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Rita starkly demonstrates why you can't order an evacuation too soon.

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Brotherjohn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 01:49 PM
Original message
Rita starkly demonstrates why you can't order an evacuation too soon.
Edited on Wed Sep-28-05 02:05 PM by Brotherjohn
New reports on the escalating death toll from indicate that at least 19 people died while evacuating from Rita. Add to that the 24 people who died in the bus fire near Dallas, and there was a minimum death toll of 43 from the Rita EVACUATION alone.

On Thursday, September 22, one of the heaviest days of traffic during the mass evacuation of over two million people, 11 people died. Three deaths were recorded on Wednesday and five on Friday Nineteen people either became sick or actually died in their vehicles. Seven of those were suspected to be related to hyperthermia -- evacuees died from the unforgiving heat. Though not totally clear, since the story concerns fatalities on the highway in the three days before Rita struck (in Harris county alone), this 19 seems to refer those who either died in their vehicles or eventually died after becoming sick in their vehicles (the 11+3+5 who died on each day = 19).

A brief timeline of Ritas development and the evacuation puts things into perspective. Early Wednesday morning (September 21st, 2005), Rita was a Category 2 at 120mph, and had just passed the Florida Keys. By 4PM, it was a 165mpg Cat 5 heading for the TX coast somewhere between Corpus Christi and Galveston.

With the heightened sense of urgency brought on by Katrina, evacuation was urged, and began en masse, on Wednesday (with 1 million ordered to leave, mostly in low-lying and coastal areas). Wednesday afternoon was 2.5 days prior to landfall. By Thursday, highways leading inland out of Houston are gridlocked, with traffic bumper-to-bumper for up to 100 miles north of the city. Gas stations run out of gas. By Friday, About 1.8 million residents are under orders to leave their homes in Texas and Louisiana.
( )(Or search Google News for Rita evacuation timeline)

Rita would gradually shift to the east and weaken after reaching 175mph on Wednesday night. Landfall was in the early morning on Saturday, along the Texas/Louisiana border. Rita was a Category 3, with 120mph winds at landfall.

At least 19 people died in their vehicles, in Harris County alone. This does not even count the 24 people who died in the bus fire near Dallas. That makes a minimum of 43 people who died in their vehicles directly due to evacuation!

Now lets look at the events leading up to Katrinas landfall. Early Friday morning (August 26th, 2005), Katrina was a minimal Category 1 at 75mph, and had just passed over south Florida. By 5PM, it was a 100mph Cat 2 heading for the MS coast ( ). Friday afternoon was 2.5 days prior to landfall.

Though this is largely forgotten, mandatory evacuations were ordered in low-lying and coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi 2-3 days before Katrina as well. An evacuation of the whole of Southeastern Louisiana was strongly encouraged, and facilitated (Interstate contraflow, etc.), and largely accomplished, by Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin, 2-3 days before Katrina hit. I would also point out that there were few reported fatalities on the roads in Louisiana. The mandatory evacuation of the entire city of New Orleans was ordered 1 day before the storm hit, but most people were already out.
( )

A minimum of 43 people, based on the bus disaster near Dallas and the death toll in Harris County, died while evacuating for Hurricane Rita. Hurricane Rita ended up hitting relatively low population area at the Texas-Louisiana border (though no less painful for those communities).

Lets put this in the relevant perspective, that of two of the most deadly recent major hurricanes to strike United States metropolitan areas:

- The death toll from Hurricane Andrew in the United States was 23.
- The death toll from Hurricane Ivan in the United States was 25.

(see Wikipedia for statistics: )
- The death toll from the Hurricane Rita EVACUATION was a minimum of 43.

