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Cleanup continues throughout city

Carlos Ortiz was at Texas A&M University-Kingsville to attend a sporting event with his young son Thursday evening when it was canceled because of an impending storm. Before going home, Ortiz stopped by his business, the Acme Radiator and Muffer Shop at 920 N. 14th St., when it started to hail.

"So I told my son we should park (in the shop's garage) so we could just wait it out," he said.

Minutes later, Ortiz said the wind started picking up speed and began blowing through open gaps in the garage "like a funnel."

"To me, it felt like a tornado," he said. "It sounded like a freight train, so I grabbed my son and we took cover in front of the truck."

The winds continued, Ortiz said, eventually becoming intense enough to pull off the garage's south wall.

"(The wind) took it all," he said. "My dad built this whole building in 1963, and this is the first time anything like this has happened. The storm caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting anything like this."

Even with one wall missing, Ortiz said the storm did not keep him from opening the shop the following day.

"I never lost power," he said. "So I've been here since 6 a.m. working. Just like my dad taught me, it's business as usual no matter what. Things happened, but you need to keep going."

Ortiz was just one of the thousands of Kingsville area residents and business owners affected by last Thursday's severe thunderstorm that brought a downburst of straight line winds measured at 80 to 90 miles per hour through the heart of the city.

According to a damage assessment from National Weather Service Corpus Christi, the storm caused damage to at

least 15 structures in the path of the storm and knocked out power to nearly 9,600 residents at its peak.

Val Stinson was driving back home from Beeville last Thursday when the storm hit Kingsville. He said he was surprised when he saw the damage as he entered town just after 8 p.m.

"On the way back, it rained hard for maybe 10 minutes," he said. "But I thought it was just rainstorms (around the area) because I saw nothing but rainbows the whole way home. But when I got to town, I could tell it was a tornado or something because there were a ton of trees split in half."

While Stinson's property sustained minimal damage during the storm, he said he was worried about his neighbors.

"You can see some of them lost fences, and the limbs landed on cars," he said. "The good thing is I didn't see any damage to houses."

Pam Trant and her husband, Donny, were inside their home on University Boulevard when the storm entered Kingsville. Pam Trant, who said she has lived in Kingsville for more than 50 years, said the storm brought "the hardest rain and wind we've seen."

"We thought (the storm) was going to pass us," she said. "But it rained hard and the wind was swirling for about 30 minutes. I've never seen it get like that before. I mean, we've had rain but not like that."

Pam said she had no idea of the extent of the damage until the next morning "when we saw the trees down and a big mess on the driveway and all down the boulevard."

With no electricity, Pam said clearing the brush from their property was difficult for her and her husband. Thankfully, she said, volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club of Kingsville arrived later in the morning to help them out.

"They cut up the big, heavy limbs from the tree that we couldn't pick up," she said. "They were a big help and we were very thankful for them."

John Perez, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Kingsville, said after Thursday's storm forced the organization to close the clubhouse on Friday, he and his staff volunteered to help residents with brush cleanup.

"We couldn't be open for the kids, but we saw the community needed our help," Perez said.

BGCK volunteers traveled around town all day Friday and Saturday, as well as Monday afternoon, to help with the cleanup effort, and were also joined by other volunteers and organizations.

"Everybody was just coming together, and that was awesome," he said. "The demand was so high, that we couldn't help everybody who asked, but we stopped and helped as many as we could."

Recovery and cleanup efforts from last Thursday's storm are still underway, with the City of Kingsville reporting more than 900 tons of brush picked up as of Monday afternoon.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.


90 mph winds blast Kingsville

Severe weather moving through the South Texas area hit Kingsville hard last Thursday as a downburst of straight line winds in excess of 80 miles per hour tore through the city, downing trees and power lines and damaging property.

According to the National Weather Service Corpus Christi, severe thunderstorms entered Kingsville between 7 and 8 p.m. last Thursday. Estimated peak winds during the storm were measured at 80 to 90 mph, along with about 1.5 inches of rain and hail approximately one inch in diameter.

