Thursday, September 22

EMERGING CONTROVERSY IN EVACUATION PLANNING?

The good news: Houstonians took local officials' calls for voluntary evacuation seriously and cooperated beyond expectations earlier this week in the face of Hurricane Rita tracking towards the Galveston-Houston area. And when mandatory evacuations were subsequently issued for people living in identified flood plain and storm surge areas there was not the reluctance to leave dwellings that was in evidence in New Orleans in advance of Katrina. Accordingly, and no doubt made more compelling by the egregious disaster that was local-state ineptitude in Louisiana, an area of some 4.0-4.5 million people here in southeastern Texas has witnessed the largest evacuation of a major population center in the history of the United States. Figures range from 1.3 million to nearly 2.0 million people trying to get out of Dodge.

The bad news: people have been channeled onto major highway arteries identified in Houston's emergency evacuation planning and these routes (example: Interstate 45) have been choked with gridlock, devoid of fuel, out of water, bereft of roadside services, including lodging, and, worse, boiling with the heat of record temperatures; and all have added up to cars breaking down, cars running out of gas, people breaking down, and people running out of gas.

As one example, hospitals in the Woodlands-Conroe area along I-45 have been overrun with stranded motorists, who have left their cars along the highway, hoofing it to find water, air-conditioning, and treatment for heat prostration.

Houston mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels are pointing the finger at Austin and Texas governor Rick Perry. A political brouhaha may be in the works. So much has been going right down here (a striking contrast from New Orleans) that this may be the first chink in the armor.

A news report this evening indicated that officials in Austin had arranged for the delivery of 200,000 gallons of fuel to replenish depleted inventories along the evacuation routes. There have also been televised appeals for volunteers to help deliver water to stranded motorists, who suffered today in 100+ degree temperatures.

Mayor White advised this evening that it's now too late to evacuate. He may be saying that because in the same breath he described the prescribed evacuation routes as having "dire road conditions." Dire!

This report in the "Houston Chronicle" (registration required), filed late this evening, gives you a flavor of what I'm talking about.
Not a pretty picture. Heed the government's warnings, then find yourselves virtually trapped in your automobiles.