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Galveston uses its school buses

Posted by Richard on September 22, 2005

Did you see any of the news footage from Texas last night or this morning, showing the highways jammed with people evacuating from Galveston? Did you notice the long lines of yellow school buses? The Houston Chronicle has multiple stories and pictures (emphasis added, except in picture captions).

Tim Johnson / Reuters
School buses leave the Galveston Community Center to evacuate citizens of the city in preparation for Hurricane Rita.

The sobering images from Katrina seemed to focus the minds of Texans watching Rita approach:

"The real lesson that I think the citizens learned is that the people in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi did not leave in time. There was great loss of life and property and misery,” said Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. "We just don’t want that to happen here. We’ve always asked people to leave earlier, but because of Katrina, they are now listening to us and they’re leaving as we say.”

Mandatory evacuations in Galveston County weren’t to begin, zone by zone, until 6 p.m. today, but by daybreak dozens of people destined for shelters in Huntsville had lined up for bus rides at the Galveston Island Community Center, carrying pillows, bags and coolers.

By midday, 1,500 people — plus their pets — had left in the mile-long caravan of yellow school buses. Many, including Edward Herron, 61, had ridden out earlier storms, but not Hurricane Rita.

I don’t think we’ll be seeing any pictures of hundreds of flooded buses this time:

Although Galveston police don’t plan to drag reluctant residents off the island, city officials reassured residents no one who wants to leave would be left behind. Sharon Strain, head of the Galveston Housing Authority, said anyone who can’t make it to the buses would be picked up.

"We’ve got more bus space than people and I’m not going to send them off empty,” said City Manager Steve LeBlanc. "We are going to hold empty buses until the bitter end."

Apparently, they remembered to evacuate the nursing homes, too.

Tim Johnson / Reuters
Residents from the Edgewater Retirement Community in Galveston get ready to board a bus to evacuate the city in advance of Hurricane Rita.

Evacuating the frail has become a top priority. Clear Lake Regional Hospital and Mainland Medical Center began evacuating patients today, along with the Isle’s only hospital, the University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston. 

This morning UTMB Galveston was evacuating 450 patients by helicopter and ambulance. Plans call for adult patients to go to the Univeristy of Texas Health Center at Tyler and children to go to Children’s Hospital of Austin.  

For a handful of remaining patients, estimated to be "less than 15," evacuation would be "a death sentence," said spokeswoman Chris Comer.  

The Galveston hospital will remain open for those patients as well as a few women already in labor. The emergency room will also remain open during the storm, although Comer warned that people riding out the storm won’t be allowed to use it as a shelter.

And they don’t just open the jail doors in Texas:

In addition, the county is emptying the inmates from the county jail. Some were released on bond, while 40 others are being transported by school bus to a jail in Angelina County.

Plans were also under way today to evacuate nearly 5,000 inmates from five state prisons that authorities believe are in harm’s way.

The evacuations included:

– 1,098 inmates from the Scott Unit in Angleton were moving to the Ellis Unit in Huntsville and the Ferguson Unit in Midway.

– 1,132 inmates in Clemens Unit in Brazoria were moving to the Hightower Unit in Dayton, Wynne Unit in Huntsville and Estelle Unit in Huntsville.

– 1,572 inmates from the Terrell Unit in Rosharon were moving to the Lewis Unit in Woodville, Polunsky Unit in Livingston and the Eastham Unit in Lovelady.

– 1,082 inmates in Jester III Unit in Richmond were moving to the Jester IV Unit in Richmond, Jester I Unit in Richmond and the Central Unit in Sugar Land.

– Approximately 400 in the Young Unit in Texas City were moving to Plane State Jail in Dayton, Gatesville Unit in Gatesville and the Estelle Unit in Huntsville.

Despite all the plans, procedures, and lines of buses, however, officials made it clear to citizens that they had a responsibility to themselves and their neighbors, and that government help was a last resort, not the first choice:

White said people who have no way to leave town and people who have any spare seats in their cars should try to hook up.

"We need citizens who need assistance to evacuate to seek out friends and neighbors . . . There will not be enough government vehicles to evacuate everyone," he said. "Citizens are the first line of defense."

Those who have no other options should dial the city at 311 to make transportation arrangements with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Outside the service area, residents can call 713-837-0311.

Wow. Call the Transit Authority to get a ride out if you have to. I guess in Texas, their emergency evacuation plans include somehow having bus drivers available for their school and municipal buses and actually evacuating everyone. Maybe they should share their secret with Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin.

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