General Observations about Hurricane Evac

Watching the Hurricane Rita exodus made me wonder about evacuation plans in general.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to start the evacuations inland then move to the outer areas? Seems to me that evacuating people on the coast first lends itself to creating the bottleneck that we are seeing now.

My thinking is get the people that are inland moving out to make room for the coastal people that will be coming through in a few days. There are only so many highways that will take people away from the danger.

Additionally, a hurricane warning means conditions will strike within next 24 hours…is that enough time to get people to safety? Before Katrina I would have said yes, but now…?

I guess this is the way it’s always been done; I just wonder if even these preparations should be looked at and reviewed for their efficacy.

Back in 1999, Hurricane Floyd was a Cat 4 storm and was heading right for Savannah. We had to evacuate and ran into the same problems you are seeing with Rita. My wife and I went to stay with my parents (about 50 miles inland). What would normally have been a 30 minute drive ended up taking us 6 hours. Luckily, Floyd (a hurricane as scary as the barber he was named for) missed us and South Carolina entirely (but did beat the crap out of North Carolina). While we were evacuated in plenty of time, it was obvious the procedure could be improved upon. The barrier islands (served by one main road) should have been evacuated first and then closer inland, etc.

All I know is that if I ever have to evacuate my home, I’m riding my bicycle.

Having been a firsthand witness to the general misery that has been the North Freeway (I-45) over the past 48 hours, one has to wonder whether there is a more efficient, yet still practical, means to move people out of the hazard zone. I’ve gotta say, however, that there probably is no workable solution.

Houston-area authorities have defined three zones of flood or surge-prone areas starting at the coast and moving back toward the city, with the zone nearest the coast evacuated first. This makes sense to me as it is the area likley to suffer the most sever storm effects.

The authorities did in fact did stagger the announcements of mandatory evacuation for each zone, in part to avoid overloading the roads with traffic, but they apparently did not factor in the considerable number of persons from outside the mandatory evac zones who decided to leave at the same time. Likewise, no one seems to have given much thought to the idea that close to half of the area’s population might absolutely need to fill up their gas tanks all at once to effect the evacuation plan.

Specific to I-45, two things in particular, IMO, have served to worsen the traffic situation:

  1. A major bottleneck caused by a construction project to replace a bridge just south of Conroe that wedges the highway from eight lanes (four each way) to four;

  2. A delay in opening the southbound lanes over the hundred-mile stretch from the Woodlands to Buffalo, TX to contraflow traffic; originally planned to start at 9 AM today, it did not get under way till sometime in the afternoon, apparently because Texas DPS underestimated the number of changes that had to be made to accomodate the reversed traffic flow safely. To be fair, this was supposedly the first time setting up a contraflow system had been tried in Texas.

Contraflow has apparently begun to ease the situation, but it looks as though the authorities will need to look at opening up contraflow lanes in the near suburbs much sooner after announcing a mandatory evacuation than they did in this case; from my own observations, the feeder roads that are common to urban freeways here could easily have accomodated the very light traffic that I saw moving opposite to the evacuation flow by themselves.

In the end, however, the overall objectives appear have been met: to move a large part of the local population out of the areas prone to coastal flooding. It wasn’t very pleasant, I know, but the system seems to have worked for the most part.

I don’t understand why it took so long for Texas to get both sides of the interstates going north. On TV, they gave the explanation that it was a “lengthy process”. :confused:

Several times in the past few years Coastal Alabama has been under evacuation orders, and it takes about one hour for I-65 from Mobile to Montgomery to become one-way. Maybe we’ve just had more practice, but all day passes before those roads were finally converted? Good grief!

To answer the Op, it really would make more sense to start the more inland people first. But how you gonna make it happen? So many people have the “I’ll leave if or when I’m damn good and ready” attitude that without a declaration of martial law, I don’t think it could be enforced.

One thing Georgia did (and I’m as shocked as the next guy) was to put in gates at the on ramps on the eastbound lanes of I-16. If we have to evacuate again, we’ll be able to use the entire intersate. The state police will make sure to clear the lanes first and then lower the gates.

See, this is what just boggles my mind. How could they forget to factor this in? I just saw on CNN that the Nat’l Guard is brining in tankers of fuel for people stuck on the highways.

They couldn’t have moved tankers into the city at the beginning of the evac orders??

