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Vanessa Edward Foster's Hurricane Rita Blog
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Entry 4
September 22, 2005 8:22:59 PM EDT
My Hurricane Rita Blog: Thurs 9/22 7PM

This is really turning into quite a scene. The good news (at least for me and those of us in Houston) is that this storm seems to be moving further east, putting us on the clean side of the storm with less of everything. But that's about it for good news.

One bit of news that should've been good was that most Houston area residents heeded the warnings to evacuate. Few people are chancing this. I say it should've been good news because as it stands, it may be a brand new catastrophe in the making. The mayor and the county judge both said the reason they wanted to encourage evacuations so early was to avoid having people on the road in their cars when the storm overtook them. According to the mayor, that would be "a death trap."

This is also one of the reason I don't evacuate during these. If you don't evacuate about 4-5 days before the storm, you're going to sit for long periods of time on highways -- even out in the middle of the country. I'd seen that happen in Corpus.

Well, the plans to evacuate sorta backfired on a few points. First, it's clear authorities had no idea the level of traffic that size of an evacuation would produce. They didn't open contra-flow lanes early enough, and we still have people sitting in cars in Houston city limits after having left their homes LAST NIGHT at 11 or midnight.

Second, they didn't realize the logistical snags this would produce: mainly no needed supplies (due to the panic buying early on). There's virtually no gas to be had anywhere in Southeast Texas -- which produces more gasoline than anywhere else in the nation. Consequently, we have people now stalled on freeway lanes, or pulled off on highway shoulders having run out of gas. Some have had engines overheating, transmissions overheating, air conditioning fail (and it was 100 again today), and in some cases not completely healthy people sitting in cars, passing out or even having diabetic reactions or heart attacks sitting in traffic with no easy way to get emergency personnel to them. In addition, all the ATMs are cash-empty, and the banks won't give you more than $50 cash. Turns out Brinks hasn't been able to thread their way through this gridlock either. Other supply stocks never made it in very likely for the same reason, thus many shortages. There was a shot of an ambulance sitting in traffic, lights going, siren blaring, and everyone was stockstill -- nowhere to move!

Third, they didn't set up localized shelters, wanting everyone to head out to Lufkin or College Station or someplace 60 or 70 miles away. We're now about 24 hrs. from this storm making initial landfall, and everyone is sitting in cars, some less than 30 miles from home, still here in Houston, and they can't get out. When asked if authorities were going to start opening up shelters locally, on the roads to the cities that are designated shelters, our ex-judge, now U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Houston) said "no, we need to wait and see where this storm is going to make landfall before we can determine where we should set up shelters." Said that on a TV interview! So, they'll wait until about, maybe, 12 hrs. before the storm hits before they decide "okay, we need to start setting up shelters locally in all the cities on the way to Lufkin...." A bit too late by then. So these folks either ride the storm out in their cars, or try to take refuge anywhere they can find it on the side of the road -- a closed gas station, a boarded-up business, a tree out in the rural areas. Amazing the foresight they have!

Fourth, which really isn't a problem that could've been foreseen, the computer models had this storm moving in the central Texas coast the whole time, at least until very early this morning. So some of the folks evacuated (as instructed) to the east to Beaumont or Louisiana. Some of those folks ran out of gas in Beaumont. And others have just barely crept into Louisiana -- just as southwestern Louisiana has been now ordered to evacuate as well. And they're all low on gas, with low supplies. And the storm has now changed track and is bearing down on -- you guessed it! -- Beaumont and SW Louisiana. The really sad part is that if folks would've left going south or southwest, towards the original track of the storm, they could've made it to San Antonio in the normal amount of time. But no one went that way because that's where the storm was supposed to hit.

If anyone ever questions why I don't evacuate, now you know. Esp. here in Houston! Like I said last night, this is probably a very salient reason why some folks would not leave New Orleans, risk and all. Is it better to try and survive in your home, our out in your car? It really points out how vulnerable America is if we ever have to evacuate someplace quickly! 18-20 hrs. later, and we've got Houstonians who haven't even made it out of town yet (big city or not). How bad does road traffic have to get before people figure out we need a much more efficient way to move large numbers of people in a timely manner. With gas prices and supplies being what they are, and the logistics of having all those folks on the roads at once, we may well be seeing the beginning of the end of the car culture -- or at least exposing the achilles heel of that mindset.

Hell, I can't even go beyond any of the freeways or even across Westheimer (a major 8-lane thoroughfare) without a great deal of waiting in traffic. I was supposed to try to get money to one of our trans evacuees from New Orleans. No dice. No money, no gas to buy, no way to get across town to where she likely is without burning a good amount of my own gas, which I don't feel like blowing. They're saying that if there's damage to the refineries in our region, we may not know when the next gasoline shipments make it in. Word to the wise ... get your cars filled to the brim no later than Friday night or early Sat. morning. Sometime Sat. you'll start seeing the prices propel upwards again.

So much for that booming economy, eh? I'm sure things will be booming at Halliburtion, et. al. though. Think of all those brand new no-bid contracts with no need to pay "fair-labor" wage levels. Gotta hand it to Bush & Cheney ... I don't know how they keep a straight face through all of this. You know they've gotta be bouncing off the walls with glee at the P&L's.

Dusk is here ... I'm starting to wonder what tomorrow's dusk and the ones following will be like.

Ness ....