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Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Rita Nears While I Bunker Down and Others are Stuck

I have not been able to post anything because of preparations for Hurricane Rita. I am a Houston resident, and as such I contemplated evacuating. Contemplated for about 6 hours. This is not my first storm, nor will it be my last. Therefore I am more familiar with the drill and not prone to panicking like many of the people in Houston did during the week. Now we are seeing the results of a mass evacuation composed of a large group that did not need to evacuate. People are trapped on the highways, a situation that is worse than staying in Houston itself, specially now that the storm has veered east. A poorly prepared mass evacuation plan, along with an unusually large amount of people panicking (understandable because of what Katrina did three weeks ago), throw in stupid city officials, and you get a recipe for disaster. An evacuation that has resulted in a bus exploding and killing 24 or more folks, a shortage of gas that has caused cars to stall, no food, no water, cars overheating and breaking down because of the long wait. A woman had been on the road for 24 hours (a trip that normally takes 4 hours) and had still not made it to Dallas. A lot of these folks face the prospect of weathering the hurricane on a highway unless city officials figure out a way to provide shelter for them. Why and for what?

Hurricanes are very unpredictable, and projecting the exact path of a storm is almost impossible. Was the evacuation premature? Maybe, maybe not. What is a terrible thing is the lack of foresight by city officals in predicting the size of the evacuation. Once the size was apparent, they also failed to improvise to solve the problems that arose. They did not think to open all highways, inbound and outbound, to exit the city until yesterday morning. Then they ran into logistical problems in carrying that out. The only one that was opened anytime soon was I-45 at 1 p.m.. Police officers were also causing trouble by worrying about the minor, minor issues and not focusing on the evacuation. When I-45 southbound was opened northbound, only the evacuees that were before the point of direction change were allowed to change into the inbound lanes, while those that were further north (meaning they had evacuated earlier) were not allowed to get onto the other lanes. Officials did not have a plan in place to provide gas for motorists that were stranded. When the bus exploded southeast of Dallas, once they had placed the survivors in ambulances and removed the bodies of the victims, instead of moving it out of the road to let traffic pass, they blocked the entire highway for hours, adding to the problem.

Houston city officials were trying this morning to cleanse their hands of the mess by saying that they had not called for an evacuation of Houston (but they did call for evacuation of those who lived in areas prone to flooding, which is a large portion of Houston). OK, let's say they didn't, but they should have known that with Katrina fresh on everyone's mind, and a monster brewing in the gulf, people were going to panic and mass exodus from Houston would be the likely outcome. They were stupid beyond anything I have ever seen. Well, no that is an overstatement. FEMA and the federal government were stupid beyond anything I've ever seen in a disaster. But city officials were stupid and arrogant. Mayor Bill White self proclaimed Houston as the best prepared city for a hurricane in the nation. STUPID AND ARROGANT. The best prepared cities on the nation are in Florida. I know, I lived there. People know how to handle a crisis and evacuate properly. Why? Because of experience. Florida deals with this situation every year. Houston doesn't, at least not like Florida. So, Bill White, do not sit there and tell me that Houston is the best prepared city for a hurricane. You failed in the most important aspect of disaster management: plan for the worst and hope for the best. Well, you seem to be getting the best as Rita veers east and weakens, and you still managed to screw it up! A lot of people that died need not have had to!

The storm will be hitting in the next few hours. Good luck and godspeed to everyone!


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