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Emergency Plans Could Change After Rita’s Traffic and Fuel Troubles

Revised emergency plans could be in the works as local officials begin their review of how the area reacted to hurricane Rita and what can be done differently next time. As scenes of gridlocked roadways and empty fuel tanks begins to fade and Houston returns to normal, Houston Mayor Bill White says he’ll convene a […]

Revised emergency plans could be in the works as local officials begin their review of how the area reacted to hurricane Rita and what can be done differently next time.

As scenes of gridlocked roadways and empty fuel tanks begins to fade and Houston returns to normal, Houston Mayor Bill White says he’ll convene a blue-ribbon panel soon to review why the evacuation was as rough as it was. “Everybody knows that there got to be improvements. Some of those transportation delays were unacceptable,” he says.

White says without placing blame, the state’s inability to deliver fuel to rest stops along the evacuation routes was another problem that added to the massive traffic jams and frustrated evacuees. Texas Senator John Cornyn says despite what turned-out to be a far more complicated evacuation than officials expected, the plan did work. “That’s not to say there are not frustrations and there are not people who were dehydrated and stuck on the highway for a long period of time. But the number one job is to save human life, and we were successful in doing that,” he says.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says one factor that complicated the evacuation was the number of people who left areas that weren’t in real danger. “I think that we did not anticipate that group that just chose to leave would be the million-plus people that it was. It’s very difficult when you have a television radar image with a giant Pac-Man coming up the coast that’s going to wash over you and flood you away, that you’re not going to be scared,” says Eckels.

As residents head back into town, many of them say they don’t blame local officials and aren’t sure how they could have predicted the traffic nightmare and gas shortage. Dale Meyer lives in Missouri City and says it’s all part of living along the Texas Gulf Coast. “I think this is just part of nature and a part of the world we live in here in Houston and that’s life and if this happens once every 25 years, so be it. I don’t really know what they can do besides build tons of roads and I don’t think that’s the answer,” he says.

Others say they’ve learned some valuable lessons from Rita and will probably plan differently the next time a hurricane heads toward Houston.

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