island condo sustained no damage.
“We feel pretty lucky,” he said.
The outer bands of Hurricane Alex dumped almost 7 inches of rain on the Island throughout the day Wednesday, flooding much of Padre, Laguna and Gulf boulevards. Still, most of that water had subsided by Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning the roadways were relatively clear.
“We dodged a bullet,” one city worker said while carting debris from the roadways Thursday morning.
Island Fire Chief Burney Baskett echoed that sentiment Thursday morning after surveying the effects of the storm.
“Basically, we’re all just breathing a big sigh of relief right now,” he said.
Baskett said his department received no reports of damage or major flooding, explaining that the 6- to 7-foot sand berms lining parts of the beach held up through the storm. No Island businesses or homes suffered major damage from the high winds Wednesday.
“By this weekend, for the most part, it should be as if this thing never happened,” Baskett said.
By Thursday, the city was working to clean up the tremendous amount of seaweed and debris that washed up on the beach during the storm, he said. Since the Island missed the worst of the hurricane, the focus of officials was to get the beaches and businesses ready for the Fourth of July weekend.
“We’ll be out there soon, cleaning up and getting the beach ready,” Baskett said.
Dan Quandt, spokesman for the Island’s emergency management operation, said officials would also be assessing the extent of the erosion to the beach from the storm surges.
The massive piles of seaweed littering the coastline were actually a benefit and could be used to reinforce the Island’s beaches and dune lines, Quandt said. By Thursday afternoon, crews with trucks and bulldozers had already begun to shovel seaweed blanketing portions of the beach and pile it into the dune lines along the coast.
Like others on the Island, Quandt was elated that the town missed the brunt of the storm and would bounce back within hours.
“I mean, there’s no damage, period,” he said.
The Island’s Fourth of July celebrations, previously canceled in advance of the storm, were back on for the weekend, Quandt said.
The beaches, which had been closed due to hurricane conditions, are expected to reopen to the public by this morning, he said.
“We’re going to be ready,” Quandt said. “We’re open for business.”
Island businesses rushed to reopen and prepare for the holiday weekend, which typically brings a large number of tourists and visitors, Quandt said.
Wednesday, virtually all of the Island’s stores and restaurants had closed, many boarding up in anticipation of the storm. But by Thursday morning, business owners were back out gearing up for the holiday weekend.
At the Ship Shape beach shop on Padre Boulevard, owners Liz Money and Diane Denson tore down panels used to board up the store’s windows during the storm.
“We’re so relieved at the way this all turned out,” Money said.
Damage from Hurricane Dolly two years ago cost the owners almost $300,000, Money and Denson said. This year, the two didn’t take any chances, boarding up every window and sandbagging the store’s entrances.
“With Hurricane Dolly, I think we learned a lot,” Money said. “We weren’t messing around this time.”
“When we opened the doors this morning, things were dry — everything was great,” Money said. The owners said they hoped the recent storm — and predictions that the Island would incur more damage than it did — wouldn’t deter travel to the Island this weekend.
“We’re good,” Money said. “We’ll be open and we’re very happy about that.”
Michael Barajas is a reporter for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen.