Skip to comments.Even with head start, Houston had a problem
Posted on 09/24/2005 1:13:44 PM PDT by Graybeard58
Texas officials sketched a staggered, orderly evacuation plan for Hurricane Rita and urged people to get out days ahead of time.
But tangles still arrived even before the storm's first bands. Panicked drivers ran out of gas, a spectacular, deadly bus fire clogged traffic, and freeways were red rivers of taillights that stretched to the horizon.
In an age of terrorist danger and with memories of the nightmare in New Orleans still fresh, the Texas exodus raises a troubling question: Can any American city empty itself safely and quickly?
Thousands of drivers remained stranded Friday to the north and west of Houston. Many were stuck in extreme heat, out of gas -- as gas trucks, rumored to be on the way, or at least buses to evacuate motorists, never came.
They were frustrated, angry and growing desperate, scattered and stranded across a broad swath of the state as the monster storm bore down.
Houston is a landlocked city, an hour's drive from the Gulf of Mexico. Besides Houston's 4 million people fleeing, as many as 2 million were trying to get out through Houston from the coastal side.
In Galveston County along the Gulf, authorities set up three evacuation zones, beginning Wednesday evening and staggered at eight-hour intervals, with the most outlying areas to be the first to leave. But people in all three zones left early anyway, further snarling traffic.
From Houston, the main roads out of town -- Interstate 10 to San Antonio, I-45 to Dallas, and U.S. Highway 290 to Austin -- were turned into one-way thoroughfares only Thursday, and even then the one-way flow began well outside Houston.
"There were some weaknesses," Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, acknowledged to KTRK-TV on Friday. "We could have fixed some of the elements ... a fuel truck that works, a mechanical system that works, and opening the contraflow," the term emergency officials use for routing all lanes in one direction.
Later in the day, Jackson Lee told The Associated Press the state should have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for supplies. "I'm marching people all over looking for gasoline," she said.
Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Friday decision to order one-way flow came after the storm, originally on a track south of Houston, changed course and headed toward Houston instead.
"It's not perfect," he said. "I wish I could wave a magic wand and somehow transport people magically from Houston, Texas, to Dallas or other points, but that's not the fact when you have the type of congestion that you see in the state of Texas on a daily basis."
He added: "I think when you look behind later, it will be almost miraculous that this many people were moved out of harm's way."
State emergency management coordinator Jack Colley said 2.5 million to 2.7 million Texans had already been moved out of harm's way, and the governor said 25 buses would canvass Beaumont, looking for people still trying to get out.
By midday Friday, lanes were restored to normal traffic. Still, many remained stranded beyond Houston's suburbs.
Before the late 1990s, emergency management officials were in charge of evacuations, and transportation engineers had little interest.
But those engineers have devoted great energy to the problem since Hurricane Georges forced an evacuation of New Orleans in 1998, and Hurricane Floyd an evacuation of the Carolinas in 1999.
Rita and her hellish predecessor, Katrina, come in the new age of terror, as authorities try to draw up plans for clearing out cities in the event of deadly strikes with unconventional weapons.
Still, experts say the massive coastal zone that needs to be cleared of people before a major hurricane is far larger than the area to be evacuated after an industrial accident or a terror attack.
In the event of a nuclear accident, federal rules require the evacuation of a 10-mile radius around the plant. After a so-called "dirty bomb" nuclear detonation or the release of chemical or biological weapons, only the region immediately downwind of the release point would have to be cleared.
"Natural disasters just dwarf anything that's manmade," said Reuben B. Goldblatt, a partner at traffic engineering firm KLD Associates in Commack, N.Y.
Brian Wolshon, a professor of civil engineering at Louisiana State University, said Texas officials "will probably see there were things they could have done better."
But he added: "It's not economically or environmentally feasible to build enough roads to evacuate a city the size of Houston in a short time and with no congestion. It's just not going to happen."
It was a point all too clear to Bruce French, who left his home in Clear Lake, Texas, early Thursday, and ran out of gas just past Conroe, far short of his destination of Dallas. On Friday morning, he was stranded, waiting for fuel.
"They're giving $10 worth of gas if you're on empty and $5 if you have some," he said. "That's not going to get you very far."
-- -- --
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Associated Press writers Kristen Hays in Houston, Liz Austin in Austin and Suzanne Gamboa in Washington, National Writer Matt Crenson in New York and photographer Paul Sancya contributed to this story.
"Somewhere between 80% and 90% of New Orleans evacuated before Katrina hit. I call that a successful evacuation."
So do I.
IN hindsight, in both situations, people took it upon themselves to evacuate based on the forecast available. I'd be willing to bet that more than half the New Orleans population was out of town before the mayor even mentioned evacuation. Houston and Galvaston called for Evac sooner, and so people probably hadn't gotten such a head start on the government as they had in NOLA.