The damage path covered about nine miles, resulting in widespread damage from northwest Kingsville to just southeast of the city.

NWS Corpus Christi meteorologist Tyler Castillo said most of the damage occurred along Corral Street near the Texas A&M University-Kingsville campus. While many Kingsville residents speculated that the resulting damage was the result of a tornado, Castillo said the cause was from straight line winds.

"But the damage can be the same between the two," he said. "The damage was all in one direction, which identifies a straight line wind event. With a tornado, you'd have debris laying in all directions, but it's similar in magnitude."

Castillo said downbursts of straight line winds are fairly common in Texas,

typically in the western part of the state, from early April to mid-June.

"It's just unfortunate that it hit in such a highly populated area," he said.

While no fatalities or severe injuries were reported during the storm, the strong winds resulted in property damage throughout the city and resulted in days-long power outages for many Kingsville residents.

According to information released by AEP Texas, at its peak an estimated 9,600 residents lost electricity during the storm, which knocked down more than 20 utility poles and at least 13,200 feet of power lines, broke more than 40 cross arms and damaged 20 transformers.

Approximately 330 service technicians, assessors, tree trimmers and support staff worked through Thursday night and the weekend to restore power to the Kingsville area.

AEP Texas initially projected to have power restored to at least 95 percent of area residents by noon Friday. That projection was later revised, however, to 8 p.m. Saturday as the extent of the damage became apparent.

"Mud, tree branches entangled with power lines or blocking access have made the restoration process extremely challenging," Curtis Proske, AEP Texas Manager of Distribution System, said in a press release.

"Much of the damage occurred in alleys and other areas where we can't use our bucket trucks to make repairs. Often, our crews have to move by foot from one repair to the next."

Approximately 5,000 area residents were still without power by 6 p.m. Friday, which was reduced to about 2,700 residents by 10:30 a.m. Saturday. AEP Texas crews reached 95 percent of electricity service restored at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, with 412 area residents still without power at that time.

In the storm's aftermath, the City of Kingsville and Kleberg County focused on recovery and cleanup efforts throughout the city.

Three brush drop-off locations were set up around the city on Friday and Saturday for residents who needed to dispose of tree limbs and other debris from their properties. In addition, public works crews from the City of Corpus Christi assisted with brush pickup, with an estimated 926 tons of brush collected by Monday afternoon.

With heat indices above 110 degrees and many residents still without power going into the weekend, the Kleberg County Human Services Center at 1109 E. Santa Gertrudis Ave. was set up as a "chill zone" for elderly residents.

The site provided food, entertainment, air conditioning and a cot to sleep on during the night for elderly residents who needed relief from the hot weather until electricity was restored.

On Friday, Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate and Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid signed local disaster declarations, along with letters to Texas Governor Gregg Abbott to declare a state of emergency for Kingsville and Kleberg County.

The local disaster declarations activate the City of Kingsville's Emergency Management Plan for up to seven days. Should Gov. Abbott declare a state of emergency for Kingsville and Kleberg County, it would allow FEMA to respond to public assistance requests that could offset costs associated with storm recovery.

For those looking to help with recovery efforts, the Kingsville Police Department is accepting donations of blankets, toiletries and canned food that will be distributed by the Kleberg County Human Services Department to residents in need.

Items can be dropped off in the lobby of the police department, located at 1700 E. King Ave. For more information, contact Kristen Gonzalez at (361) 595-8845.

Cleanup and recovery efforts will continue throughout the week to clear Kingsville of the remaining debris and damage in the storm's aftermath. Castillo said while there is still a chance for more stormy weather in the near future, another event similar to Thursday's storm would be "uncommon."

"We can't rule anything out, but it doesn't look like anything's going to be near that magnitude," he said.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.


Volunteers gather supplies for immigrants

A need for supplies at the U.S. Border Patrol Stations in McAllen and Kingsville led multiple volunteers in Kingsville to collect more than 1,300 hygienic products to donate to the South Texas facilities.

Last week, local business owner Maggie Salinas, with the help of volunteers, filled supply bags for immigrant women and children being held at both facilities.

