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Location:near Houston, Gulf Coast, United States

Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Big City with a Big Problem

According to this morning’s Houston Chronicle, the death toll from Rita is now 109 – and many of these were the result of the botched evacuation. Heat exhaustion, falling asleep at the wheel, hit by cars, the bus fire....Unbelievable.

Yet less than half of the area evacuated. Whether this is because they saw the futility of the attempt (like I did), or simply kept cooler heads, everybody was not on the road last week.

And Rita turned.

Consider - what if that storm had kept coming at Freeport as a Cat 5 hurricane (the worst possible scenario for the Houston area)? It will happen some day - and in the face of 160+ mph winds, on that track, I believe last week's fire drill will look like a stroll in the park. There are just too many people in the area for an evacuation on that scale, no matter how well-planned.

I’m hoping that the “powers that be” take away more from this exercise than a need for better contraflow and gasoline contingency plans. People need to understand what would actually happen to their homes if the wind blew at…say… 110 mph. Would it leave a pile of rubble like Ocean Springs?

Probably not – yet the most frequent questions on the forums in front of Rita were, “What will happen here in my part of town?” They didn’t know – and they still don’t. Fear is a powerful motivator, and people cannot make decisions in a vacuum.

It’s highly unlikely the population of Houston will decrease. If officials have any hope of getting the coastal residents out of the path of a future catastrophe, they need to be doing more than planning a better evacuation. Providing answers to people 40, 50, or 60 miles inland will help the coastal communities as much as adequate gasoline.

Maybe next time, everyone will understand their options.