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Becoming Complacent with Disaster Preparedness

As Hurricane Rita was making its way through the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, the projected path was towards the Houston and Galveston, Texas area. An evacuation was called for parts of Harris and Galveston counties.  Which is where the cities of Houston and Galveston are located.

The way evacuations are “supposed” to work, the areas that are nearest the Gulf of Mexico are evacuated first.  Which is Galveston, and lower Harris county.  That is how its supposed to work in theory.  In reality, how does one of the largest cities in the USA evacuate? They dont.  There were stories of people spending 18+ hours on the highway and not even going 10 miles.

There are 2 major highways going north out of Houston – HWY 59 and HWY 45.  Going east and west, there is Interstate 10, 1960, old HWY 90 and 105.  HWY 105 is north of the Houston area.  It goes from Beaumont, through Cleveland, Conroe and finally hits HWY 6.

On a typical day, its pretty much bumper to bumper on all of those roads.  But an evacuation is not a “typical” day.  Traffic ground to a dead stop as millions of people tried to flee Hurricane Rita.  Untold numbers of people gave up on the evacuation, turned around, went back home and were ready to accept whatever fate awaited them.

When Hurricane Rita neared the coast, the point of projected landfall was moved to the east – from Galveston to the Sabine Pass area.  The evacuations for Galveston and Houston were canceled and people returned to their homes.  A few months after Rita made landfall, there were questions as to why an evacuation was even called for the residents of Houston.  There seemed to be a backlash of anger towards the City Government.  People were frustrated that they were stuck in traffic for hours- and for nothing.

In August of 2008, Hurricane Ike formed in the Atlantic ocean.   Even though the projected path changed several times, Ike finally made landfall in Galveston, Texas.  This time, there was no evacuation like what had happened with Hurricane Rita.


After Hurricane Ike made landfall, the reports started coming in. Parts of Galveston were flooded and damaged by the high winds, hundreds of homes in Crystal Beach were destroyed, communities from Galveston all the way to Southwest Louisiana were flooded. One community that stood out was Bridge City Texas, where some homes that were 20 miles inland received as much as 9 feet of storm surge.

Hundreds of thousands of people (if not millions) in the Houston area were not prepared to deal with the power outages, shortages of food and lack of safe drinking water.  Some families evacuated their young children out of the affected areas and sent them to friends and other family members houses.  There are stories of people in the Houston area that did not even a have a working flashlight for when the power went out.  Or maybe one flashlight for the whole family to share.  People that did not have some type of grill or camp stove quickly found out they had no way to cook without electricity.

Then the stories of the deaths and missing people started rolling in.

Hurricane Ike destroyed this home in Crystal Beach, Texas

Hurricane Ike destroyed this home in Crystal Beach, Texas

One lady in the Crystal Beach area decided to stay.  She had lived in the area for years, had evacuated several times and nothing ever happened to her home.  So she decided to stay through Hurricane Ike, because “nothing is going to happen.”  During the night, she called one of her friends (who retold this story to the search crews that were looking for bodies), and said that she might have made a mistake.  The homes along the beach are built up on beams, with some 15 – 20 feet off the ground.  The lady was at a window, and watched her propane tank float by.  This means the water was maybe 10 – 15 feet deep.  Evacuation was no longer possible.  The ladies home was destroyed, her body was found several days later about a mile from where her home used to be.

Greg Walker, who evacuated his family to southwest Louisiana, decided to return home to keep on eye on his house.  Greg and his family lived in the Port Arthur, Port Neches area, so he went through Bridge City – which is the fastest route.  Between Bridge City and the Rainbow Bridge, Gregs’ truck ran into flood waters caused by Hurricane Ikes’ storm surge and the motor stalled.  Greg called the Orange County Sheriffs office – who was unable to provide assistance because of the high winds and rising flood waters.  The story goes something like this – Greg left his truck and was trying to make his way to the Rainbow Bridge, where he could have gotten above the flood waters.  The dispatcher with the Orange County Sheriffs department tried to stay on the phone as long as possible, but finally told Greg to hang up and call his wife.  Nobody knows “exactly” what happened.  Its figured that Greg was overcome by the high winds and quickly rising storm surge.  His body was found about 10 days after Hurricane Ike made landfall and a few miles from the road where his truck stalled.  Greg died trying to do what he thought was best for his family.

Because of the false alarms caused by previous hurricanes, a lot of people did not take Hurricane Ike seriously.  They had become complacent with the idea that “nothing will happen.” Because of this “complacency”, more people probably died then should have.

Flooding in Bridge City from Hurricane Ike

Flooding in Bridge City from Hurricane Ike

In the community of Bridge City, people had become complacent. They had evacuated with Hurricane Rita and nothing had happened. So what was the big deal with Hurricane Ike? There were a lot of people in Bridge City that had decided to stay. Some changed their minds and evacuated. Those that stayed, a lot of them had to be rescued from the flood waters caused by the storm surge.  In some areas of Bridge City, the flood waters got 9 feet deep .  Luckily, the people that had gotten the most water in their homes had listened to the warnings and left to area.

Within hours of Hurricane Ike passing through, some of the deputies from the Orange County Sheriffs office got a couple of earth movers – these are like really big dump trucks – and started rescuing people from their flooded homes and roof tops in Bridge City.   There is one picture floating around, of when police officers were in the earth movers, and going down the Cow Bayou bridge, there was a man and a dog in an aluminum boat at the bottom of the bridge.  The mans house had become flooded by the storm surge. So he got his dog, loaded up in his little boat and made his way to the nearest dry ground.  Which happened to be the Cow Bayou Bridge.

Then there was Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans.  The levees broke, New Orleans flooded and lives were lost.  If more people would have evacuated, the misery and lose of human life probably would have been a lot less.

Monument to the 1900 hurricane in Galveston Texas

Monument to the victims of the 1900 hurricane in Galveston Texas

In 1900 a hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, killing an estimated 6,000 – 12,000 people.  The accepted number is around 8,000 people who lost their lives.

Due to the lack of technology, the residents of Galveston had limited warnings and knowledge of the storm.  The only reliable source of information on storms was from ship reports.

When the storm made landfall, it caused a storm surge that was estimated at 15 feet.  Its also estimated that the entire island that makes up Galveston was submerged.

In response to the 1900 Hurricane, Galveston built a seawall that now protects most of the island from storm surges.  The first real test of the storm wall was when Hurricane Ike made landfall in 2008.

One disaster that might be one our door step is the “Swine Flu.”  In the spring on 1918 there was an outbreak of mild flu.  It was no big deal and was about equal to seasonal flu. Between the spring and fall of 1918, the flu had time to mutate.  When the flu returned, it was called the Spanish flu and killed an estimated 20 – 50 million people around the world.

The question is, will the swine flu mutate like the spanish flu and turn into a killer.  Or will the swine flu stay like it was during the spring, or simply fade away to never be heard from again?

Because the swine flu was not a killer like what the World Health Organization said it was, people might develop a relaxed attitude about the issue.  The next time its reported that the “swine flu has killed 100 people”, there are going to be a lot of people that say – “so what, it’s a false alarm.  Nothing happened last time, so nothing is going to happen this time.”


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