So to those who say Louisiana officials should have evacuated for Hurricane Katrina sooner, they need to open their eyes to the now obvious risks, and see the fallacy of such an uninformed statement. These risks are common knowledge to anyone who lives in a hurricane zone, who has watched these storms develop from depression to major hurricane countless times, and have themselves evacuated numerous times (I fit into all three of those categories). A large-scale evacuation itself, whether voluntary or mandatory, poses large risks to the population. Im speaking of the risks based on actual act of evacuating alone, without even considering the risks of abandoning an entire citys businesses, infrastructure, etc. Neither does this consider the logistical problems of evacuating an entire large city. Is it even possible? By all accounts, New Orleans had evacuated in excess of 80% of its residents, a figure far greater than what was thought possible.

Add to this the fact that hurricane projections are far from perfect. You are betting on what the hurricane might or might not do. Two days out, Rita was a Category 5 storm projected to make a direct hit on the Galveston/Houston area, as at least a Cat 4. It eventually hit a relatively unpopulated area 50 miles to the east, as a Cat 3 (again, still very bad for Beaumont and Lake Charles). Two days out, Katrina was a Category 3 storm projected to make a direct hit on the New Orleans area. That projection held true, except the strength ballooned to a Cat 5 on Sunday, and held at a Cat 4 as it made landfall on Monday (Saturday morning, it was anticipated to eventually strengthen to a Cat 3 or 4). More often than not, a storm which is putting a metropolitan area at risk either does not strengthen much, weakens before landfall, or ends up striking a relatively unpopulated area.

Its a simple fact: calling for a city-wide evacuation days before a hurricane is a huge gamble, and the results of Hurricane Ritas evacuation put the stakes of that gamble in stark terms of life and death. If you wait too long to evacuate, many people MAY die (based on whether the storm follows the projections or not). If you initiate a large-scale mandatory evacuation, many people WILL die. Worse, if you call for the latter too early, and the projections dont hold, many people will die unnecessarily.
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whatever4 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 01:57 PM
Response to Original message
1. Don't quite agree with you on this
Simply because Rita was a huge storm, and that in itself made evacuation complicated. It was difficult to predict until practically the last few hours, 12 maybe, where exactly it was going to hit. Had they waited, the "only people affected" might not have been able to get out in time. I think it was going to be difficult not matter what they did, because this huge storm necessitated evacuating very many people, and moving that many people will always involve risk of accidents.

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Brotherjohn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 02:15 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. My point is, it's a gamble. People paid the price.
Edited on Wed Sep-28-05 02:19 PM by Brotherjohn
It's easy to Monday Morning Quarterback and say "they should have evacuated N.O. earlier". But that dismisses any possible risk to evacuating.

I'm not saying you should wait. I'm saying a mandatory evacuation of an entire large city is not to be taken lightly. The people in low-lying areas near the coast are going to leave anyway (whether by order or not), if they have any sense. I'm sure most of the people of Galveston and Beaumont were ouuta there. But the evacuation of nearly the entire city of Houston greatly complicated matters, and I think unnecessarily. It also resulted in a lot of deaths. It was, in short, an over-reaction.

Even if NO ONE had evacuated the coast, it is arguable that the total death toll would have been on the same order or less than what the evacuation resulted in in this case. Galveston did not take a direct hit. Beaumont and Lake Charles are not directly on the coast. Only the small communities very near the coast, in low-lying areas, would have had many fatalities. The storm surge is the big killer, and this storm only ended up being 120mph (been through several, it ain't that bad).

And those people, again, have common sense. They know where they live. They weren't gonna stay for a minute.
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whatever4 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-29-05 07:24 AM
Response to Reply #4
13. Well, nothing to disagree with there
True words, and it's a shame that they didn't plan this, and pretty much did "take it lightly". And in the process, like you said, people paid the price. Poor planning and screwed up priorities. No doubt. No doubt at all.

