Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Run! Run for your lives! Run wihtout thought! Run without reason!"

If enduring local news coverage is not worse than the storm, it's certainly running a close second, if only because it lasts longer.

Houston has three evacuation zones. (You can take my word for it, or download the map.) When the order to evacuate comes, it means people in those zones (all near the coast or the ship channel).

Most people in Houston don't live in those zones. But, thanks to Katrina and at least local news reporting, people are reacting as if Jon Stewart were serious when he reported that Hurricane Rita was a Category 12 hurricane, which meant it was now a black hole.

The local vulture meteorologist, with all the glee of a reviavalist tent preacher describing the torments of the damned, comes on regularly to tell people just how awful a category five hurricane can be. Except Rita is now a category 4 hurricane, and may be Cat. 3 by the time it makes landfall. Except Rita continues to track east, which may mean the blow to Houston will be considerably weaker. Except that this kind of fear-mongering (breathlessly telling people it was the "worst," and then the "third worst," storm on record) is what has led to a city of 4 million trying to leave town on roads that, under the best circumstances, are a slow crawl.

Here's how bad it is. The mayor is already on TV saying he has limited power to close roads and create "contra-flow" lanes (i.e., use the southbound lanes for north-bound evacuation). Apparently nobody in Austin considered that "evacuation routes" for Galveston, were heavily travelled roads through Houston. "Evacuation" just meant "go this way," but when you tell 58,000 people to "go" and there's only one road to take, you gotta expect a few problems the minute the "contraflow" comes to a halt.

Here's how bad it is: Lake Charles has been ordered to evacuate. The only way to go is west, and the only way to go is I-10, which runs through Houston on its way to San Antonio. A reporter on The Weather Channel, at about 3:30, was telling people in evacuation zones to stay home at this point, especially if they were leaving on I-10, which at that point still had no "contra-flow" lanes. It has been a parking lot for almost 24 hours now. Better to weather the storm in your home in a flood zone, than in your car on an interstate.

In the meantime, Rita keeps churning but, fortunately, weakening. Maybe we'll stil be able to look back and say: "Coulda been worse."

Maybe. If the tent-revival meteorologists will stop regaling us with stories of the torments of the damned. 'Cause at this point, I'm ready to put some of the responsibility for the clogged evacuation routes on them. Especially if it gets worse, and police have to stop helping traffic flow, and start telling people to go back home.

Because that may be how much worse it gets.

No comments:

Post a Comment