Sunday, September 25, 2005

Evacuees have a problem

New York Daily News -
Evacuees have a problem

HOUSTON - More than 1 million people bailed out on the Texas Gulf Coast in advance of Hurricane Rita, prompting officials here to proclaim the evacuation a success. But try telling that to Antonio Galvan.

The 31-year-old Houston man was among 2 million or so residents who failed to make it out in time, despite a mandatory evacuation order.

Behind the wheel of a Cadillac Escalade, Galvan, his wife, kids and parents tried to evacuate yesterday for the third time in as many days. The gas-guzzling SUV had been pressed into service after two other cars broke down, and as the storm lumbered toward landfall, the Escalade was stuck in a seven-hour-long line at a Texaco station alongside Interstate 45.

"I'm just going to turn around and go home," said Galvan, who lives in Houston. "I would rather have a roof over my head during a hurricane than a car flipping over on me."

Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina engulfed New Orleans, state and local officials tried to get a jump on Hurricane Rita, ordering residents out of areas in the storm's path. Airlifts were organized, thousands of troops were at the ready and a Navy ship deployed off the coast.

But with vehicles overwhelming roads and gas nearly impossible to find, escape, for many, was no longer an option.

"Where're the trucks at, man?" fumed Arthur Smith, 34, of Houston, whose vehicle stalled as he tried to flee. "All those oil refineries and we can't go anywhere."

Gov. Rick Perry acknowledged the evacuation was not perfect.

"I wish I could wave a magic wand and transport people magically from Houston to Dallas," Perry said. "[But] it is almost miraculous that this many people were moved out of harm's way."

Gas trucks were dispatched to roam freeways and provide 5-gallon bursts of fuel to stalled motorists. The state yesterday reversed the traffic flow along portions of two interstates, finally breaking the gridlock. City cops were posted at Houston's few working gas pumps.

"When the cops came, things got in tune," said Michele Trevino, 37, who waited five hours to fill up.

At a Mobil station next to Interstate 45, shoving matches broke out when some drivers tried to cut the long line by paying off someone at the pump to fill their plastic tanks.

"I'll take your money, I don't care," said one woman who was accepting $20 for $5 worth of gas. "I already made $60 this way."