And it sounds like you're a person with real-world experience too. It must drive you nuts to see those fools "in charge" act like such idiots, when the facts and issues are all to pathetically easy for you to identify, and no is paying you to do it; you know off the top of your head. They didn't seem to know anything off the top of their head or anywhere else.
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Poiuyt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 01:59 PM
Response to Original message
2. But if you wait too long, you won't get out
I don't have an answer. It's a very difficult problem. I'm just glad I don't live in a big city.
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Ilsa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 02:05 PM
Response to Original message
3. We live further south on the Tx gulf coast and I'm glad we waited
to leave. We discovered we didn't need to. We had no place to go with two young children, one of which is autistic. A shelter would have been a nightmare for everyone.
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Zynx Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 02:16 PM
Response to Original message
5. If it had stayed on its course and people had stayed...
the death toll could have been thousands.
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Brotherjohn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 04:10 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. IF it had stayed... and COULD have been thousand... but not likely at all.
There's no way NO ONE would have evacuated at all. If only the city of Galveston had evacuated, that alone would have largely eliminated any plausible deaths.

It's not likely that very many deaths would have occurred in Houston proper even if the storm had stayed a cat 5, which no one was even projecting it would have.

Houston is not in the below sea level bowl N.O. is, and is not surrounded by water like N.O. is. And even the N.O. death toll, in an absolute worst case scenario, will end up being around 1000. If most people in Galveston and Baytowne, and other areas on or near the water, ONLY, had evacuated... the death toll would have been minimal, even IF the storm had maintained it's strength and path.

It's as the next poster says, evacuation has to be selective.
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Silverhair Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 03:40 PM
Response to Original message
6. Evacuation needs to be selective.
Houston, even if Rita had stayed a CAT 5, and had hit Houston directly, did not need total evacuation. If you are 30 feet above normal high tide level, then you don't have to worry about storm surge. Flooding from massive rain is the next problem. It is easy to know what areas are in danger of flood, and which aren't.

After that the concern is if the building is vulnerable to damage from trees being blown over, and the ability of the structure to withstand the winds. Locally strong buildings (Usually there are lots of those around) should be designated as shelters. Evacuate to those (Short trip of a few blocks)and ride out the storm there.

Before leaving, fill lots of containers with water. Fill bathtub with water. At beginning of hurricane season, check hurricane supplies box.

New Orleans and Galveston are special cases due to their locations. Some other cities may have similar problems.

With those exceptions - evacuation can be done to a local shelter, instead of hundreds of miles away.
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Brotherjohn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 04:14 PM
Response to Reply #6
9. I agree wholeheartedly. Houston over-reacted. Not hard to see why...
Edited on Wed Sep-28-05 04:14 PM by Brotherjohn
... as we were all still in shock from katrina.

We "over-reacted" to 9-11, too, because we (as a nation) were in shock. It's called Iraq, and look how many people have paid.
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 04:14 PM
Response to Original message
8. I assume you assumed that some people would just normally
Edited on Wed Sep-28-05 04:15 PM by igil
die during that period. Population in Texas of 22.5 million, give or take, 150k die per year (2004 numbers), 2.5 million evacuated. 19 is a surprisingly low number.

The only conclusion is that the sickest and most likely to die didn't evacuate (at least in a risky manner--or not at all, if in a voluntary evacuation area). I'd have expected more people dying in their cars. But then again, it also shut down the freeway system (except for a slow-mo evacuation), and reduced the number of traffic fatalities for a few days.

You can't compare a known mortality for a period against 0 deaths for a population; you have to compare it against the best estimate for expected deaths for that population. Just as you can't really compare the death toll from hurricanes where the fatalities would come largely from wind against those where the fatalities would result largely from flooding: they're not comparable risks.

In any event, I still commend Perry and White (and the Galveston mayor) for their evacuation orders, even if a few assumptions were flawed. The Matagordo Cty. order was a bit iffier, and Corpus Christi order was even more iffy. But until a few hours before landfall, I was sitting here expecting to be thwacked by Rita.

BTW, the bus that burned, illing 23, was the result of the same kind of voluntary evacuation you say Nagin had for NOLA.
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Brotherjohn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 04:43 PM
Response to Reply #8
10. I assume you assume no one else died of natural causes during that time?
Edited on Wed Sep-28-05 04:51 PM by Brotherjohn
My point being I believe facts make it clear that additional people, above and beyond the natural death rate, died. We can never know how many more died than would have naturally.

