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Texas' Coastal Regions Brace for Hurricane Rita


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

On the Texas coast, it's boarding up and decision day, according to one city spokeswoman. Hurricane Rita is still days away, but evacuation plans are already in effect. The city of Galveston is especially vulnerable, southeast of Houston on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. A voluntary evacuation began there today, explains Eliot Jennings. He's the Emergency Management coordinator for Galveston County.

Mr. ELIOT JENNINGS (Emergency Management Coordinator, Galveston County): Some of the important lessons that we've learned from Katrina, of course, is the need to evacuate and evacuate early. Also, we do not open shelters in Galveston County prior to landfall because we cannot ensure the safety of our citizens if they stay in shelters here locally. Starting at 10:00 in the morning, buses will be ready to depart Galveston with individuals that don't have transportation. And we actually do that prior to our mandatory evacuation, which, based on the current forecast, mandatory evacuations will go into effect tomorrow at 6 PM.

NORRIS: And what does that mean? At that point do you go door to door and force people to leave the city?

Mr. JENNINGS: No. What it does do is it does ensure that businesses will shut down, allowing employees to leave. It implements our traffic management plan, where we rely upon hundreds of law enforcement agencies to control traffic and ensure that those main evacuation routes are monitored and traffic is kept flowing. It also allows us to limit access to Galveston Island.

NORRIS: And how do you handle holdouts, those who refuse to leave?

Mr. JENNINGS: We just try to appeal to their common sense, remind them that at some point in time during the height of the storm, when they're huddled inside their house or they've gone to the attic, that any calls for help that might get through, as much as our police, fire and EMS would like to assist them, they simply won't be able to. It will just--the conditions will be too bad.

NORRIS: The Red Cross and emergency officials there in Texas, particularly in Houston, have been very busy working with evacuees from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Are they stretched thin now? Will they be able to quickly shift gears and shift locations?

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah, they have been stretched thin. One thing that the state of Texas started working on immediately over the weekend was recognizing that, you know, we had some shelters that were too close to the coast, and we were still in hurricane season, so they did start doing some planning and making some efforts to relocate people. I know that the people that were still at the shelters in Houston today were being transferred to Arkansas. The state of Texas also implements a lot of state resources and does not rely entirely upon Red Cross volunteers.

NORRIS: And I understand people will be allowed to bring their pets on that--buses. Does that in some way link to what we learned following Katrina in New Orleans, where many stayed behind to protect their animal?

Mr. JENNINGS: That certainly is one big lesson that did cause some changes in our plans. But we certainly realized from Katrina that many people that still would rely on public transportation, if they can't take their pet, they simply won't go.

NORRIS: Well, Eliot Jennings, thanks so much for taking time to talk to us.


NORRIS: Eliot Jennings is the Emergency Management coordinator for Galveston County. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.