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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rita and gridlock

A (slightly edited) email I just sent to NRO's Jonah Goldberg, who's presenting "competing views" about the gridlock and gas shortages as folks have been evacuating from the Houston area as Hurricane Rita approaches:

My preliminary impression, In a nutshell: Don't blame Bush, state, or local officials for the evac gridlock. Blame Katrina and the local news media.

Katrina + news media hysteria = lots of folks in non-flood-prone areas of Houston, who otherwise would have hunkered down altogether or at least waited until tomorrow to evac, instead hitting the road yesterday afternoon, last night, and today = avoidable degree of gridlock.

IMHO, local media have done a very bad job of distinguishing between "mandatory evacuation" areas (truly coastal counties, storm-surge areas) and elsewhere. Some of the adjacent coastal county officials are already bitching (publicly and unproductively) at Houston/Harris County officials for "ignoring the plan," which was to get the coastal zones evac'd first. Since so many Houstonians are also on the road ("early," in the view of those adjacent county folks), congestion is much worse for everyone. But I think the "fault" for that, if fault there be, can be laid more at the feet of the breathless media rather than Houston/Harris County officials. And ordinary folks are hyper-receptive to the hype because of Katrina.

If folks have actually LISTENED to what Mayor Bill White has been saying on TV, he's only been twisting arms for the mandatory evac zone folks to leave, plus those otherwise at high risk (e.g., hospital/nursing homes, those in mobile homes, those in houses repeatedly flooded by bayous in past storms). But I'm inferring that Mayor White — a friend of mine from law school, who'd probably like to be Sen. or Gov. White someday if a Democrat can ever get elected again in a state-wide Texas race — doesn't want to DISCOURAGE rank-and-file Houstonians from evacuating either. So neither he nor the Harris County officials have been explicitly calling for high-ground Houstonians to sit tight for now. And thus, when amplified by the media megaphones and imprecision in the media's reporting, Mayor White saying anything at all about evacuation by anyone comes across to most people like "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"

TxDoT was slow in getting the interstates set up for contra-flow on the normally in-bound lanes. My guess is that they underestimated how quickly inlanders would start evac'g and how quickly the gridlock would therefore develop. But if that's blameworthy, it's probably only so as a failure to anticipate just how much Katrina and the media hysteria would affect local attitudes. The gas shortage problem is almost entirely a function of the gridlock.

There's essentially nothing on the local media to remind folks that, for example, Houston isn't dependent on vulnerable levees, below sea level, and in between a huge lake and the Mississippi. The man-on-the-street interviews with those planning to stay are always spun to make them look crazy.

How the actual storm will turn out remains to be seen. And Nature may prove me wrong. Maybe by this time next week, everyone will be agreed that there ought to have been a complete, total evacuation covering all of Houston/Harris County.

But so far, IMHO, it's mostly been a perfect [media] storm. Sheesh, does everybody on the TV news want to be the next Dan Rather?

(FWIW, Weiss and I are hunkered down, at home with my emergency supplies and a full tank of gas. I've seen three major hurricanes since I moved to Houston, plus a buncha lesser but still impressive tropical storms, and I *DO* respect Mother Nature. But I'd rather be emailing you from my living room right now than out-of-gas on a gridlocked interstate, and I think I have a rational basis for concluding that I'm also safer here. My ex, who lives nearby and has our four kids with her, independently came to the same conclusion, and I certainly won't leave town while they're still here. So wish us all luck.)


UPDATE (Thu Sep 22 @ 7:50pm): I'm not exactly on pins and needles — we're still quite a while from landfall, wherever Rita comes ashore, and I've got to save some adrenaline for later! — but I'm fairly focused on family, friends, neighbors, and my own situation at the moment. So when the phone rang a few minutes ago, it took me a good fifteen seconds, and several patient repetitions from the person on the other end of the line, before I snapped to who was calling — Generalissimo Duane (a/k/a Radio Blogger), inviting me to do an impromptu voice appearance on Hugh Hewitt's show! Lotsa fun talking with Hugh, as always — he never asks exactly what I expect him to ask. Hugh was kind enough to have me back after a station break, and I was only a little freaked out when I realized that the "on-hold" music I was hearing during the break was the theme from HBO's "Six Feet Under." Quirky, but not predictive, I hope.

According to the local NBC affiliate's website:

Officials said that residents not in evacuation zones should no longer evacuate.

"Given the conditions of the roads, and the changes in the storm, if you have not left (by 7 p.m. Thursday), the time for leaving your home, if you're not in the A or the B zone, the time for leaving your home has passed," [Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels said.

That's consistent with something Hugh told me he'd heard (or read) that the Mayor had just announced.

I'm well outside the mandatory evacuation zones:

Evacuation Zones

So if you're in the City of Houston/Harris County, unless you're in a special risk category or have other exceptional circumstances, you're probably better off hunkering down at this point.


UPDATE (Fri Sep 23 @ 1:00am): Here's an example of what I'm talking about, this time with the Houston Chronicle as the offender:

For the most part, the officials didn't offer much analysis of what might have gone wrong. They focused instead on the scramble to keep thousands of motorists from what Mayor Bill White called a potential "death trap" should the storm strike while they were stranded on the road.

That "death trap" quote has been given huge prominence, and I'm absolutely certain Mayor White regrets ever letting it slip through his lips. But it's being way overstressed and ripped wildly out of context. Here's how it's reported by the Dallas Morning News, which is considerably better:

"If the hurricane comes in at a certain angle," said Houston Mayor Bill White, "being on the highway is a death trap."

Later, he expressed confidence that traffic would be cleared in time

But even in this latter example, the media have highlighted one speculative phrase about a worst-case scenario — a phrase that creates sensation and sells papers, I guess, but that is not at all indicative of the main thrust of what Mayor White's been saying.

Yeah, if Rita makes a hard left turn, and its eye rips up the Ship Channel and then does a ballet dance right up Interstate 45 — maybe pausing to make a circuit or two of Loop 610 — and yeah, if people are still stuck on those interstates more than 24 hours from now, at 4:00 a.m. Saturday, which is the current prediction for landfall, then that could be very ugly. But what gets the lede: "Mayor calmly reassures residents that help is en route to stranded motorists, vows no one will be left on the roadways, major freeway evacuation routes now flowing freely"? No, his "death trap" line.

That, in my book, is simply irresponsible journalism. It causes undue panic. And panic can make things worse, even get people killed.

My fellow Houston law-blogger Tom Kirkendall writes:

[M]y sense of what what has made this evacuation so arduous is the large number of people evacuating who do not live in the mandatory evacuation areas. I agree that most folks are much better off battening down the hatches and staying put, but it's hard to criticize folks — particularly those who do not have a safe haven to ride out the storm — for wanting to get the hell out. The number of non-mandatory evacuees surprised governmental officials, so they were a bit slow in getting all freeway lanes going in the same direction to accomodate the evacuees. But given how well those officials have handled preparations for this storm generally, in addition to how well they performed in connection with accomodating the Katrina evacuees, I'm more than willing to cut them some slack for making a few misjudgments.

Yup, ditto that.


UPDATE (Fri Sep 23 @ 3:35pm): Thanks to those who've linked this post. Among them have been Jesse Taylor at Pandagon and Houston Chronicle Sci Guy Eric Berger. Here's a (slightly edited) reprint of a comment I left in response to Mr. Berger's post:

Eric, thanks for the link and the quote. Those who follow the link will see that I have a more specific observation: That the media (including, unfortunately, the Chronicle) did an inconsistent and often very poor job of transmitting what public officials were saying about evacuation.

My intent when I first posted late yesterday was as much to inform — that's why I included a map graphic showing the evacuation zones, which I've seen much too infrequently on TV or in the Chronicle's online coverage -- as to criticize. And to the extent I was criticizing, or am here, it's with the hope of prompting changes now, in the short term.

The "staged evacuation plan" became almost meaningless when the media was giving the misimpression (my exaggeration, but only a little) that Mayor White and County Judge Eckels were screaming "Everyone flee for your lives!" That's not what they were saying, nor even a close paraphrase; and it's actually contrary to what they were saying (although the public had to read or listen very carefully to figure that out).

It certainly was appropriate for the media to inform people in the mandatory evac zones, or otherwise at special risk, that officials were calling for them to get out. But that should have been combined, in my humble opinion, with a frequent, deliberate repetition of information (a) about where the evac zones actually are, and that (b) officials had not called for a mass, simultaneous evacuation of all of Houston and Harris County.

Journalists, whether print or electronic (for that matter, including even bloggers), can't be "responsible" if they're not being "accurate." And with due respect, the fact that Rita was originally expected to be a Cat 5 storm and to track right over Houston doesn't excuse inaccuracies; that the storm has lessened and changed course just means that the consequences of those inaccuracies might not be so terrible (and let's hope that's the case). I hope we're both in a position to continue this civil debate Sunday!

Eric posted a very civil reply, but within a few more comments he was being taken to task by another commenter for "link[ing] to such a blantantly partisan blog (Beldar), even if it is on a relatively neutral subject. Scrolling down, it seems like a waste to give that breathless blogger the time of day." Likewise, Mr. Taylor perceived my post to be claiming that the Rita gridlock was "the liberal media's fault." My (slightly edited reply) on his blog:

Mr. Taylor, thanks for the link to my post, and this opportunity to leave a reply comment. I am indeed a conservative blogger, and I'm frequently a critic of what I perceive to be liberal political bias in the media. In this case, however, while I have fault to find with the media, it's pretty much unrelated to politics. My reference to Dan Rather was likewise not political (this time), but rather to his early career hurricane coverage that got him network notice.

To the very, very limited extent that politics has anything to do with this, in fact, my post was intended in part to defend Houston's mayor, Bill White — a prominent Democrat elected in a mostly nonpartisan city election whom I know well, and consider a friend, from attending Texas Law School with him in the late 1970s. I think neither he nor (Republican, not that that's significant here) Harris County Judge Robert Eckels are guilty of messing up the "phased evacuation by zone" plan, as they're being accused of having done by some officials from coastal counties whose evacuations were complicated by the gridlock. I think they were reasonably clear in only urging folks in the mandatory evacuation zones to flee. But media exaggeration and misreporting of their remarks, plus understandably heightened fears after Katrina, resulted in a far greater number of folks on the freeways than there needed to be or than anyone ever expected.

(As I write this comment, by the way, Mayor White's holding a televised press conference, and virtually the first words out of his mouth were (my close quote): "Now's not the time to be moving, now's the time to be taking shelter.")

I really, really don't think this is, or ought to be, about politics, nor (contrary to Mr. Taylor's other suggestion in his post) much about race either.

Posted by Beldar at 06:26 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Rita and gridlock and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Blawging Rita from ProfessorBainbridge.com

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 12:06:16 AM

» Beldar On Rita and Houston from Dean's World

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 2:33:36 AM

» Friday Specials from Cafe Oregano

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 6:16:51 AM

» Bloggers commenting on Hurricane Rita from The Glittering Eye

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 9:35:35 AM

» If I Might Add My Two Cents from The Coalition of the Swilling

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 9:36:14 AM

» Costs of Mass Evacuations from Chicago Boyz

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 10:40:27 AM

» The Media Dropped This Bird Doody On My Car from Pandagon

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 12:05:44 PM

» Weather Porn from ShrinkWrapped

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 1:50:41 PM

» Get your TinFoil hat on! from Just A Girl

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 3:47:32 PM

» Educating 'Rita' from All Things Beautiful

Tracked on Sep 23, 2005 3:51:57 PM

» Mayor White takes aim at state for gas shortages from blogHOUSTON

Tracked on Sep 24, 2005 6:42:58 PM

» Evacuation and Hysteria from LilacRose

Tracked on Sep 24, 2005 7:17:42 PM

» Blawg Review #25 from ambivalent imbroglio

Tracked on Sep 26, 2005 6:53:17 AM


(1) Bill M made the following comment | Sep 22, 2005 7:27:30 PM | Permalink

Keep yer head down and we'll see ya on the flip side!

(2) Dan S made the following comment | Sep 22, 2005 9:35:41 PM | Permalink

Be praying for all of you, Beldar. My sister and family are there in Houston too.

(3) Lee Keller King made the following comment | Sep 22, 2005 10:21:42 PM | Permalink

Port Arthur has only 20,000 people? For shame, Beldar. For shame.

Other than that, I enjoyed your piece on Hugh Hewitt's show today. Hang in there.

We'll put you in our prayers.

