September 23, 2005
Botched evacuation, take 2
How have our nation's emergency preparation systems learned from the failure to effectively evacuate the Gulf coast in advance of Hurricane Katrina, resulting in needless loss of life? Let's look at an AP piece on what's happening in Houston.
"All the banks are closed and I just got off work," said Thomas Visor, holding his sweaty paycheck as he, too, tried to get inside the store, where more than 100 people, all of them black or Hispanic, fretted in line. "This is crazy. How are you supposed to evacuate a hurricane if you don't have money? Answer me that?"
Some of those who did have money, and did try to get out, didn't get very far.
Judie Anderson of La Porte, Texas, covered just 45 miles in 12 hours. She had been on the road since 10 p.m. Wednesday, headed toward Oklahoma, which by Thursday was still very far away.
"This is the worst planning I've ever seen," she said. "They say, 'We've learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina.' Well, you couldn't prove it by me."
On Bellaire Boulevard in southwest Houston, a weeping woman and her young daughter stood on the sidewalk, surrounded by plastic bags full of clothes and blankets. "I'd like to go, but nobody come get me," the woman said in broken English. When asked her name, she looked frightened. "No se, no se," she said: Spanish for "I don't know."
Her daughter, who appeared to be about 9, whispered in English, "We're from Mexico."
Skinner, accompanied by her 6-year-old grandson, Dageneral Bellard [Ed. note: This kid has an awesome name], would settle for a bus.
"They got them for the outlying areas, for the Gulf and Galveston, but they ain't made no preparations for us in the city, for the poor people here. There ain't no (evacuation) buses here. I got nowhere to go."
OK, so there are still people stranded in Houston. What about those who have cars and followed orders to evacuate? The NY Times reports:
"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."
Timothy Adcock, 48, a Houston landscaper who was in the 15th hour of inching to Tyler in a companion's pickup truck after his car broke down under the grueling conditions, said, "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.
Officials in Texas also said they recognized a serious situation had arisen in the evacuation, with many people stranded on traffic-choked highways, without gas and without water. The state had promised to send gas trucks to relieve the problem, Houston Mayor Bill White said, but he could not say how long it would be before those trucks arrived.
Mayor White deflected questions from reporters asking him to assess who was to blame for what happened Thursday, specifically the lack of gasoline where needed.
"This is not the time to look at who should have done what on the emergency," the mayor said. "This is not the time we're going to get into who should've done what."
Yeah, this is not the time for the blame game! That was three weeks ago! I know it's almost impossible to tell the difference between the two, but come on, people, get your disasters straight.
Somebody get Anderson Cooper down there to start laying into some officials.
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