Wednesday, September 21

RITA NOW A CATEGORY 5

Hurricane Rita has now become a menacing, Category 5 storm, as it has intensified dramatically today over warm Gulf waters. A large-scale evacuation of the greater Galveston-Houston area has begun, initially voluntarily, and now with a mandatory, stepped program covering identified flood plain areas about to get underway commencing at 6:00pm CT, according to the "Houston Chronicle" (registration required for online edition).

From the Chronicle:

After some initial confusion over what parts of Houston would be affected by the latest mandatory evacuation order, authorities provided this schedule, based on storm surge zones:

  • 6 p.m. today: Storm surge zone A, which includes low-lying areas along the coast and the southern part of Galveston Bay.
  • 2 a.m. Thursday: Storm surge zone B, which includes the Clear Lake area of Houston and other parts of southeast Harris and south Brazoria counties.
  • 6 a.m. Thursday: Storm surge zone C, which includes the Ship Channel area of Houston as far west as the East Loop.

Local television newcasters are already describing major traffic congestion on the designated arteries out of Galveston-Houston. I-45 northbound traffic in the Conroe, TX, area is presently experiencing a 2 and 1/2 hour gridlock-style delay and this is just as a result of voluntary evacuations, coupled with the early stages of this afternoon's normal rush hour traffic. I-45, as information, narrows to just two lanes there because of bridge construction at the San Jacinto River. Mandatory evacuations could only exacerbate these snarls.

A televised appeal was just made moments ago for Brazoria County where authorities indicate an inadequate supply of ambulances is making evacuation efforts at hospitals, nursing homes, and elder-care facilities difficult and slow-going.

Relative to an earlier post of mine in which I described my wife's frustrating shopping trip this morning for hurricane essentials, television newscasters are now saying that tomorrow -- Thursday -- may be too late to stock up as store inventories have been severely depleted today.