(Texas Trial Lawyer moved to Arizona)

(4) flatlander made the following comment | Sep 22, 2005 10:30:17 PM | Permalink

Hey, good to hear from you. I'm on the east coast on pins and needles. I've a multitude of relatives in Houston, some staying put and some on the road. I am anxious about an uncle and family who may be stranded on 290 (mandatory evacuee). They hadn't checked into their hotel - 16 hours in transit. I have a mother in Spring hosting her ex-husband and her father (again, mandatory evacuees). Her school district had coached all the teachers to stay off the roads on Thursday and Friday to facilitate the evacuation. You're right about the Katrina hype. I have visions of spawning tornados and hurricane level winds hitting her roof 75 miles inland. Mom seems remarkably cool...says not to worry...mad that Houstonians have cleared the shelves of all the best junk food.

Stay cool.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 22, 2005 11:19:13 PM | Permalink

My apologies to the good people of Port Arthur (pop. 57,755 in 2000). I was thinking of the population of nearby Orange (pop. 18,643 in 2000). Let's hope for the best for all the good folks of Jefferson County.

(6) David Thomson made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 4:59:57 AM | Permalink

I instinctively realized that numerous Houstonians were overreacting. Many of us were never in serious jeopardy. Mayor White had ordered those living off the ship channel and Pasadena to evacuate. Heck, that’s a long way from my front door. During the Allison crisis, we merely endured a puddle of water on the street.

(7) Mark L made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 6:54:58 AM | Permalink

Thanks for a common-sense post Beldar. I live in League City. I NEEDED to leave. I left -- Wednesday -- to stay with relatives in the Hill Country.

The family of my kid brother's fiancee lives in Galveston. They chose to leave when the evacuation became mandatory -- at 8:00 pm on Weds for them -- and it took them 28 hours to reach my brother's house in San Antonio. At least part of the reason is folks from the Heights, Katy, Sugarland, and even CYPRESS evacuating.

Despite the implications of the press, everyone who hit the road yesterday and stuck with it will be safe before the Hurricane strikes land. If not, they will be safe before the hurricane reaches them. But for God's sakes folks DO NOT evacuate if you DON'T need to do it.

A hurricane is NOT an atomic bomb that levels everything 50 miles inland. Even in MS with Katrina, the total destruction zone never got more than 1/2 to 1 mile inland, and the severe damage zone was maybe five miles in. Past that you get some structural damage, and a lot of spectacular tree/billboard/stuff falling clogging road, with most people safe inside houses (that generally lack electricity). But they are SAFE.

Same thing with this one. If you do not get flooded you are generally safe. The killer in hurricanes is rising water -- with stupidity (hey, lookee here while I body surf down my street when the wind is 110!) a distant second. Compare the death tolls in NOLA to MS for that. (To underscore the danger, most of the flooding deaths occured *after* Katrina had passed, when the levees gave way.)

So stop and think. In a flood zone? Do the bug-out boogie. High and dry. Fort up at home.

(8) hunter made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 7:07:22 AM | Permalink

Thanks for saying better and more clearly what I have been saying to Hugh - and anyone else who would listent - for a few days. The mayor in my opinion does not get off so lightly. Neither does Judge Eckles. They allowed the idea of general panic to fester out in the public square. The local media....well we all have our family idiots, don't we? Even if this storm came up 288, most people would be better off sheltered in their homes. It is better to have people who know the neighborhood there to rebiuld and restore things than to have an empty city vulnerable to looting and other problems.
Houston went through Carla in 1961 with less panic than this sotrm, and it was a Category 5 when it hit the coast, not out at sea where it does not matter. And Houston did fine. We live in southwest Houston, near Hillcroft and Braeswood, and we never had any intention of leaving. We have made personal and neighborhood plans, acquired what supplies are available after the stores were hit by panic buying, and are taking it easy in a prudent way.
I compliment you on convincing Hugh of what I could not. And I hope that this region will create a disaster plan that is more than crying 'fire'in a crowded theatre.

(9) Kent made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 9:07:49 AM | Permalink

I'm glad to see that BeldarBase is a ways inland. Hope it's enough. Best of luck to you.

(10) KevinM made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 9:34:03 AM | Permalink

Beldar lives in the Gulfton Ghetto? Who knew?

(11) Dan made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 10:40:20 AM | Permalink

Let me get this straight -- after ignoring other hurricane pre-storm coverage for years, people suddenly, for whatever reason, turned to sheep following MSM's pied piper call to evacuate the city.

Give me a break.

People looked at all the information they had at the time and decided to get out of dodge. And maybe the local officials do deserve some blame for not anticipating the difficulties of evacuation of one of America's biggest cities.

