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Best-laid plans weren't enough


DP Veteran
Jul 31, 2005
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HOUSTON - It was envisioned as the anti-Katrina plan: Texas officials sketched a staggered, orderly evacuation plan for Hurricane Rita and urged people to get out days ahead of time.

But tangles still arrived even before the storm's first bands. Panicked drivers ran out of gas, a spectacular, deadly bus fire clogged traffic, and freeways were red rivers of taillights that stretched to the horizon.

In an age of terrorist danger and with memories of the nightmare in New Orleans still fresh, the Texas exodus raises a troubling question: Can any American city empty itself safely and quickly?

Thousands of drivers remained stranded Friday to the north and west of Houston. Many were stuck in extreme heat, out of gas — as gas trucks, rumored to be on the way, or at least buses to evacuate motorists, never came.

"I wondered why so many people in Katrina didn't move in time, and now I'm in the same situation," she said. "All I have is cash, clothes and God."

Brian Wolshon, a professor of civil engineering at Louisiana State University, said Texas officials "will probably see there were things they could have done better."

But he added: "It's not economically or environmentally feasible to build enough roads to evacuate a city the size of Houston in a short time and with no congestion. It's just not going to happen."

It was a point all too clear to Bruce French, who left his home in Clear Lake, Texas, early Thursday, and ran out of gas just past Conroe, far short of his destination of Dallas. On Friday morning, he was stranded, waiting for fuel.

"They're giving $10 worth of gas if you're on empty and $5 if you have some," he said. "That's not going to get you very far."

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