Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rita Wrap-Up

Well, Rita came and went with far less destruction than Katrina, for which we are all thankful.

But let's not pretend that the low cost by comparison was the result of good management rather than utter accident. Rita's track took her past the greatest danger spots at Galveston, Houston and the hundreds of thousands of stranded motorists in impromptu campsites or pulled over on the edges of the interstate. The torrential rains she brought have landed over terrain able to take it, rather than the arid flash-flood country of Texas which spaed Austin, Dallas, San Antonio or dozens of other major towns and cities from being innundated. Once over land, she weakened far fater than her sister, Katrina, had.

We got of incredibly lightly. Yes, there has been billions in property damage and vast areas are without power or flooded still but material things can be fixed, can be replaced. Lives cannot - and so far reports indicate that only one person was killed, by a tornado spin-off which wrecked their trailer in Mississippi - as a direct result of the storm. Doubtless, others would have died but for heroic floodwater rescuers in Louisiana. A nation's thanks and praise goes out to those first responders. Even FEMA seems to have been more on the ball, getting a relief convoy to Beaumont, Texas - the hardest hit area - only a day after Rita made landfall.

The highest death toll from Rita came before the storm even hit, in a bus on the interstate near Dallas which exploded killing 24. Therein lies the real story of a failure to perform. As Rita hit the coast reports came in from all over East Texas of vehicles still trapped on exposed roads, of towns suddenly burdened by stranded evacuees they hadn't expected and of ad-hoc encampments at rest stops where people waited in fear to see if Rita would come their way.

Let's cut the nonsense and say what needs saying. The evacuation plan for Houston and surrounds was woefully inadequate. Not enough forethought and planning, not enough gas, not enough road-lanes, not enough response. If Rita had barrelled up the interstates from Houston to Austin and Dallas then the debacle of New Orleans would have replayed in ribbons as the roads were chopped into little islands to which rescuers could only have gained access by air. Thousands would have died. It was through the grace of nature, not the foresight of authorities, that the nightmare scenario didn't come to pass.

It needs fixed. It needs fixed before a terrorist attack or a natural event with far less warning hits another US metropolis.

Oh, and we can do without the photo-ops from supposed leaders too. Either the ones that are cancelled because its too sunny to make a good, serious backdrop or the ones that are in poor taste indeed as a Texas Governor echoes another ex-Texas governor's from-on-high detachment from the common people.