Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hurricane Rita Approaches

Focalplane.com has been down since the evacuation of Houston started - no doubt a security measure to safeguard the servers from flooding (they are located on the ground floor of a building in southwest Houston).

So this is being written and saved before I can upload it, (connection restored 3:00 a.m. GMT September 25).

Rita follows hot on the heels of Katrina and, no doubt because memories of haunting images have been retained, both the authorities and the public have more than heeded the dangers. This led to a mass evacuation that has shown that it is impossible to move two million people out of a city in an orderly fashion even when some of the best surface infrastructure is in place (i.e. the inter-state freeway system). Houston is a dynamic city that thrives on hard work and "making something happen" in marked contrast to the "Big Easy" party city 350 miles to the east. So it is not surprising that, with immediate memories of Katrina and a more organized infrastructure, the exodus went well enough (at least until that bus exploded). As Ted Koppel on ABC Nightline (see iTunes for the Podcast) has pointed out, this exodus was given the luxury of time. A potential direct hit biological weapon could not allow for so orderly a procession.

Hindsight is always 20/20 vision and it was good for Galveston and Houston that the storm drifted to the northeast. Not good for the Sabine Pass area, of course. The key with this is, however, that Houston's infrastructure remains intact to help the region as a whole recover and that would include New Orleans. But there was clearly something wrong with the mass evacuation of people who do not live in flood prone areas and were not instructed to leave town. Katrina shares the blame in this, but stories about inaccurate media coverage have surfaced that suggest the media exaggerated the congestion on the freeways up to 24 hours after the freeways were clear.

We followed Eric Berger's weblog on the Houston Chronicle website. Excellent factual reporting, sharing of information and personal color. I don't often praise the "Chronical" but in this case they did an excellent job.

The double headache now hanging over the area is rain and flooding of the Trinity River and other valleys in East Texas/West Louisiana and how exactly all and when all the evacuees are going to get home again. In many cases they will return to homes without electricity and some damage (our house was without electricity for 12 days after the 1983 Category 3 Alicia).

Liberal newspapers in the UK have suggested some totally irresponsible headlines about the recent hurricanes. To whit, the Independent. You have to pay to read the entire article but it's not worth the money. Much better (believe it or not) to read this article on the BBC website. It's free, scientifically sound and as accurate as you can be about such matters.