Friday, September 23, 2005

Apparently there really is a "Beltway Mentality"

I know Atrios linked to this WaPo editorial already, but waiting for a hurricane is dull work.

FOR THE PAST 48 hours, the evacuation of the Texas coastline in anticipation of Hurricane Rita has run like clockwork. In Galveston -- a city nearly wiped out by a hurricane a century ago -- nursing homes and hospitals have been carefully, systematically evacuated. Buses have been provided for the indigent and immobile. For the first time in history, freeways leading north and west out of Houston were running in only one direction, although traffic was snarled with breakdowns and gasoline shortages. The National Guard, the military and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are all prepared. Navy ships are off the coast; the Red Cross is moving in supplies; stores have sold out of batteries and bottled water.
Let's check the Houston Chronicle on that one, shall we?

Sixteen hours to San Antonio and Dallas. Eleven hours to Austin. With over a million people trying to flee vulnerable parts of the Houston area, Hurricane Rita will be a nightmare even if Galveston doesn't take a direct hit. .

Trying to leave Houston on I-10, Ella Corder drove 15 hours to go just 13 miles today. Noticing cars out of gas littering the freeway, she turned off her air-conditioner to save fuel, but the 52-year-old heart patient worried the heat and exhaustion were taking a toll on her.

"All I want to do is go home," she said tearfully by cell phone. "Can't anyone get me out of here? "

Other evacuees' frustration turned into anger as the day wore on.

"This is the worst planning I've ever seen," said Julie Anderson, who covered just 45 miles in 12 hours after setting out from her home in the Houston suburb of LaPorte. "They say we've learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina. Well, you couldn't prove it by me."
Even the New York Times knows better.
Heeding days of dire warnings about Hurricane Rita, as many as 2.5 million people jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, creating colossal 100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas as the huge storm bore down on the Texas coast.

Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers. And as for Texas being more ready, or less corrupt, than Louisiana:

Officials also made matters worse for themselves by announcing at one point that they would use inbound lanes on one highway to ease the outbound crush, only to abort the plan later, saying it was impractical.

And, of course, there was that little problem of federal employees who lived in the evacuation zones:

The Houston area's two major air gateways, Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental, suffered major delays when more than 150 screeners from the Transportation Security Administration, facing their own evacuation concerns, did not show up for work. The agency later rushed in replacements, a spokeswoman said, but passengers, already burdening the system with extra luggage for their trips to safety, waited for hours to go through security.

Not to mention the fact control of traffic on the freeways is not solely a matter for city government. It was Thursday morning before Gov. Perry decided to allow north and west-bound traffic to travel on south and east-bound lanes, and late in the day before that finally happened. The traffic problems WaPo is blissfully ignorant of started Wednesday, and this is what, Friday?

Starting Wednesday night and throughout Thursday, the major evacuation routes, Interstate 45 north to Dallas, I-10 West to San Antonio, Route 290 to College Station and Austin, and 59 to Lufkin grew into hundred-mile-long parking lots. Drivers heeding the call to evacuate Galveston island and other low-lying areas took 4 and 5 hours to cover the 50 miles to Houston. And there the long crawl north began in earnest.
And, of course, the fact that New Orleans and lower Mississippi were destroyed, is actually a good thing. Every cloud has its silver lining, right? Sayeth the WaPo editorial board:

Part of the explanation for what seems, so far, a textbook example of how to do these things right, is, of course, the example of Hurricane Katrina. Had the residents of Houston and Galveston not so recently seen what hurricanes can do to low-lying cities, they might not be so willing to leave as efficiently. Had FEMA not been attacked for incompetence, it's possible the federal response wouldn't have been rapid, either.
"Textbook," huh? Perhaps they need to talk to Rep. Coleman. Except, of course, he's a Democrat, and so "partisan:"

"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."

The situation raised serious worries about how the city would handle something like a terrorist attack, he said.
Or maybe they just need to read other papers. Because this is the only story on the evacuation I can find in the Post just now: "As Many as 24 Elderly Evacuees Killed in Bus Blaze."

Apparently, unless it bleeds, it not only doesn't lead; it doesn't even penetrate the D.C. bubble.

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