Praising the Texas Gulf
Coast Response to Rita
September 26, 2005
It appears there were very few deaths in Texas due to Hurricane Rita, for which we should be very thankful. We can only wonder whether God was watching over us, sparing our nation from another calamity on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. Yet we also should recognize that competent and thorough planning ensured the safety of those in south Texas.
In the 14th
congressional district, local leaders did an exceptional job of preparing for
Hurricane Rita. Officials and citizens in Galveston and Brazoria counties
deserve special praise for showing the nation and the world the right way to
prepare for a natural disaster. They
proved that the best emergency planning takes place at the state and local
level, by people who know the local citizens, roads, coastlines, and topography.
The 14th district was
fortunate to escape the worst of Rita. Brazoria
county came through the storm mostly unscathed, with some wind damage and power
outages. Surfside Beach and
Freeport were worst hit, but coastal areas further south in Matagorda county
thankfully suffered little or no damage.
Galveston Island suffered the
worst destruction, but much of it was caused by fires from downed electrical
poles. As of today some of the
island already has power, a remarkable achievement considering the storm hit
just 48 hours ago.
Evacuation of Galveston county
residents began on Monday and Tuesday, leaving plenty of extra time to move
those in nursing homes and hospitals. The
coordination of city buses for those without cars was magnificent: all buses
left from a central community center, and a hotline was set up for those who
needed a ride to the staging area. A
private organization called the Citizensí Response Team also assisted in
making sure everyone who needed a ride received one.
Special provisions were made to allow pets on the buses, which prevented
any agonizing decisions. Televised
images of the long line of buses leaving Galveston in an orderly convoy provided
a stark contrast to events in New Orleans just a few weeks ago.
Residents of Brazoria and
Galveston counties followed the designated evacuation routes perfectly, and
experienced no problems until they reached Harris County and points north.
The real traffic problems were caused by the huge exodus of Houston
drivers. State officials will have
to reconsider evacuation routes out of Houston, but Brazoria and Galveston
counties clearly were not part of the problem.
Local police and emergency
personnel in Galveston worked 12 hour shifts, and stayed up all night Friday
monitoring the situation. They had
special cell phones and satellite phones that work even when cell towers are
overloaded or knocked down, ensuring they could communicate no matter what.
The City even had a plan in place for decision making in the event the
mayor was not available.
When the storm did hit Galveston,
local emergency personnel had help from fire departments in nearby Dickinson,
Friendswood, and La Marque. Galveston
Police Chief Kenneth Mack reported that there was no looting whatsoever, a
testament to a job well done.
Special kudos are in order for
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc.
Both provided plain-spoken, calm, collected, confident leadership
throughout the week. Neither was
overwhelmed by the task at hand or the national media spotlight.
Every city in the nation must be jealous of the big-time leadership
exhibited in a town of just 60,000 people.
The people of south Texas relied not on FEMA or federal Homeland Security, but rather on themselves, their families, their neighbors, their local police and fire crews, and their local officials. The Texas Department of Public Safety and Governor Perry played strong supporting roles, but the real work was done locally, community by community. Nobody in Washington can know what is best for Galveston or any other community when facing a natural disaster. Of course federal tax dollars should be returned to south Texas to fund rebuilding in ways that strengthen our infrastructure against future hurricanes. But the real lesson of Katrina was taken to heart in Texas: local citizens must take the initiative and take care of themselves when emergencies arise. Congratulations to everyone in the 14th district for the tremendous show of Texas self-reliance in the face of Hurricane Rita.