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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Texas remembers 9/11 while many fight wildfires
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 • Posted September 15, 2011

AUSTIN --- Along with the rest of the nation, Texans solemnly observed the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States of America.

People of all ages and walks of life paused in remembrance of the events of that day and to honor the dead, the injured, surviving family members, friends and associates. Likewise honored were firefighters, medical technicians, law enforcement officers, military personnel and ordinary citizens who sprang to action then and to those who have served and continue to serve.

Texans drew together in groups publicly and privately, both ceremonially and informally, and some made their meditations in solitude.

Meanwhile, wildfires raged on in various parts of the state, affording little or no break in the strenuous efforts of first responders and disaster relief workers, as thousands of residents found themselves displaced or homeless after wind-driven blazes ignited swaths of drought-parched land and neighborhoods.

These fires have caused great suffering and in many cases, evacuation orders in Bastrop, Travis, Henderson, Limestone, Caldwell, Colorado, Palo Pinto, Briscoe, Coryell Montague, Montgomery, Grimes, Waller and other counties.

On Dec. 21, 2010, Gov. Rick Perry signed a still-in-effect emergency disaster proclamation for all of the state’s 254 counties, due to extreme wildfire hazard caused by exceptional drought conditions.

On Sept. 5, Gov. Perry visited Bastrop and referred to his ride into the city 25 miles east of Austin as a “positively surreal experience.” He credited firefighters for their hard work and urged evacuees to register with the American Red Cross Safe and Well program.

On Sept. 6, the 600-member Texas Task Force 1 was deployed on orders from Gov. Perry to the Bastrop County fire. Historically, 73 members of the elite search, rescue and recovery team were deployed to New York, N.Y., following the 9/11 terrorist attack and to New Orleans following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005, according to the governor’s office.

Also on Sept. 6, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott traveled to Bastrop to see the situation for himself and meet with the affected. He reminded retailers and hotel operators that the governor’s disaster declaration prohibits vendors from price gouging during a declared disaster.

On Sept. 7, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who said the state’s resources were “spread pretty thin,” called for more federal assistance, including aircraft, bulldozers and other heavy equipment “that can and should be made available right away.”

On Sept. 9, FEMA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced that federal aid had been made available to Bastrop County by presidential disaster declaration to the State of Texas to supplement state and local wildfire recovery efforts.

On Sept. 12, eight residents of Bastrop County reportedly remained unaccounted for.

Smoke in air causes concern

Fire-related smoke plumes showing up on satellite imagery of East and Central Texas prompted a Sept. 7 news release from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“These levels of smoke would not be expected to cause any long-term health effects,” the TCEQ said. However, “the smoky air can aggravate allergies and asthma, and people with respiratory diseases may have increased symptoms, as smoke contains small particles and gases that irritate the eyes and lungs.”

And, while urging citizens to use their best judgment when it comes to exposure, the agency said, “Children, older adults, and people with pre-existing heart or lung disease are more susceptible to lower levels of smoke than healthy adults.”

Help in self-identification comes

Proving you are who you are can turn into an ordeal when identifying documents have been reduced to ashes or are out of reach because of an evacuation order.

To help Bastrop County residents cope with that problem, the Texas Department of Public Safety operated a mobile driver’s license unit in Bastrop over the Sept. 10-11 weekend.

The unit moved around, setting up at relief shelters, working to verify the identities of individuals who lost their identification. Many displaced citizens were issued temporary identification.

Job matching partnership is 'on'

To enhance efforts toward matching jobseekers with jobs, the Texas Workforce Commission on Sept. 6 announced that DirectEmployers Association and the National Labor Exchange have applied the power and reach of their search engines to the state’s WorkInTexas.com job-matching website.

The cooperative effort is expected to link more job seekers to some 96,000 verified job openings viewable on www.WorkInTexas.com.

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