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What To Do Before Rita Hits

By Faiz Shakir  

"What To Do Before Rita Hits"

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Bill King’s heart may be pounding harder and faster than anyone’s in the nation. For the past two years, King – the mayor of Kemah, a small town on the west side of Galveston – had been waging a campaign, “writing letters to newspapers and meeting with officials in the governor’s office, urging the creation of a mandatory evacuation law” in the event of a major hurricane.

As a result of King’s efforts, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a bill into law giving county judges and mayors the authority to order mandatory evacuations before a hurricane strike. That power was taken advantage of today. That’s the good news. The bad news? The bill was signed in July 2005, just over 2 months ago.

Because state and local authorities have had very little time to practice their evacuation plans, three major concerns exist:

1) Galveston’s Hazardous Sites Need To Be Properly Evacuated

On May 18, 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported, “Among other concerns for coastal Texans is the plethora of industrial sites, many of which deal with hazardous chemicals. Disaster preparation experts with local industries and Galveston County held a workshop Tuesday. ‘I’ve seen some really bad things happen when people were not ready to shut it down right,’ said Lew Fincher, the vice president of Hurricane Consulting Inc., a safety and preparedness consultant.”

2) At-Risk Population With No Way Out

On February 19, 2005, the Houston Chronicle warned, “Some tenants of Galveston’s public housing projects are among thousands who could face being stranded on the island and risk losing their lives should a major hurricane strike. The tenants are among those identified by local and state officials as the region’s most vulnerable residents who could be killed in a hurricane because local evacuation plans pay little attention to those without cars, in group-care homes or with no family to see to their safety. Nearly all state, regional and local officials – including many of those responsible for overseeing evacuations – acknowledge that their current plans rely so heavily on self-evacuation that the poor, the old and the sick may have little chance of escaping a deadly storm”¦ Officials estimate there are 8,000 Galveston County households – or about 20,000 to 25,000 people – that don’t have a car.”

3) Residents Cannot Wait Another Day

Because there are only three primary evacuation routes — I-45, Texas 146 and Texas 6 – out of the coastal areas, Texas residents need to leave now. The Houston Chronicle reported (2/20/05) that, “The first to be evacuated would be residents of western Galveston and southern Harris counties, who would have to begin evacuating at least 33 hours before the storm’s outer bands… But persuading residents that they need to leave that far in advance, when skies may still be sunny and clear, could be difficult.” With the storm expected to hit the coast of Texas on Saturday morning, evacuees must take action and begin heeding the mandatory evacuation order immediately because “waiting another day would be too late.”

These issues must be addressed to ensure the safety of residents in the affected region.

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