The real difference was that the cities in Texas made arrangements and strong efforts to get those unable to get out a means to evacuate - that was not present in NOLA and represents the major difference between the two.
IMHO, both situations show inadequate road infrastructure to be able to move such large populations and their personal effects out of a city in a timely fashion. We either need more roads, or lower population density.
290 WAS NOT turned into a one-way thoroughfare.
That plan was announced at 8am but 9 hours later they balked on the decision. They said that it was problematic (the traffic turn in Brenham) and that they wanted to keep the inbound to Houston side open for supplies (which from what I saw was nothing but buses, Houston STILL has a gas shortage nearly a week later).
And they left hundreds of buses in Cy Fair to send buses down from Austin.
The sheer longest part of the journey was just getting out of Houston. That took 12 hours.
Millions saw Mayor White fumble the ball.
And Hempstead closed their town to the travellers (and horded what gas they had).
The sheriffs blocked the entrances to their small town.
That can't be legal.
Someone's job should be lost over that "emergency" act of isolationism.
2.5 million people evacuated Houston, and in record time, even though Houston was spared the full brunt of the hurricane. The bottomline is, the mayor of Houston issued the mandatory evacuation order at the right time, and the good people of Houston heeded the warning when it was issued.
Blanco and Nagin, given a second chance to redeem their stupidity, failed yet again, because they were purely driven by sheer emotion, while the public officials in Texas were calm, cool, and collected in the face of incoming danger.
Right. I asked that question a month ago. I further went on to say that it's a sad state of affairs waiting for some schmuck mayor and dingbat governor to bark out orders when there's a ferocious Cat 5 hurricane ready to reak havoc from 600 miles away.
Makes absolutely no sense to execute the evacuation order when the hurricane made landfall. One month ago today (8/27 - Saturday) was when Katrina made landfall. Texas officials gave everyone 72 hours advanced notice.
Michael Brown was right when he said today in front of the Senate Committee investigation that if anyone was slow to respond, it was the local officials. Brown got sh!tcanned because some doofus mayor and dingbat governor couldn't do their jobs right.
I am not sure how many hurricanes you have experienced in Montana by living all of my life in Texas and Lousiana I have been through quite a few with very infamous names.
Now, for your time line. Katrina made landfall on the morning of Monday, August 29th not August 27th as you stipulate.
Seventy-two hours advance notice would have been nice for the people of New Orleans but 72 hours prior to Katrina hitting the MGC and New Orleans the storm was a CAT 1 just entering the Gulf of Mexico.
Perhaps you should check your facts before posting.
Where did you get your information that Katrina was a Cat 5 when it was 600 miles away from New Orleans?
If what you are saying is true Miami did quite well, in your world when it was hit by Cat 5 Katrina.
Come back with some fact that will stand!
Doesn't matter. When there's a hurricane barrelling down on you, you get the hell out.
Same place where I got the information that it was 450 miles across, and that the eye was 40 miles wide.
Your information is false. You cannot even get the date Katrina hit NOLA and the MGC correct.
Your information is false. You cannot even get the date Katrina hit NOLA and the MGC correct.
Maybe so, but the fact you're defending the mayor of NOLA and the governor of LA is laughable.
Take it up with the National Hurricane Center.
"Don't Get Stuck On Stupid!"
- Lieutenant General Russell "Ragin' Cajun" Honore
What about 'em?
Actually, I made that exact trip in 20 minutes at the peak of the evacuation traffic jams -- by just staying away from the 290 freeway and using the surface streets...
And the gas stations away from the freeways had plenty of gas and no lines, too.
If we had to evacuate, I had an off-the-beaten-path route from Houston to Dallas (and points beyond) picked out in advance that would have gotten us out of town without having to approach within miles of any of the major evacuation routes.
I think I already said that. You said it was a Cat 1 and somewhere over Miami.
FYI, it hit the Florida Keys, and was well south of Miami.
What part of Houston are you in?
I do believe Houston is about 3 to 4 times NO population, so that may have something to do with it.
Here's something that might work:
Evacuate the entire coastline of the United States.
Yup, that's right. A 100-mile swath of real estate from Alaska to Maine should now be off limits.
GET OUT NOW WHILE YOU CAN!!!
Actually, many people that were not in the evacuation zones left. My friend in the Memorial area left town, and I was like "we could have stayed with you guys if you had stayed in town."
Please tell me how you are going to stop people from self evacuation in Houston or in any city?
Congratulations. I watched it all on tv (satellite tv mind you) which never even went out once during the storm. I was amazed as well.