So I am not comparing against 0 deaths in the population... some people of course died anyway. All indications, however, are that many people died at least indirectly from the evacuation, and the circumstances it put them in.

19 is small, yes. But you are comparing apples and oranges when you compare it to the natural death rate. Sure, 150K die a year in Texas. So does that mean 20, or 40 deaths due to a hurricane (evacuation or winds or flood) are meaningless? Of course not. We expect death as part of life. We don't expect premature deaths that are unnecessarily caused by over-reaction.

7 people in Harris County ALONE died of hyperthermia. Are you saying these 7 people would have died sitting at home (AC or not) rather than trapped in a car for hours (if not days) in 100 degree heat?

And as for the 23 people who died in the bus (sorry, I read 24 elsewhere), it matters not whether the evacuation was mandatory or voluntary... the point is evacuation has risks, which were played out horribly there. Those people CERTAINLY would not have died that day if they were at their rest home.

I commend Texas authorities as well for mandatory evacuations in areas such as Galveston, and even Matagorda and Corpus. Low-lying coastal areas like that were always much more at risk than Houston proper. I do not, however, think a mandatory evacuation was merited for any substantially-inland community at many feet above sea level.

As another post points out, that's what shelters are for (if you do not trust your abode).
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 05:35 PM
Response to Reply #10
12. No mandatory evacuation was ordered for areas many feet
sea level in Houston. Most of the mandatory evacuation areas in Houston were in the predicted storm surge area. I'm guessing there were some in Brazoria and Galveston County, simply because their evacuation plans were more general.

The article wasn't clear that all the deaths were strictly Rita-related. It did say many already had pre-existing conditions that stress brought on. How those at home and in nursing homes would have done without power for a day or two I can't tell.

My personal belief is that the majority of the problems were caused by people believing the shrill pronouncements of impending Katrina-like doom about to befall Houston, leading them to not evacuate voluntarily from high-risk areas, but leading them to evacuate voluntarily from everywhere. And they decided to all leave at once.

But still, the main problem is that if you wait until you've achieved certainty in the landfall predictions, you've sentenced a thousand or more people to death. I can't help but think the SELA death toll would have been lower had Blanco issued a similar order Thursday night, and had the police/NG spend all day Friday and Saturday busing people out and knocking on doors and evacuating nursing homes and hospitals, emptying hotels, and the like.
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Brotherjohn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-29-05 08:52 AM
Response to Reply #12
14. But on Thursday, even as late as 11PM it was a minimal Category 1...
... (75mph), projected to make landfall as a minimal Category 2 (95-100mph), in the Panama City, FL area... some 300 miles to the east. New Orleans was on the extreme outer edge of the cone of probability.

If full evacuations of cities, or even low-lying coastal areas, were ordered that early based on hurricane projections, the entire Gulf Coast would be in a near-constant state of evacuation or returning from evacuations (for half of the year).

You need to be more certain than that, or you run the risks mentioned above, plus you run a major risk of destroying the economy of the Gulf Coast. I do not speak lightly, or from an uninformed perspective. Panhandle FL and Alabama beaches' economies have been dealt very serious blows from repeated hurricanes and evacuations lately.

You absolutely cannot evacuate that early. It would be foolish. For Blanco to have done what you suggest, she would have had to have been psychic. That is the whole problem, and why it is so difficult, and why you are ALWAYS cutting it close.
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Junkdrawer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-28-05 05:01 PM
Response to Original message
11. Rita showed what happens if you attempt to evacuate a city WITHOUT A PLAN
Edited on Wed Sep-28-05 05:01 PM by Junkdrawer
In order to evacuate a city, you need to remove the inhabitants in an orderly fashion over several days. You can't just yell "every man/woman/child for themselves - leave now!"

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