NOT ENOUGH GAS: Evacuees are running out, though National Guard fuel trucks are on their way. Some people left without enough fuel in their tanks, but mostly it just seems that people burned it up while stuck in traffic. Notes for the future: Obviously, the “contraflow” needs to start earlier, and prepositioning gas trucks along the route is probably a good idea.
The amount of traffic seems worse than expected, with more than twice as many people on the road as were anticipated. Houston blogger Bill Dyer blames local 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. . . . And ordinary folks are hyper-receptive to the hype because of Katrina. . . . 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!’”
Nobody wants to be accused of downplaying this one, of course.
Meanwhile, delays at the Houston airport resulted from TSA employees abandoning their posts. (“White, a Democrat, blamed the ‘failure to show up at work by (110) essential personnel of the federal TSA.’”) So much for the notion that federalizing airport security would professionalize it, I guess.
UPDATE: Reader Melissa Dorman emails:
As someone who recently evacuated from Houston, I can tell you the hysteria and overwhelming rush to get out was too much for the transportation infrastructure. My family lives in Clear Lake, which is southeast of the city of Houston, just North of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. We’re considered a high flood risk, being East of I-45 and South of the Sam Houston Beltway (we’re 5-10 minutes from Galveston Bay). As such, we faced a mandatory evacuation for a Cat 4 or 5. Having filled up the wife’s Suburban with gas days before, and gotten the house ready as can be, we headed off with 2 kids, 2 dogs and 3 fish that the 2 kids would not leave behind. When we left at 4:20 a.m. yesterday morning we knew things would be bad as far as traffic. Rather than joining the parking lot on I-45, which took 8 hours to drive from our location to before the North beltway on 45 (still in Houston!), we decided to use my new Microsoft GPS software and hardware and hit the back roads. Almost exactly 12 hours later, we arrived at my sister’s house in Dallas, where I’m e-mailing you from.
A few points of observation:
1. The evacuation routes and highways are incapable of moving the number of people necessary from the Texas coast, and in particular a large storm. Yes, it was stupid not to order the contra-flow to open for one day, but my guess is it took a while to make sure the southbound lanes were clear and all entrance ramps closed. Coordinating this many gov’t workers isn’t easy on a good day. As far as roads, we simply need more. To hell with the environmentalists that say concrete doesn’t solve anything, simple physics will show that more roads allows more cars to move. There is insufficient road capability on a good traffic day in Houston (an oxymoron, I know), and I’ll be willing to pay for new places to drive. Most of the roads currently in place were built during the 80s for traffic from the 70s, and can’t keep up with the population growth of the region.
2. I’m sure the Republican governor will quickly be blamed, while the Democratic Mayor of Houston will be seen as a hero fighting against the state. Now I must be the first to give Mayor White his kudos in handling the Katrina refugees–he and County Judge Eckels did a fantastic job in opening the city and Astrodome (the County’s baby). Then Mayor White’s liberal tendencies took over and he proposed paying private Houstonians a per diem to keep New Orleans refugees. This asinine proposal met a quick death at city council, given that our city purportedly can’t pay its bills now. Even though we housed a couple we’d never met from New Orleans right after Katrina hit (they were friends of our neighbors who had too many people), I wouldn’t have thought to ask for money–it was the right (dare I say Christian) thing to do. Oh, and their race didn’t matter to this evil Republican.
3. For people who were ordered to get out of Galveston and Southeast Houston, we had no choice, and the media-whipped scarefest (helps those ratings!) only exacerbated the traffic nightmares. That said, you noted that nobody wants to be at the end of the media’s pointed finger (“you should have warned people…you didn’t do enough”), from a practical point of view, it makes things worse for everyone. Back to my Microsoft program, this allowed me to route a plan on back roads, thus relieving pressure on I-10 and I-45. We headed Northeast on the Beltway, hit I-10 toward Beaumont. By 10:30 a.m., we had not even gotten 1/2 way there (an hour drive on a regular day), so I decided to take the first open exit and head North. EVERY gas station on I-10 was out yesterday morning by 9:00 a.m., but miraculously, the stations 15 miles off the freeway had gas–must be something about supply and demand. We headed North & East–away from the mass of Houston/Galveston evacuees–for some time, until we hit a Texas Dept. of Public Safety roadblock on a Northbound road. The DPS officer simply said the “road is closed” without explanation, and told us to head BACK to Beaumont and join the parking lot/freeway. I asked him why the road was closed (locals could still use it) and that it made no sense to head back and add to the problem (I was 30 miles North of I-10) at this point, but he said he was just “told” the clear road due north was closed. I explained that he was in essence risking my family’s life, since stuck on the road with a 20+ foot flood surge, would be suicide. He didn’t care and when I said it was idiotic to shut down good roads to force people onto a jammed evacuation routes, he said what was idiotic was to have to talk with people like me. I can count the number of people I’ve hated in my life on 1 hand and he’s one–stupid, inflexible and unwilling to do SOMETHING (call, just move aside to let people go, etc.) to help take people to safety. My wife tried to keep me calm, and I decided to use the GPS to find an alternate route. We went east 1.5 miles, headed northwest on a dirt road (luckily on the GPS program!) and then hit the “closed” road with no problems about 1 mile north of the idiot DPS officer. No breaking the law, no roadblock at that point, and I was on my way North again.
The sad thing is that the back roads North were almost entirely deserted. Only when we hit the “official” evacuation route would we hit miles-long gridlock, which we quickly used the GPS program to get off and go through the small towns of East Texas. We found gas, food and incredibly nice people in all these small towns, and made it to Dallas (eventually coming in I-20 from the East) yesterday afternoon. When we arrived my wife said the program paid for itself and then some. I am no Bill Gates fan but I must say it was a life saver and stress reliever.
Sorry for the disjointed e-mail since from Sun-Weds. I only got 5 hours sleep.
It’s very hard to move that many people at once, and our infrastructure isn’t designed for it. I think, though, that we should take these considerations more into account in the future.