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Fire at Longview country club closes building

A fire early Thursday at Oak Forest Country Club in Longview caused damage throughout the building but resulted in no injuries and left the facility’s golf course unscathed.

The parking lot at the club was full of emergency vehicles early Thursday as smoke surrounded the property.

Fire Marshal Kevin May said the call came in just before 7:30 a.m. Thursday for smoke and an “electrical smell” at the country club, also known as The Challenge at Oak Forest, off East Loop 281 and between Bill Owens Parkway and Hawkins Parkway.

As the first vehicles arrived, heavy smoke could be seen from the loop, and the fire was raised to a second alarm as the building was evacuated, May said.

“We did go to a second alarm on it pretty quick to make sure we got all of our resources here that we needed,” he said.

A standard response includes three fire engines, two ladder trucks, one ambulance and four support vehicles for a total of 21 personnel. In a second alarm, an additional engine and ambulance is added with a total of 30 personnel.

Parts of the club remain open, and a post directed to members on Oak Forest Country Club’s Facebook page later Thursday said no one was hurt in the blaze.

“We still do not know all the facts such as how/where it started, but we are very thankful for the Longview Fire Department for everything they are doing to help us,” the post stated.

The post also said damage was throughout the club’s building but was contained inside.

“The computers and server have been destroyed,” the club’s post said. “It will take us some time to get up and running again. This means we cannot print or email statements, or make any changes to your statements.

“The building is closed off and no one is allowed inside until further notice. This means we do not know when the 19th hole, office, or Pro Shop will be open for business.”

The club also said the golf course and pool remain open, and members must use their own carts.

According to the club’s website, Oak Forest Country Club is a privately owned facility in Longview that offers golf, tennis, swimming, fitness and banquet facilities as well as programs for children.

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Tickets still available for Saturday's East Texas Angel Network concert

From staff reports

Seats are still available for Saturday’s 27th Annual Neal McCoy and Friends Benefit Concert in Longview.

Two-time Grammy nominee and county music star Jo Dee Messina is set to join Longview’s Neal McCoy as part of the lineup at LeTourneau University’s Belcher Center.

The concert benefits The East Texas Angel Network, which is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 by McCoy and his wife, Melinda, to financially assist families who have children with serious illnesses and/or disabilities.

Messina visited the fundraiser’s sponsor dinner in 2013, but this will be her first year to perform as part of the concert.

Tickets can be purchased through the Belcher Center website and at easttexasangelnetwork.com/events/ .

Doors open at 6 p.m., and the concert begins at 7.

The annual fall fundraiser includes a golf tournament, sponsor dinner, the concert and a meet and greet for the “angels” who benefit from the fundraiser and their families.

The golf tournament scheduled for today at Wood Hollow Golf Club is sold out.

A modified version of the network’s annual events were offered in 2020 because of COVID-19 as the concert was held as a virtual event.

An online livestream of the event again will be offered for free, with donations accepted, at easttexasangelnetwork.com, the East Texas Angel Network Facebook page and nealmccoy.com .

“We did (the virtual concert) last year because we had to do it, and we just realized, ‘Why don’t we continue to do that because we raised so much money?’ ” East Texas Angel Network Executive Director Miki Dougherty, who is also McCoy’s daughter, said previously. “And people who live far away and can’t attend the concert really enjoyed it, so we thought why not.”

Dougherty said the Angel Network will offer a way to make donations during the concert similar to last year’s event.

While the network doesn’t pay medical bills, it assists families by helping to pay housing bills, utility bills and other secondary expenses that tend to escalate as parents leave their jobs to be near their ailing children. Since its creation, the network has raised more than $10 million and helped more than 600 families.

The annual concert and other weekend activities raise money that sustains the network through the year until the next concert. McCoy, who has recently been known for his live Facebook videos of the Pledge of Allegiance, has been joined at past concerts by artists such as Tracy Byrd, Randy Travis, Restless Heart and his mentor, Charley Pride.

Migrant camp along Texas border shrinks as removals ramp up
  • Updated

DEL RIO — Haitian migrants milled around makeshift shelters held up with giant reeds, as wind blew dust through the camp littered with plastic bottles and overflowing trash bags. Some migrants sat on plastic paint cans or the ground while others hung clothes to dry on the bamboo-like carrizo cane.

All waited to learn their fate at a dramatically diminished Texas border encampment where almost 15,000 migrants had gathered just days ago under a bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

About 4,000 remained on Thursday, Department of Homeland Security officials said. The number had peaked on Saturday, as migrants driven by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies and misinformation on social media converged at the crossing.

But the United States and Mexico appeared eager to end the increasingly politicized humanitarian situation that prompted the resignation of the U.S. special envoy to Haiti and fresh condemnation from civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and UNICEF.

DHS officials said about 1,400 migrants had been sent to Haiti on 13 flights, rapidly expelled under the pandemic public health authority known as Title 42. Another 3,200 were in U.S. custody and being processed, while several thousand have returned to Mexico, DHS officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief journalists about an ongoing operation.

Mexico’s immigration agency had estimated late Wednesday there were as many as 600 migrants in Ciudad Acuña. The riverside camp appeared to hold that many at its peak, while other migrants were scattered through the city in hotels and private homes. A city official said Wednesday that Mexican authorities had removed about 250 Haitian migrants from the city since Sunday evening. Still, “several thousand” migrants returning to Mexico from the Del Rio camp seemed an exaggeration.

Haitians camped in Mexico awoke Thursday surrounded by security forces, with a helicopter thundering overhead and state police trucks spaced every 30 feet or so between their tents and the water’s edge.

