Houston has been at the forefront of the Katrina relief effort and an often heard question dealt with why the people of New Orleans did not heed the call to evacuate. With Rita bearing down on the Houston area the answer is a little clearer to those currently wrestling with the same decision. No one wants to expose their family to a potentially dangerous situation but the decision to stay or go is not as simple as it seems on the surface. How difficult this decision is can only be appreciated by examining the thought process that is being undertaken by everyone close to the Texas Gulf Coast right now. Those in the predicted storm surge area don’t have to think about anything, they are under a mandatory evacuation. Those of us who are not under mandatory evacuation but are still in the predicted path of Rita are the ones facing a difficult choice. So why would any of us choose to stay?
Only a few hours after those on the coast began fleeing the area news outlets were reporting that given the sheer numbers of evacuees there was not a hotel room available in the entire state of Texas. This means that people without relatives or friends outside the storm zone would have to go all the way out of state to the north or to the west to escape. The staggering amount of cars trying to flee the area means that such a trip could easily take 24 hours to get to a safe destination. Right now every single route out of the area is bumper to bumper in traffic that is barely moving, trips through Houston of just a few miles are reported to take over 5 hours! For many in the area there is simply nowhere to go.
Area residents that choose to make the trip anyway are confronted with some tremendous obstacles. Gasoline stations in Houston are either out of gasoline already or have lines that stretch for blocks in some cases. Heading out of town is a challenge before you even leave the area because you must have a full tank when you don’t know how far you’re going to go. The high price of gasoline starts your journey with only the first big expense of what will likely prove to be a very expensive trip. There is no telling how many additional times you will have to fill the tank before you find a hotel somewhere out of state. It could easily be a couple of hundred bucks just for gasoline. Those with large families will be hit with large hotel bills once they find a place to land, it will surely be necessary to stay for days if not a week or two as predictions are that the coastal area will be without power for up to two weeks. Those families that have pets will find it even more difficult to find a place to stay that will accept pets in the rooms. I know I couldn’t bear to leave my dogs behind to fend for themselves, especially after seeing all the heart-wrenching video of abandoned pets in New Orleans after Katrina.
All of these things are being considered by thousands of people in the areas expected to be impacted by Rita, and many are not sure if they should go or not. Or if it’s even possible to get out of town at this point. So we decide to ride it out while people elsewhere in the country ask their televisions “why didn’t they just get out?”