Saturday, September 24

MAYOR BILL WHITE BREATHING SIGH OF RELIEF

Mayor Bill White of Houston and Judge Robert Eckels of Harris County (both of whom displayed stellar leadership in coordinating Rita-preparation efforts and post-Rita emergency response) must be breathing a collective sigh of relief this morning. Houston -- the nation's 4th most populated city -- largely ended up to the west-southwest of Rita's fury on what hurricane experts call the "clean side."

The "Houston Chronicle" (registration required for online edition) reports the following this morning (excerpts follow):

After untaking one of the most massive evacuations in U.S. history, Houston appears to have weathered Hurricane Rita with little damage.

"It looks like the Houston and Galveston area has really lucked out,'' said Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center.

"For a storm that 24 hours ago was supposed to be the largest storm of the history of the Gulf bearing down on Houston, we have come out reasonably well,'' Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said.

Mayor Bill White said the only place that appeared to have road flooding was the Edgebrook area in southeast Houston. So far, damage has mostly been "branches down, lights out, occasional blinking lights, a couple of billboards down, streets quiet.''

Houston police have cordoned off sections of downtown because of glass falling from buildings, including Chase Tower.

The calls for service for police and emergency medical were lower than normal. But calls for fire were up, according to officials.


Currently, 575,000 people are without power in the Houston area; but, it could have been so much worse -- indeed, catastrophic.

In a related Chronicle story this morning, a representative for Texas governor Rick Perry withheld optimism awaiting a damage assessment for the entire southeastern area of Texas (excerpts follow):

"It's too early to say Texas totally dodged the bullet," said Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. "We haven't seen what kind of flooding there might be."

Steve McCraw, state director of homeland security, said there are two Southeast Texas counties without electricity and four without wireless telephone service. He said that is making it difficult to know the extent of hurricane damage.

"We don't have the communications we would want with our county elected officials, mayors, county judges and local law enforcement and firefighters simply because communications are down," McCraw said.

Hurricane Rita made landfall at 2:30 a.m. just east of the Sabine River. The Category 3 storm was losing strength but is expected to stall over East Texas, possibly dumping large amounts of rain that could cause flooding.

As information, at 10:55am CDT this morning (Saturday), Rita has weakened over land to a Category 1 hurricane. The concern now is that Rita will stall and release heavy rains.