Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Blog #7: Friday, 1 p.m.

The story just shifted back to New Orleans.

A patched levee failed in three places, and water is rising in the city's Ninth Ward once again. The good news is, nobody's there; the economically-depressed part of town was one where many evacuees couldn't get out on their own, which means they couldn't get back on their own. Certainly, the rising water isn't likely to do more damage to the Ninth Ward than has already been done ...

Meanwhile, in Texas: A bus evacuating residents of a Houston-area nursing home caught fire near Dallas, with as many as 24 dead. Early indications were that the bus, which had been on the road since yesterday, caught fire because of mechanical problems, possibly overheated brakes. Then passengers' oxygen tanks started exploding, turning the vehicle into an inferno.

The big story of Hurricane Rita is not likely to be the damage caused by the hurricane itself, but the traffic. It's time to admit it: The single largest mass evacuation of a region in American history is a resounding failure. There will be a lot of finger-pointing in the coming weeks, but such an operation required flawless cooperation between the City of Houston and Harris County officials (whom, in my opinion, did yeoman work), and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and (gulp) FEMA. The state and federal response has been marginal, considering the scope of the project, but it has not been adequate, and it has not been successful.

As I write this, buses are being dispatched to evacuate people from the FREEWAYS. Consider the irony of that for a second; people who had the means, the ability, and the desire to get out of the Texas Gulf Coast area, now have to be rescued from the evacuation routes.

We know that the contraflow plan (diverting outbound traffic to use inbound lanes as well) wasn't implemented soon enough. And we definitely know that there wasn't enough gasoline sent to the area to take care of the evacuees. When this event is investigated in a couple of months, I think they'll find that most of the stalled traffic on the escape routes was caused by cars running out of gas on the lanes of the freeways, and traffic moved so slowly that those vehicles couldn't get an opening to be pushed to the side of the road.

The outer cloudy bands of Hurricane Rita are now brushing up against Galveston, and the breezes outside my house are starting to gust. Dr. Neil Frank has noticed that the eastward drift of the eye of the hurricane seems to have stopped, which means that the eye of the hurricane is headed straight for Galveston Bay. If Rita remains a Category-4 hurricane, this would be the worst-case scenario envisioned by local experts. (Note: At 1:30, Rita was downgraded to a Category-3.)

The worst-case scenario would push the storm surge into Galveston Bay. This, in turn, would surge into the Houston Ship Channel, and into the network of bayous that usually drain water from the city into the Gulf. That means flooding, and lots of it. The good news is, the center of the hurricane appears to be weakening a bit, and the weaker it gets, the better.

We shouldn't get gale-force winds until after dinnertime tonight. The key for us here in Houston is that the hurricane makes landfall to our east. If it makes a hard left turn and comes ashore to the south of here, we're going to get the worst of it. And my plans to ride the storm out in relative safety and comfort will have gone horribly, terribly awry ...

posted by Gary @ 1:20 PM


At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am followwing you throughout the day. Heard you on Mr. KABC last night. How lucky for me to have such an intellligent person to listen to. Wonder why the press doesn't chastise the freeway traffic out of Houston. What other truths am I missing? My thoughts are with you. Hang in there


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Location: Houston, Texas

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