(12) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 10:54:32 AM | Permalink

Dan, you're certainly right that folks have made and are making their own decisions, as they should. And you're welcome to your own opinions and to be skeptical of mine.

But some of the information that the local media have been hyping is simply false. I can't count the number of times, for example, that I've heard local TV news talking heads say something like, "The Mayor [or the Governor or the Harris County Judge] has been urging everyone to get out of town." That's just a huge overstatement; it's actually inconsistent with what the Mayor and the Harris County Judge (I can't speak for the Governor) have been saying on-camera.

I've been in Houston for 25 years, through (IIRC) three hurricanes plus about a half dozen serious tropical storms. It's admittedly a subjective impression, but nevertheless my very, very strong subjective impression, that the media coverage on this hurricane is substantially more frantic than it has been on any of these previous storms. And my further opinion is that it's been badly unbalanced, always toward the sensational.

Whether it turns out to have been justified or not, there's no question whether the media coverage has influenced tens, and more probably hundreds of thousands of people not in mandatory evac zones to flee yesterday. I'm not saying people are "sheep." But if one flips on the news, watches for fifteen minutes, and hears nothing but grim predictions and distortions or exaggerations of what officials are actually saying, then those folks are considerably less likely to be making well-informed decisions.

(13) Dwilkers made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 11:11:22 AM | Permalink

It may be an overstatement, but its the gist of what's been said. The wife and I have had the local news on 24 hours since Wednesday and I am quite surprised to see you saying that White hasn't encouraged folks to leave even if they didn't *need* to leave.

I live in League CIty and we decided to stay. Mandatory evacuation of our area didn't start until 6am Thursday and by that time we could see we were safer in our home than gridlocked on the freeway in a hurricane.

It was my wife that came to me last night saying "finally, FINALLY White is saying that if you aren't in a mandatory evacuation area you shouldn't evacuate".

I understand he's your friend and I respect your opinion, but IMO White should have been telling people in the safest zones to stay put until the mandatory evacuations were well under way or complete. Instead he and Eckels kept repeating that if people were uncomfortable or didn't feel safe they should leave. Clearly, they shouldn't have. People that left when they didn't have to leave are more at risk where they are than if thay had stayed home as well as making it all but impossible for people that actually NEED to leave to get out.

I absolutely agree the media over-hype has been shameless though, at one point yesterday when the storm briefly reached Cat 5 status they were almost literally bouncing off the walls - this when the NHC had long predicted that event and also that it would decrease in intensity to Cat 3 before landfall, a fact notably absent from the media reports at that time.

(14) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 12:01:13 PM | Permalink

Let's face it. The Texas Emergency Management folks and the Houston area EM people were prepared and performed admirably. Not perfect, sure, but it has been a job well done. The only people I tend to give a lower grade are the TXDOT folks. Maybe a B-, not because of anything they did wrong but because they weren't very flexible once it became apparent the exodus was larger than expected. But I'm sure they will learn from this and be ready if/when there is a next time.

On a related note, I heard reports that local roads and farm-to-markets were shut down in the Houston area, preventing people from using them to leave. Was this bogus or did it really happen? If so, who made that decision and why?

Let us know how Hurricane Rita compares to a Lamesa twister, and be safe Beldar.

(15) fracas_futile made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 1:33:39 PM | Permalink

OK, "news media hysteria" is a contributor to Rita gridlock.

Do you feel Houston is ready for a terrorist "Dirty Bomb?"

(16) Lee Keller King made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 3:02:31 PM | Permalink

I concur with Beldar. I lived in Houston from December 1972 until March 2003. I lived through all the stuff that came down the pike and never had an major problems (Loss of power for a day or too does not rise to the level of "major problem, in my book).

Now, I never lived in a low lying area, 'tis true. But if you live near the Big Ditch (Ship Channel) and need to leave, you don't have to evacuate to Dallas, for crying out loud!

The most fatalities I've seen were from Alisa, a tropical storm. People just >had< to try and wade/swim their way out of their neigborhoods, and they drowned.

Hurrican Alicia in 1983? More dangerous to drive on the Houston freeways than sit out that storm. More people were injured in the clean up than in the storm.

Oh, well. If people were all logical and did the right thing, Beldar and I would be out of a job!

