Monday, September 26

HOUSTON GETS A PULSE AGAIN

There's a blog for everything and anything, which, of course, is the wonder of the blogosphere and today's technology. One has emerged in recent days to advise returning evacuees to Houston and its contiguous coastal region of road conditions. Of course, that's not much help to you while sitting in traffic in a crowded SUV with the fuel guage inching towards empty. And road conditions may not be the half of it in terms of the impact on the long convoy of cars and trucks headed home today, as much as weather is.

Here in the Lake Conroe, Texas, area just west of I-45 (the "North Freeway") and normally an hour's drive into downtown Houston, temperatures will break the 100 degree mark today and the "heat index" may eclipse 106 degrees owing to the stifling humidity! The pre-Rita exodus, as you know by now, was complicated by heat and humidity, as much as it was exacerbated by record gridlock and exhausted fuel supplies. People and pets suffered in their cars as temperatures and humidity soared, heat radiated off hot pavement, and water became unavailable at roadside services.

The "Houston Chronicle" (registration required for online edition) has a link this morning to the graphic which shows how Houston authorities have developed a phased plan for returning evacuees in order to mitigate gridlock for inbound traffic; but the question becomes, how many people will have access to this information and among those who do, how many will heed it in the natural compulsion to return home?

Meanwhile, the Chronicle reports this morning that the nation's 4th largest city is "springing back to life":

Like a prizefighter shaking off a glancing blow, Houston is getting back on its feet as stores and restaurants slowly reopen, thousands of residents return to their homes and tankers begin replenishing parched gasoline stations.

Most area schools will not reopen until Wednesday, and hundreds of thousands of residents were still without power this morning. Thousands of others remained out of town.

But there are unmistakable signs that some semblance of normality, which has been largely absent in the nation's fourth largest city for days, is returning.

Traffic was picking up in both directions on the freeways this morning, homeowners have bundled up tree limbs for garbage trucks making the rounds again today, and many employers are asking their workers to return to work.

Although rush hour traffic didn't approach the typical Monday morning gridlock, Houston's eerily deserted streets are humming again as gasoline slowly becomes easier to find and some of the 2.5 million people who had evacuated Houston and surrounding cities before the storm begin to return.

By Saturday night, it appeared that those coming home had largely been spared the mind-numbing gridlock they endured on their way out of town last week, even though some slowdowns and bottlenecks were reported.