Thursday, June 4, 2009

Firefighters Battle Condo Fire in Galveston


A 5-alarm fire raged through a 164-unit condominium complex on Galveston Island, destroying more than one third of the building.

It happened Wednesday afternoon at the Maravilla Condominiums, located at Seawall Boulevard near Cove View Blvd.

It had been shut down for more than 8 months because of Hurricane Ike, and started to reopen two months ago. Just when residents were beginning to return the fire happened.

Jim Young had just driven his wife, Darlene, six hours from Irving, excited to show her all the work he had put into their vacation condo at the Maravilla on the Seawall.

Their hearts quickly dropped when they saw what's left of the beautiful oceanfront complex. It was still burning when they arrived.

"I had put furniture in so she could come enjoy it and she didn't even get to see it," said Jim Young.

"It's pretty sad," said Darlene Young. "We had the storm, our units had been broken into twice, and now this."

More than 100 firefighters struggled for more than four hours to contain the fire. They say they encountered too many problems.

"The wind did shift on us," said Galveston Fire Chief Michael Varela. "On the west side of the structure we had no area that we could place the apparatus and the main body of the fire were on the west side of the structure."

Water shortage and low water pressure were also a problem until they figured out how to pump from a nearby pond.

In the end, at least 60 of the newly renovated units were destroyed.

A firewall prevented the blaze from spreading further.

"Our homeowners and our board are fantastic," said Cathie Bach, HOA Secretary. "We'll be back better than ever. My heart goes out to the 60 folks who lost everything."

Among them, Jim and Darlene Young, who unfortunately didn't renew their homeowners insurance when it failed to pay after Ike.

"After five years, it didn't pay anything," said Jim. "Why would I want to renew it. Will it cover the fire? Probably not."

Investigators believe the fire ignited when workers were welding and cutting into the walls. They say the fire quickly spread through the walls, into the ceiling, then the attic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are Online Degrees Worth the Work?


With the unemployment rate continuing to rise and thousands of local graduates entering the workforce each year, what's on your resume is more important than ever. But when it comes to education, how do online degrees compare the traditional degrees at a large university or college? 39 News ask recruiters just how they feel about both.

"We treat those the same as long as that university is accredited," said Marilyn Grant, a recruiter for the pipeline company, TransCanada. She goes through hundreds of resumes each year.

"The stereotype is not as negative as it has been in the past. Many people are opting to take the online route."

Headhunter, Kathie Forney agrees. Her firm, I-Focus, located in the Galleria, finds qualified workers for several major companies and they say there is no bias against online schools.

"The people who go there work hard, usually a day job and then night classes," said Forney. "And they get a much more practical education… a lot of my clients feel that way."

And that's just what Christina Grochett wants to hear.

"We have nearly 2500 corporate partners," said Grochett, who is Vice President of the University of Houston South Texas Region. "They set us apart I believe because people are saying, not only do they have the education… but they have the work experience."

Grochett says business is booming for her college.

"I think the University of Phoenix always have a misconception," said Grochett. "We are the largest private university in the country… and we have over 390,000 students."

Pets Hit Hard by Economy


In tough economic times, it seems more and more families have to make the hard decision to give up their pets. Just search and you'll find many dogs and cats looking to be re-homed, because their owners have either lost their jobs or their homes.

"There has been many people who give their pets up to the SPCA and their numbers fluctuate," said Meera Nandlal, a spokesperson for the Houston SPCA. From January 2008 to March 2009, the Houston SPCA says nearly a thousand unwanted pets have been dropped off by owners citing "they just can't afford them".

This increasing trend has pet lover Phil Waldrop disturbed.

"They are not that expensive," said Waldrop. "Just some dog food and some water, but that's a personal choice. We're not giving up our pets. We're keeping them at whatever cost."

The Heights resident had rescued two bloodhounds, named Rickey and Sunset, from the racetrack. Just two months ago, he lost his job as a construction supervisor. Added to that, Rickey got seriously ill.