After anxious minutes of indecision, dozens of families hurried into the river to cross at a point where there was only one municipal police vehicle, calculating it was better to take their chances with U.S. authorities.

Guileme Paterson, a 36-year-old from Haiti, appeared dazed. “It is a difficult moment,” she said before beginning to cross the Rio Grande with her husband and their four children.

“Things are going badly,” said Michou Petion, carrying her 2-year-old son in her arms toward the river. Her husband carried bags of belongings and several pairs of sneakers dangled around his neck.

“The U.S. is deporting a lot to Haiti, now I don’t know if I can enter or leave,” Petion said.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials allowed journalists to visit the camp later Thursday but prevented them from talking to migrants. For those who remained, food, shelter and medical care was being provided to those who need it, U.S. officials said.

At one point, two men riding in an ATV emblazoned with “Homeland Security” approached a group of women holding infants and said in Spanish: “We have food for the baby.” The women approached the men, who handed them a small container.

A low dam that had been used to cross from Mexico into the U.S. was closed, and a worker picked up mounds of discarded belongings that included cell phone chargers, clothing and Styrofoam containers.

Sharpton said Thursday that he toured the camp and witnessed “a real catastrophic and human disgrace.” A handful of protesters, some wearing camouflage hats from former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, shouted through the entirety of Sharpton’s remarks.

“Del Rio is not a racist city. Del Rio is a loving, caring community,” one protester yelled while Sharpton spoke to reporters.

Sharpton vowed to “continue to come back ... and stand with our people and make sure asylum is treated in one way and one manner.”

Some Haitians are being allowed to remain in the U.S. at least temporarily to seek asylum or to stay under some other claim to residency, with notices to appear later before immigration authorities. DHS officials declined to specify the number but said they are people with particular “vulnerabilities,” which can mean they have young children or are pregnant, or because the U.S. doesn’t have capacity to hold them in detention, especially during the pandemic.

There are no plans to stop expelling other migrants under Title 42, despite pressure from Democratic lawmakers, who say migrants are being sent back to a troubled country that some left more than a decade ago.

The provision was put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the Biden administration has used Title 42 to justify the deportation of Haitian migrants.

A federal judge late last week ruled the regulation was improper and gave the government two weeks to halt its use, but the Biden administration on Monday appealed the decision.

Officials said Thursday that the U.S. State Department also is in talks with Brazil and Chile to allow some Haitians who previously resided in those countries to return, but the issue is complicated because some no longer have legal status there.

Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, submitted a letter of resignation protesting the “inhumane” large-scale expulsions of Haitian migrants.

Foote, who was appointed only in July, wrote Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he was stepping down immediately “with deep disappointment and apologies to those seeking crucial changes.”

“I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life,” he wrote. “Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my policy recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”

The career diplomat was known to be deeply frustrated with what he considered a lack of urgency in Washington and a glacial pace on efforts to improve conditions in Haiti.

State Department spokesman Ned Price disputed Foote’s assertions, saying his proposals had been “fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process.”

“Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false,” Price said.

UNICEF also condemned the expulsions, saying initial estimates show more than two out of three migrants expelled to Haiti are women and children, including newborns, and about 40% in Del Rio are children.

“Haiti is reeling from the triple tragedy of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, who said those sent back without adequate protection “find themselves even more vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement — factors that drove them to migrate in the first place.”

DHS officials said about two-thirds of those under the bridge are families and the rest are single adults.

But even as the number of Haitian migrants gathered in Del Rio dwindled, a few groups of Cubans were seen walking along a dirt road toward the camp at the bridge on Thursday.

As a group of three men approached, a DPS officer yelled out, “We got migrants!” One of the men said in Spanish: “We’re here. We made it to the country of liberty.”

Rate of COVID-19 spread in Gregg County remains steady
  • Updated

The rate of COVID-19 spread in Gregg County remains about half of what it was in early September.

The Northeast Texas Public Health District, known as NET Health, reported Thursday that Gregg County’s seven-day rolling rate of infection remained the same as Monday at 74.11. That rate still is more than double NET Health’s threshold for “substantial” community spread. However, it’s lower than the week of Sept. 3 through 9, when the seven-day rolling rate reached 142.92.

The level of community spread is determined by taking the average number of all COVID-19 positive cases from the previous seven days. That number is then divided by the population of the county and multiplied by 100,000. A county reaches “substantial” community spread when its seven-day rolling rate is at or more than 35 cases. Substantial community spread represents “large-scale, uncontrolled community transmission,” according to the health district.

Also Thursday, 279 total new COVID-19 cases were reported in Gregg County. NET Health’s twice-weekly report showed 74 new confirmed cases along with 205 probable cases. Total active cases within the county are at 3,834.

According to NET Health, 356 East Texans are being treated for COVID-19 at Tyler hospitals, which is slightly lower than a peak high of 389 patients set Labor Day weekend.

Data in Thursday’s report represents the past 72 hours, from noon Monday to noon Thursday.

Recoveries in Gregg County increased from 14,133 on Monday to 14,222.

On Thursday, the latest day for which data was available, 723 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the state’s 19-county Trauma Region G with 264 of those in ICUs. Earlier this month, hospitalizations in the Longview-Tyler region reached 822, the highest number of single-day COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations in recent weeks have surpassed a peak in January when the single-day number of patients peaked at 684 on Jan. 6.

In Gregg County, 55.65% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 47.39% of residents 12 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state.

State data shows 71.17% of Texas residents 12 and older had been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Thursday, while 60.83% had been fully vaccinated.