Tuesday, September 27

MOST RITA-RELATED, HOUSTON-AREA DEATHS A RESULT OF EVACUATION

"Click2Houston" reports this evening what this blogger expected would be the case once the Hurricane Rita post mortem was done in the Houston area -- namely, that most of the 31 people who died from Harris County, Texas, were victims of the evacuation, not of the hurricane.

Just think about that for a moment. The evacuation -- the largest in U.S. history -- was a killer.

Excerpts from the news report follow:

The death toll from Hurricane Rita has climbed to 31 in Harris County, KPRC Local 2 reported Tuesday. The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said most of the victims died during the evacuation.

Officials released the following statistics.
  • Nineteen people died or became sick in vehicles. Most of the victims were transported in nursing home caravans.
  • Seven are potential hyperthermia, or heat-related, deaths.
  • Twenty-three of the victims are over 50 years old.
  • The youngest victim was a 14-month-old boy who had a temperature of 102.
  • The oldest victims (two people) were 92 years old.

In a post I published last Thursday, September 22nd, in advance of Rita, I wrote:

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.


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.

In this post, published the following day, Friday, I opined:

This blog pointed to an emerging controversy in this post last night. Essentially what has happened is that the state was responsible for ensuring adequate supplies of fuel to effect the evacuation and it did not deliver. As a result, people are stranded in their cars and trucks along designated evacuation routes with Hurricane Rita fast approaching and they're more vulnerable now than if they were sitting in mobile homes in the storm's path. The last thing you want to be stuck in is an automobile in hurricane force winds.

Understand that the evacuation, which may well exceed 2.0 million people, began in earnest earlier this week, and the gridlock that ensued in blazing record heat has been compounded by a lack of available fuel, which seems to have caught local Galveston-Houston officials by surprise.

It's not been a pretty picture and I suspect political fall-out will come in time.

Texas took in approximately 250,000 Katrina evacuees from neighboring Louisiana and Mississippi with an efficiency that drew plaudits from around the country. What appeared early this week as a similar example of solid governmental pre-planning and execution in commencing evacuations of hurricane-threatened areas of southeast Texas has evolved now, with Rita's arrival less than 24 hours away, into a mini-disaster of its own with countless people made more vulnerable for having followed the instructions of public officials.

This is an upended exodus that may, in time, when the post mortem is completed, result in the exodus of some elected officials. It's all about execution and accountability, and, scandously, hundreds of thousands of voters have been left stranded in their cars, many abandoning them along the roadside in utter frustration. And as horrific as conditions have been, the worst is still before them -- RITA.


This post, which I published on Monday, September 26th, in the aftermath of Rita, is, I think, worth your time to read in its entirety, given the loss of life owing to a mass evacuation that in serious respects went awry.

In it, I offered the following observation:

But the other part is that hurricane planning must be communicated better by the media and made public by government officials. This sort of information should be widely disseminated and made intelligible before each hurricane season, so citizens can best assess their personal situations and know in what instances they're to run and in what instances they're to hide.

Fact is, people who needed to evacuate flood-threatened, well-defined zones in greater Houston were impeded in their exodus by people who chose to flee who were not. We can do better next time around and we must.

A woman interviewed on the news this evening spoke of how her elderly mother expired in the backseat of their automobile while the family was stuck in evacuation gridlock in intense heat and with the car's air-conditioning turned off to preserve fuel. That's just not acceptable.

FOLLOW-UP: Here's the rival station's report -- "KHOU.com" (Channel 11 News).