First I think far too many people leave that really don’t have to leave. Now I understand you can’t stop people from leaving and I am not advocating that, but you really only need to evacuate an area if you are in a mandatory evacuation zone. I think many people in the Houston area that are leaving are not in the mandatory areas. When you run, you are running from the storm surge, the low land flooding and from the inner core winds. This means only the winds that are 115+. Winds below that speed will not completely ruin your dwelling if it is normal housing and not dilapidated or a mobile home.

Also too many people run north. If I were in Houston, I’d head to the west towards San Antonio and such. Those going north are getting right in the path of the storm as it moves inland. Rita is expected to stall out in North Texas and bring tons of rain and flooding to that area, making it even more difficult for the people to return.

Contraflow should start immediately! It has been my experience that many people leave as soon as mandatory evacuation is issued. During Dennis this year, my parents were forced to evacuate the coast. We stay almost 24 hrs past the start of the evacuation order and just ahead of the initial rainbands. Now granted we had a place to go inland that did not require a hotel reservation, so instead of being caught in up to 6 hour drive for 100 miles, by leaving behind everyone else, it only took the normal 90 minutes and we never even got wet during the ride.

Locals in the area might be better if they used alternate routes instead of the interstates. Sometimes using local routes can save you tons of time. You just have to choose your routes carefully.

A lot of what I am saying does not speak to the situation specifically w/Rita but with hurricane evacuations in general and the ones I am most familiar with…those being in North and South Florida.

I also realize that most people aren’t weather geeks like me and don’t understand the little specifics of a hurricane. But I firmly feel that a smart and informed evacuee is the best evacuee. These days it looks like people just panic and leave like chickens with their heads cut off. There is no reason to leave a brick home that is 50+ feet above sea level and 60 miles inland. Yeah, you might get some strong scary winds and have to live without power for some time, but you’ll actually be in more danger getting on the highways with everyone else.

Just my two cents, feel free to disagree.

Having just evacuated I’ll share a few thoughts.

I suppose that we did not “have to” leave but at the time we did it the predictions were for a cat 4-5 monster with a direct hit to Matagorta-Galveston. Could have, and still could loose my house like that or spend 12 hours trying to calm everybody down wondering if the roof would stay on or not. We decided on a personal level we did have to leave even if the official flood plane says we didn’t.

I am currently in San Antonio and had planned to continue going on to Las Crucses if need be so I agree with the idea of running “away” but the officials assign evacuation routes and thousands of people are being routed/forced in directions they may not have much control over.

Contra flow, gas, etc… Something needs to be done to improve this process. I left on Wed and it sucked with a capital SUCK.

The alternate route thing almost sunk us we lost 2 hrs stuck in a very ugly situation and could have spent the night in one spot if we didn’t turn around exactly when we did . I would be very careful when choosing lesser used routes that you can escape them if there are problems. The situation seemed to be that a domino effect of accidents started to take place on a two lane road that rendered it useless. Police, ambulance, and fire trucks are very busy during an evacuation and the official evacuation route (once we made it back) was slow but flowing and “orderly”. They have emergency gas being delivered and other emergency services that may not get to you out in the sticks.

I’m in Poonther’s camp. Watching this whole thing has left me shaking my head. Thanks to Katrina everyone’s become Chicken Little.

In the days BK (before Katrina) the authorities used to beg people to leave. And even though they wouldn’t, deaths would still be relatively few.

In my way of thinking, unless you cannot live without electricity for an extended time, live in a flood-prone area, live within a few miles of the beach, or live in non-sturdy housing there’s no need to flee. Just batten down the hatches and stay in an interior room. Hurricane after hurricane has proven this time and time again. This is why so many people “ride them out” with success.

Plus, the logistics, as we have seen, aren’t possible. Every hurricane that threatens the coast, I’ve wondered how in the world it could ever be possible to evacuate the fourth largest city in the US.

It really hit home when the bus burned in Dallas. Not a single one of those people even needed to be evacuated, and that should have been known from the start.

But then, I have always been an anti-alarmist. Heck, I even gasp walk the neighborhood at midnight.

Moving thread from IMHO to MPSIMS.

[QUOTE=Poonther]
When you run, you are running from the storm surge, the low land flooding and from the inner core winds. This means only the winds that are 115+. Winds below that speed will not completely ruin your dwelling if it is normal housing and not dilapidated or a mobile home./QUOTE]

Until just a few hours before Rita hit it seemed that there were only guesses as to where and how strong it would be when it hit. How am I supposed to guess if my area is going to be in the inner core winds?