God bless,


(17) abelard made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 3:15:25 PM | Permalink

Bill White and Bob Eckels should have said "if you live within 20 miles of the coast, get out. Otherwise, please stay off the roads." Simple math tells you that our roads can't handle 1.5 million evacuating over the space of 72 hours. These slimy weasels are now trying to figure out how to blame someone else. I grant, it certainly isn't their fault that so many people panicked, but it is their fault that they didn't exercise more leadership.

(18) abelard made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 3:22:45 PM | Permalink

If i may, i'd like to amend my earlier remarks to include the zone A slimy weasel's statutory written sting. For "Bill White," please read "Former Clinton Administration official and lawyer Bill White."

(19) mistermark made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 3:42:35 PM | Permalink

It's easy to second-guess the exact wording that Bill White and Bob Eckels have used, but I don't think anyone can prove that they have done anything less than a great job. It's not their fault that the hysterics in the local media seem to be unable to explain to people that (i) Houston isn't laid out like New Orleans with regard to flood risk, so Katrina comparisons [illustrated with gratuitous interviews with Katrina evacuees] are inapt, (ii) people who live out in the inland suburbs really shouldn't be evacuating and adding to the strain on the roads [actually, the inland suburbs should be destination points for evacuees, not departure points] and (iii) an order for mandatory evacuation of storm-surge areas does not entail a recommendation for the entire city to empty. We've seen press sensationalism that only has added to public panic on this.

Good blogging on this issue, Beldar, and good luck over the next 24 hours.

(20) fracas_futile made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 4:53:26 PM | Permalink

I don't think anyone can prove that they have done anything less than a great job.

Sounds like an Intelligent Design argument.

It's simple, really. It's part of the job description of a leader to control panic.

If the press creates panic, the leader calls another press conference, chastises the media, and restates his/her plan in a calm, authoritive manner.

(21) mistermark made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 5:01:41 PM | Permalink

"If the press creates panic, the leader calls another press conference, chastises the media, and restates his/her plan in a calm, authoritive manner."

Good point, although in practice, chastising the media may sound like whining which does more harm than good from a credibility standpoint. Also, if people are already in their cars and on the highways, the words of the Mayor and County Judge, if they are even heard, may not do much. It's kind of hard to get the genie back in the bottle once this sort of panic has started.

(22) fracas_futile made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 6:22:36 PM | Permalink

It's kind of hard to get the genie back in the bottle once this sort of panic has started.

You're right. For effective leadership, timing is everything.

Regarding credibility, compare and contrast Michael Brown and LG Honore.

(23) John Brophy made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 7:01:19 PM | Permalink

I think part of the problem is the "pass through" plan. The plan calls for residents of coastal regions to pass though Houston and shelter in Dallas, etc. All of Houston is considered too dangerous a location to operate a shelter. It seems a bit inconsistent to say that Houston is too dangerous for Galveston residents to shelter in, but safe enough for Houston residents to remain.

(24) Mark L made the following comment | Sep 24, 2005 3:55:55 PM | Permalink

There is danger and there is danger. Four to twenty feet of water in your house is an absolute danger that you cannot escape. Fifty to seventy mph winds are a variable danger. They are dangerous to anyone moving around in them, but not dangerous to someone inside a sturdily-made building. That type of wind will also damage things like motor vehicles.

If you evacuate people from absolute danger areas you do not want to leave them in the variable danger area, if you can avoid doing so. Your emergency responders are going to be busy with incidents in that variable zone that should be manageable *if* the authorities do not get swamped aiding a lot of extra people. So you move them past that area.

Had people from the flood zones stayed in Houston (actually a lot did -- I would have evacuated to Katy, but the relative that lives there was in California at the time) in preference to the Hill Country, but family and friends are not scattered rationally when it comes to evacuation.

But let us say that Houston opened up evacuation centers capable of holding 50,000 people. How many cops would have been needed to maintain order in those places? Cops that yesterday were patrolling the streets to arrest anyone foolish enough to loot. How many extra medical personnel would be needed at those centers -- people that might be needed to take care of injured locals. And oh, by the way, many of the evacuees cannot go home the day after because their cars were in parking lots, not garages and had windows blown out or tires punctured.

Pass through doesn't make any sense, if you don't think about the whys involved. But then again folks from Cypress and Katy that boogied to Dallas were stuck on stupid from the get-go.

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