"He had cancer and had to have a kidney removed," said Phil Waldrop. "It was about $8000 plus he still goes to chemo. Every week or so it's another $200 to $1000. It's hard to come up with that money, but we find a way to do it because you love your pet."

"Maybe you have lost your job," said Nandlal. "There is help and you can come to the Houston SPCA."

Animal experts there, say they can direct pet owners to low-cost spay and neuter facilities as well as educate people on how to put their pets on a budget. Their hope is to keep Houston's furry friends together with their forever families.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Breaking News: Three Dead after SWAT Standoff in League City


39 news is first to bring you breaking news of a deadly SWAT scene in League City. Police say three people are dead in the home located on Chinaberry Park Lane. According to investigators and neighbors, a man in his 20s shot and killed his parents and then killed himself. The gunman's 18-year-old brother escaped along with a younger sister. Neighbors are trying to make sense of the ordeal and say that the family was well liked.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lakewood Church Celebrates Golden Anniversary

America's largest church celebrated a major milestone on Mother's Day. It turned 50 years old.

On May 10th, 1959, Lakewood Church held it's first service in Houston, and that same year, moved into an old feed barn. There were less than 100 members led by the late John Osteen.

"We felt all along and some of our people said that it should be a lighthouse to the world," said Virginia Ferguson, a founding Lakewood member. "And here we were... An insignificant group of people."

That group now includes tens of thousands of members.

"We made a decision that even if we grew to be a big church we would still keep that love that we had in the beginning," said Ruthie Dearman, a founding Lakewood member.

Joel Osteen took over in 1999 after his father passed away. In 2003 the church moved to the Compaq Center. The late pastor John Osteen had told his wife, one day he would be preaching at the Astrodome. Though it's not the Astrodome, one look at Lakewood Church and people will agree the pastor's son has fulfilled his father's dreams.

"I feel like my dad would be smiling on us today," said Pastor Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church. "He always imagined a place where people would be helped no matter their situation or what kind of background they came from."

The church was not without it's controversies and critics, but it also had its share of miracles. John's wife, who's turning 76 this year, was healed of liver cancer.

"I am thankful to be alive and thankful to the people who have stood with us all these years," said Dodi Osteen, the widow of the late Pastor John Osteen, and mother of Pastor Joel Osteen.

So what's in store for the next 50 years? Joel and Victoria Osteen say they hope their children will continue the Lakewood legacy.

"We just believe that all of the children will be a part of the ministry," said Victoria Osteen. "That they will find their place."

Lakewood Church boasts nearly 40,000 members to date.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gyms and Cable TV Thrive Despite Bad Economy

In a tough economy, many Houstonians are cutting back and they say cable TV and gym memberships are usually the first to go. But, surprisingly those companies are still reporting a rise in profits.

Marketing! Marketing! Marketing! That's what companies like 24 Hour Fitness and Comcast say are helping them not only retain their customers, but gain more during this recession.

"I'm actually watching and reviewing the pricing on my cable," said Rose Lopez. She is considering cutting some of her channels.

"We used to be members of the YMCA so we cut back on that," said Christina Matula. "I try to come out here, obviously it's free 27."

Matula is just one of many hitting public parks like the Memorial jogging trail to get a good free work out.

"The things that I found myself to be doing have been forgoing my gym membership to spending more time outside," said Kelly Crabb. "I'm not spray tanning anymore and just get some real sun. No Netflix, no cable."

And fearing this trend, companies are apparently offering better deals."I'm getting ready to switch because there are so many brochures of great introductory offers," said Albert Mare.

A Comcast spokesperson told channel 39, while its customers have been cutting out premium channels, most are keeping their service.

"We still have cable, we can't cut back on TV," said Christina Matula.

More popular now than ever, Comcast's economy bundle, which includes high speed Internet, home phone, and cable for less than $80.

Despite the recession, 24 Hour Fitness also says its memberships continue to rise every year.

The chain is drawing in more customers by offering better deals, zero initiation fees, and no penalty to cut your contract short if you lost your job.

Experts say customers have a lot more leverage now, so always negotiate.