"I have been doing this distribution for over four years, but I started with children's books," Salinas said. "But it's so chaotic now and they have them in so many different places I couldn't keep up."

Salinas said every year, she visits the facility in McAllen to see if there is anything more she could do besides her usual contribution during the book drive, but a visit this year shifted her focus away from the books.

"It was so heartbreaking," Salinas said. "There was no place for them to sit and some children were just on foam mattresses on the concrete floor and there was no air conditioning. And there was no indication that they were going to have an evening meal. So, I asked them specifically 'what would you like for me to bring?' and they said, 'we're in desperate need of hygienic products.'"

Salinas asked multiple non-profit organizations in the area for any possible donations, and was able to collect more than 1,300 products to place inside the bags.

Salinas said the Corpus Christi NAACP, an organization she was glad to work with, made a huge contribution.

"I said to him (NAACP Board President Terry Mills) this is what I'm doing, and he said, 'I'm in,'" Salinas said. "I'm hoping we can continue (working together). And I want to give them a lot of credit for being so supportive without any questions."

Each supply bag consists of body soap, shampoo, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, chap stick, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes

and tissues. Some of the bags also included a hair tie, a comb, shoelaces and a pair of socks.

Salinas said when she began collecting supplies, it was all originally intended for the facility in McAllen, but after she was told about the Kingsville facility having trouble with their female detainees, she also felt the need to assist locally.

"I am going to supply a bag for each lady that has been detained so that they'll have something to help them at least for now," Salinas said. "And my drive is going to continue. I will be providing the help for local facilities first, and then (this) week, I will travel to McAllen to take the rest."

Salinas said she believes it is important to assist people no matter the situation because "we are all still people."

"I have a lot of compassion for people in need, and especially those that come to our country looking for a better life," Salinas said. "And I feel like, if we take away all the politics and all the myths that are not true, then you can't help but want to help these people. This is our country; this is what we do for others and so, why not? And I feel so much compassion for them, that I feel bad if I don't do my part."

Salinas said she is still accepting donations and will continue to supply donations throughout the year as needed.

For more information on how and where to donate, call (361) 355-2359.

Frank Cardenas can be contacted at fcardenas@kingranch.com or (361) 221-0243.


KISD sets new curriculum for 2019-20 academic year

During Monday's regular meeting of the Kingsville Independent School District Board of Trustees, Superintendent Elida Bera addressed preliminary STAAR scores, the upcoming interview schedule for personnel vacancies and new curriculum that will be implemented at all campuses beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.

Bera said based on preliminary STAAR scores, which she suggested that board members not share with the public "just yet," fourth grade had taken the "greatest hit" compared to prior years' scores.

She said one of the reasons was that there is currently no curriculum alignment between the grade levels on the campuses, nor between the campuses at an intra-district level.

"The area that we really need to focus on is reading and math with, of course, a lot of attention being given to writing," Bera said.

To help with alignment, Bera said she would be recommending the purchase of the TEKS Resource System or TRS, a K-12 curriculum model developed and offered

by the Texas Education Agency's 20 regional Educational Service Centers that aligns to the state's standard, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

Bera said the TRS would follow a similar system to Sharon Wells Mathematics, which she said the district's teachers used and liked, that would allow faculty to meet by grade level and plan lessons every six weeks.

Board president Brian Coufal asked when the board should expect "firmer" STAAR scores. Bera said there will be fifth and eighth grade STAAR retesting, along with high school End-of-Course retesting, coming up later this month.

"We're still providing instruction to our students in summer school, and it's going to be critical that (...) we provide the best instruction so when they take the test, they'll be able to improve our scores," she said.

Trustee Cory Garza asked Bera about the district working with an ESC Region 2 specialist, based out of Corpus Christi, in the TRS curriculum when it had historically worked with ESC Region 1, which operates out of the Rio Grande Valley.

"So you're telling us that we're going to push away from ESC 1 and go strictly (ESC) 2," he asked.

"We could go with either one," Bera replied.

