Time of crisis

Along the gulf coast U.S.A a crisis is brewing. There are easily thousands of people stranded on the highways leaving Houston, Texas. They are directly in the path of incoming Hurricane Rita. In other words, they just walked into a situation that could prove fatal. I wonder, what are they going to do now? People stranded on a highway, versus people secure in a basement or some other solid structure – what is worse? I wish the evacuation which is very necessary, was considerably more efficient. As if the humanitarian disaster that followed Hurrican Katrina wasn’t bad enough.

Makes me wonder, how well prepared is the greater Seattle-area? Of the many natural disasters that can hit the area, Volcanic eruption, earthquakes, and a massive Tsunami are the notable ones. Even In the case of an impending disaster with plenty of advance warning, I am pretty sure Interstate-90 and Interstate-5 would be clogged within a day of an announcement to evacuate. Everyone would probably have the same idea – lets hit the highway and get out of town. Question remains, how would you evacuate a metropolitan area or a large city? Is that even a feasible proposition? What would you advise someone to do in case they find themselves in that position?

Seattle hailed for disaster readiness [SF Gate].

I want to point out the monumental stupidity of the authorities in Houston. Do listen to what people have to say about the highways out of Houston (“Miles of Traffic as Texans Heed Order to Leave” — NYTimes):

Acknowledging that “being on the highway is a deathtrap,” Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers.

Mr. White and the top official in Harris County, Judge Robert Eckels, admitted that their plans had not anticipated the volume of traffic. They maintained that they had not urged such a widespread evacuation, although only a day earlier they invoked the specter of Hurricane Katrina, and told residents that the “time for waiting was over.”

“Don’t wait, the time for waiting is over,” Mr. White urged Wednesday. “Don’t follow the example of New Orleans and think someone’s going to get you.”

In Baton Rouge, La., Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco called for the evacuation of a nearly half a million people in the southwest portion of her state.

“Head north, head north,” she said. “You cannot go east, you cannot go west, head north. If you know the local roads that go north, take those.”

“The question is how many people will be gravely ill and die sitting on the side of the freeway,” said State Representative Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston. “Dying not from the storm, but from the evacuation.”

Mr. Coleman’s family had tried to leave the city Thursday at his urging – he is traveling on the West Coast – but they gave up after 12 hours of stalled traffic, without even passing the city’s outer ring highway.

“If you can’t move outside the city of Houston in 12 hours, then nobody else is getting out,” Mr. Coleman said. “This is it. Because even if you tried to leave now, you would not move fast enough to get out of harm’s way in advance of the storm.”

“I never saw anything so disorganized.”

“We did everything we were supposed to do,” Mr. Adcock said, “secure our house, left early, checked routes, checked on our neighbors.” But he said, “when we got out there we were totally on our own.”

A high-occupancy vehicle lane went unused, he said, and they saw no police officers. At one point, Mr. Adcock said, he called the Texas Department of Transportation for an alternate route, but the woman who answered could not find a map.

“If you’re not in the evacuation zone, follow the news,” the mayor said. “The storm is oscillating. We may be in a better position.” And he maintained: “We have never called for the evacuation of Houston. We asked people to use their common sense.”

But Judge Eckels acknowledged under questioning that the massive congestion “was not in the plan.”

Frank E. Gutierrez, the emergency management coordinator for Harris County, said that models for an emergency evacuation envisioned 800,000 to 1.2 million people but that “well over 2.5 million” hit the road to flee Hurricane Rita.

Earlier, as the crush worsened, state transportation officials announced that contraflow lanes would be established first on I-45, then 290 and lastly on I-10. But by midafternoon, with traffic immobile on 290, the plan for extra lanes there was dropped, stranding many and prompting other to reverse course. “We need that route so resources can still get into the city,” said a transportation spokeswoman, Janelle Gbur.

“I just talked with the governor this morning and that was his No. 1 request is to make sure we can get some fuel down there, to make sure those cars have fuels, make sure the first responders have fuels, and we are working to process that right now,” said R. David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For people stuck in traffic trying to evacuate, Mr. Paulison advised them not to turn around and go home.

“I know they’re frustrated, there’s a lot of traffic out there,” he said. “Again, that’s why we try to evacuate early. If they stay on the road now, they’re going to have enough time to get out of harm’s way.”

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