HURRICANE LEAVES DAMAGE, POWER OUTAGES
By LEWIS SPEARMAN
NORTHEAST HARRIS COUNTY Hallelujah the great storm is over lift up your wings and praise.
Thursday, before the storm hit one cold see the local skies in surreal blazon of orange as chemical plants burned off what was not stored underground. Friday morning, in the wee hours, bands of clouds obscured then revealed again a bright half moon shaped as a bowl.
But it was in the aftermath of the storm when Harris County officials learned that 33 residents had died, the vast majority after the winds had passed. Most of those claimed by the storm were victims of heat or lack of medical treatment. Two people in Houston were killed when a tree hit their house.
Power outages were mostly cleared up in Highlands and Crosby on Sunday with a few sections on Monday afternoon. Huffman had power outages through press time, Tuesday, along with Dayton. Massive gusts had twisted down transformers along FM 1960. Beaumonts Entergy power company had mostly been that areas source of generation. CenterPoint Energy indicates 100,000 customers are still without power at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday. Entergy indicates 256, 000 are still without power in Texas. Reliant indicates some 17,000 are still without power on Tuesday morning. Rotating blackouts and brownouts continue in Mongomery, Walker and Grimes counties as Liberty finds itself in the same shape for electric power as Port Author.
All of us around here may all have family visiting with us for a couple of weeks or so from Dayton and up there, smiled Mr. Charles Lee.
All of us that survived this weather related crisis will remember that people fell into two categories of character: the courageous benefactors against the selfishly obstructive.
One courageous example is Don Hendrix Superintendent of Crosby ISD having opening the newly remodeled high school as an evacuee refuge. Some 1070 took shelter there Friday afternoon and Robin Creed and her husband cared for the evacuees animals in the Ag. shop. Meals were prepared for the sheltered in place by Eva Bernard and Caroline Charping.
Harris County Sheriffs Deputies and Precinct 3 Constable deputies were making a show of force throughout the local areas prior to and during the Great Bugout. Most officers appeared thoroughly tired by Sunday night, some say privately that they may have had as little as eight hours sleep since Thursday.
When no hospital was open, ESD#5 (Crosby ambulance service) set up a hospital inside the high school shelter doing triage, giving medication, treating the infirm, injured and helping those with child. Another example of the courageous, Christy Graves was still at work managing ESD#5 Saturday night into Sunday morning worrying that her oxygen tanks would run out soon and the ambulances were nearly out of gas.
Saturday afternoon San Jacinto Methodist Hospital became the first hospital to open outside Houston, East all the way to Alabama. Workers indicated some staff had evacuated Friday due to the hospital being able to withstand a Category 2 hurricane when a Category 5 was predicted to make landfall nearby. Many medical workers were staffing the hospital on a voluntary basis and yet the facility was at that time only about half staffed with patients coming from nine Texas counties and parts of Louisiana.
Friday night winds of up to 70 m.p.h. slowed firemens’ efforts to battle flames in downtown Galveston as Hurricane Rita was coming. Two historic homes and a commercial building blazed. One of the buildings was destroyed. It was unclear whether anyone was inside. On Saturday night, one could not avoid the smell of Galveston burning in Highlands and Crosby.
The evacuation of the Greater Houston/Galveston Area has been touted as a complete success by many officials. With more than 2 million people having fled coastal areas in advance of Hurricane Rita, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told citizens Friday, “We’re gonna get through this.”
The state has made preparations — partly the result of “extensive exercises” over the years, he told reporters in Austin. And Perry praised citizens for taking “this evacuation very seriously.”
Evacuees who heeded government warnings to leave at-risk areas immediately found themselves mired in massive traffic jams, some stretching for more than 100 miles. Hurricane Rita is bearing down on the coast at a sluggish 10 miles per hour, but traffic in some areas has moved even slower.
Desperate motorists sat for hours in the sweltering heat, sometimes inching along one car-length at a time, sometimes at a complete standstill. Most gas stations in Houston and along the highway have either closed in preparation for the storm or run out of fuel themselves. In the hours of idling on the highways, some people say they have run out of food and water. Evacuees expressed anger and fear as the hours slipped by and they began to wonder if they would have to weather the storm in their vehicles.
Gov. Rick Perry said National Guard crews were delivering fuel and trying to relieve the congestion on the roads and when people look back, they will consider it “miraculous” that so many people were moved from endangered areas in a short time.
But the last word on the success of the evacuation may rest with evacuees that had different experiences.
Chelsea Connor, 16, of Freeport voiced her opinion during the evacuation, This whole experience has been tiresome and emotional. At school we were getting ready for homecoming. Wednesday, I was told by dad that I had a 10 minutes to pack 10 things up and oh, yeah, the house probably would not be there when we got back. I will never forget the roadrage, we saw some guy shooting at someone, two guys fighting over a gasoline line and people driving like crazy. When I hear the politicians breaking their arms to pat themselves on the back over what a good job they did, I just hope those arms break off and get lost in the woods like us.
On Tuesday, September 27, Houstons Mayor Bill White announced that evacuees that left vehicles along Houstons roadways would not have to pay to get them back. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is said ready to reimburse the city $124 for each car towed under the Safe Clear Mandatory Tow Program.
It would be Tuesday before local stores had completely opened.
That same day, small water system customers have been asked by Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services to boil their water and let it cool before drinking.
Having issued dire warnings to residents urging them to flee the storm before Wednesday, Sept. 21, Mayor White began saying he had not ordered so many people to evacuate. Though the evacuation orders for Houston were largely voluntary except for residents of specific flood-prone areas and people who live in mobile homes, Whites warnings last week had urged people not to wait for the storm, invoking the destruction caused by Ritas predecessor in Louisiana and Mississippi as an extra prod to encourage them to flee.
But authorities admitted they had not prepared for so many people to evacuate all at once.
Frank E. Gutierrez, the emergency management coordinator for Harris County, told the New York Times that in models they had projected 800,000 to 1.2 million people would flee, but that “well over 2.5 million” were clogging the highways.
Anger rose as aerial shots of the areas highways showed northbound lanes clogged and southbound lanes under used. Mayor White said he pleaded with state and federal officials to open southbound lanes to northbound traffic.
The Texas Department of Transportation admitted it initially had no plans to implement such a scheme, known as “contra-flow.”
For the record, Rita was a Category 3 hurricane at landfall with top wind speed near 120 m.p.h., with higher gusts, her eye made landfall just east of Sabine Pass, La. at 4:40 a.m. CDT. Ritas Hurricane-force winds went out 85 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds out to 205 miles.