Garza said he felt the board needed to "state firmly" which regional center they would work with, "because if there's a glitch, who do we come after?"

"The superintendent," she replied. "Because I will be sitting in with the consultants that come in, and I take full responsibility for the scores for next year."

Garza said Bera had been with the district for a while and should take responsibility for this year's STAAR results as well. Bera said she arrived just two months prior to the first test.

"And you asked me earlier what (the district) would be rated, and I told you that more than likely it would be an 'F,'" she said. "The first semester, there was no support from central office to the schools.

"And when I came in, we did go out and we did try, but we also had a lot of work to do here at the central office, with emails from the board who also wanted to know what was going on."

"This is the foundation," she added. "And next year at this time, if my scores are low, you can ask me to walk out that door."

Bera also addressed personnel vacancies that the KISD is working to fill this summer. She said they have "a very ambitious schedule for these next two or three weeks" where they will be conducting interviews for several administrative positions.

"And I do want to tell the board, and the public, that we have had a lot of very successful applicants that have expressed an interest in coming to Kingsville and being a part of the change," she said.

Bera said right now, she is focusing on central office administrators, but her goal is to start the 2019-20 school year "fully staffed."

"(Assistant Superintendent Kamara) Adams and I have committed, including (CFO Peter) Pitts, to interview even if it's on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening," she said.

Later in the meeting, the board approved the purchase of TRS for about $68,700 along with other purchases over $10,000 in a 7-0 unanimous vote.

Also approved on Monday was renewing a one-year contract for Memorial Middle School principal Alys Williams in a 4-3 split vote. Cory and Corando Garza, along with Nicolas Prado, voted against the renewal.

Williams had resigned from the Kingsville ISD in May, along with several other district principals and administrators, but later requested to rescind her resignation. She has been with the KISD since 2015.

The board approved rescinding the resignation during their June 6 special meeting in a 5-1 split, with Coufal voting against and Cory Garza abstaining. The resignation of H.M. King High School counselor Raul Ramos was also rescinded during the same meeting.

Prior to Monday's vote, Cory Garza told the board that he wanted to state for the record that he would "continue to forge ahead making decisions in the best interest of students and staff alike."

"And while some of the decisions I make in my capacity as a board member are not welcomed by my colleagues or appear to be the most popular, rest assured that they are made with the intent of holding all stakeholders accountable for their actions," he said. "Maintaining us all aware of the impacts these decisions will have on the overall outcomes of our district while adhering to board policy and code."

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.


Guns, cocaine found in vehicle on U.S. Hwy 77

Two men were arrested on multiple weapons charges after a traffic stop resulted in the discovery of half a dozen handguns and some cocaine inside their vehicle.

Josue Gamez, 20, and Erasmo Moreno, 36, residents of San Juan, were arrested Friday after Kleberg County Sherriff 's deputies uncovered six firearms and small amounts of cocaine inside the vehicle the men traveled in.

Kleberg County Sheriff Richard Kirkpatrick said the two men were traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 77 at about 5:30 p.m. when they were stopped for a traffic violation.

The two men gave conflicting stories to the KCSO officer about their destination, which raised suspicion, Kirkpatrick said.

The driver of the vehicle, Moreno, gave consent to search the vehicle, and sheriff 's deputies located small bags of cocaine during the search.

"Once the officers got to the trunk area, and they looked in a bag inside of the trunk, that's when they discovered the

guns," Kirkpatrick said.

The handguns were all wrapped in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, which Kirkpatrick said is consistent with firearm and drug smuggling.

"There's only one purpose for what they're going to do (vacuum sealed), and that's just to bring these guns back into Mexico for the sole purpose of supplying the drug cartel," Kirkpatrick said. "This is not consistent with somebody wanting to go out and buy a gun and we have to kind of put that into perspective. It looks like the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) will be taking the case and filing federal charges against these individuals, and we're waiting to hear back from ATF on that."

Both men are facing charges of theft of a firearm and firearms smuggling.

Moreno will also be charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Frank Cardenas can be contacted at fcardenas@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0243.