A big test for a tiny town

Miles of Mis­ery A jour­ney to the heart of Har­vey

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Hol­ley

BAY­SIDE — Sharon Scott, 75, has been mayor of this tiny com­mu­nity on the south­west­ern shore of Copano Bay for only a cou­ple of months. She as­sumed of­fice when her pre­de­ces­sor re­signed un­ex­pect­edly.

“If I’d known Har­vey was com­ing, I think I would have said no,” she said Thurs­day morn­ing. Sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble in her step­mother’s house, the ex­pres­sion on her face was a com­bi­na­tion of grin and gri­mace. In the next room, her 101-year-old fa­ther, a re­tired shrimper and Bay­side pi­o­neer, lay on a hos­pi­tal cot un­der hospice care.

Scott’s fa­ther, J.D. Der­rough,

was with out-of-town rel­a­tives when Hur­ri­cane Har­vey roared ashore three weeks ago at Rock­port, 15 miles across the bay. Scott rode out the storm with her daugh­ter, son-in-law and three dogs in their Bay­side home. As the wind howled deep into the night, peo­ple and dogs moved from room to room seek­ing safety from crash­ing win­dows, col­laps­ing ceil­ings and wa­ter ris­ing through­out the house.

“That wind just would not stop,” Scott re­called. “For 12 hours, the wind blew.”

The next morn­ing, with Har­vey headed east to­ward Hous­ton, Scott walked down the road to her own two-story mo­du­lar home with its su­perb view of the bay. Win­dows were out, the roof was gone and most ev­ery­thing in­side was ru­ined.

Many of her neigh­bors in this quiet, unas­sum­ing lit­tle com­mu­nity, pop­u­la­tion 325, were even worse off. Bar­bara and Ed­die De Luna, Bay­side res­i­dents for 32 years, stayed with rel­a­tives in Seguin the week­end of the storm. They came home to find their mo­bile home lit­er­ally flat­tened, as if a bomb had ex­ploded in­side and pro­pelled ev­ery­thing out­ward.

“It was my worst night­mare,” De Luna said Thurs­day, as a group from an Abi­lene church cleared away de­bris that used to be her home. “I told my hus­band it was like a night­mare in a hor­ror story, and I’m still try­ing to wake up from it.”

For now, the De Lu­nas are liv­ing in a Mo­tel 6 in Beeville. They plan to stay in Bay­side. Maybe they’ll build a house, she said.

“Eighty per­cent of the homes are not liv­able,” the mayor said. “With­out help, we don’t have the man­power to get back on our feet. We have two main­te­nance guys who work for the city and two of­fice peo­ple. That’s it.”

Among those un­liv­able houses is a mag­nif­i­cent man­sion on the bay, now lean­ing per­ilously to one side. It was con­structed by John How­land Wood, a New Yorker who moved to Bay­side’s pre­de­ces­sor com­mu­nity, St. Mary’s on the Aransas, in 1836, in time to par­tic­i­pate in the Bat­tle of San Jac­into. He and his wife, Nancy, con­structed their ram­bling Greek Re­vival man­sion in 1875. It was a house big enough for their 12 chil­dren.

They had high hopes for St. Mary’s, and for sev­eral years, the town was a thriv­ing port. Ships off­loaded lum­ber onto wagon and cart trains bound for Refu­gio, Go­liad, Beeville, San An­to­nio and Uvalde. That pe­riod of pros­per­ity and prom­ise ended in 1886 when the San An­to­nio & Aransas Pass Rail­way chose Rock­port over St. Mary’s. Two spec­u­la­tors in the early 1900s laid out Bay­side near the St. Mary’s site, but the town never be­came the thriv­ing com­mu­nity they en­vi­sioned.

These days, traf­fic be­tween Refu­gio and Cor­pus Christi speeds by on FM 136. Coastal Bend res­i­dents are likely to know Cro­futt’s Sand­wich Shop, a 4-decades-old land­mark fa­mous for its sand­wiches made with home­made bread, its cin­na­mon rolls and its cook­ies. Oth­er­wise, lit­tle Bay­side of­fers lit­tle rea­son to stop.

To­day, Cro­futt’s sits be­side the high­way, locked up and empty. Owner Lor­raine Short hasn’t de­cided whether to re­open. “Peo­ple are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed if she doesn’t,” Scott said.

Among the re­tirees and sec­ond-home Tex­ans liv­ing in Bay­side are sev­eral new­com­ers, fam­i­lies with chil­dren. The mayor wor­ries that they won’t stay post-Har­vey.

“So far, we’ve heard that eight fam­i­lies, and count­ing, are not com­ing back,” she said.

That’s also a con­cern to city coun­cil mem­ber Glo­ria Der­rough, who’s mar­ried to the mayor’s cen­te­nar­ian fa­ther. “Prop­erty taxes and a wa­ter sys­tem are our only sources of in­come,” she said. “We need to help peo­ple to stay.”

Bay­side, like Hous­ton, has land-use and af­ford­able hous­ing is­sues to deal af­ter the storm. Res­i­dents who want to stay need a place to live while they’re re­build­ing, and the cur­rent Bay­side zon­ing codes don’t al­low sin­gle-wide trail­ers.

“It’s re­ally an im­por­tant is­sue,” Der­rough said. “It’s go­ing to af­fect Bay­side’s fu­ture, and we’re just start­ing to ad­dress that. Are we go­ing to break the or­di­nance and al­low sin­gle-wides? Sin­gle-wides just for a year? Sin­gle-wides for­ever? We’re try­ing to reach out to cit­i­zens, and some of them can’t af­ford to re­build.”

Af­ter a bar­be­cue lunch on Thurs­day pro­vided to Bay­side res­i­dents and vol­un­teers by a West Texas rancher named Mike Gibbs, the mayor walked over to her ru­ined house, the home she and her late hus­band built in 1970.

Be­fore dig­ging through files hop­ing to find in­surance pa­pers, she glanced across the sparkling bay, to­ward what her hus­band al­ways called their “mil­lion-dol­lar view.”

“At least my pier stayed,” she said. “My hus­band built it for me, be­cause he knew I liked to fish. Some­day I’ll get to fish again.”

Mark Mul­li­gan / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

This flag was pulled from wreck­age at Bar­bara De Luna’s home.

Mark Mul­li­gan pho­tos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Vol­un­teers from Abi­lene clean up what was the bed­room in the de­stroyed home of Ed­die and Bar­bara De Luna.

Wreck­age fills the yard in front of Bay­side Mayor Sharon Scott’s home, ru­ined by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.



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