Hurricane Rita: Post Landfall +48, The Misery Index Rises
Houston and Galveston dodged a bullet. The coastal oil and gas industry didn’t take much damage. There won’t be a five dollar gas, and we can all breath a sigh of relief. Unless you live in East Texas where things remain bad and aren’t going to get much better for several days, maybe even weeks.
We now face a cascading impact from the storm. The storm has disrupted interconnected systems creating ripple effects throughout the region. Power failures lead to water failures which lead to shelter failures. Plus, we are having a record heat wave. The cumulative effect is misery.
The State of Texas is now in a logistical fight. How much logistical support can we generate in a short time to sustain thousands of people in a non-permissive environment? Or do we start evacuating people again?
Here is the current situation:
- Heat. Without power for air conditions and limited water supplies, people are now at risk, especially the very young and very old.
- Transportation and Fuel. There are still severe fuel shortages and blocked roads in East Texas. Fuel shipments are being moved in and consumed at soon as they arrive. Local jurisdictions are struggling to keep emergency responders on the road. Roads are still cut by debris or water causing relief shipments to be slow. The National Guard has flown multiple rotary wing missions into the strike zone. But, you can only “live off the hook” for so long.
- Power. Several thousand customers remain without power and will remain so for up to three weeks. This creates the largest cascading effect knocking out sewer and water supplies. Life is untenable in Texas without air conditioning. There is a tremendous need throughout the state for large generators to bring critical systems back on line.
- Life Support Systems: Beyond sewage and water, other systems are out. Hospitals and nursing homes remain without power, and drastic change in the storm forecast left many of them stuck. Even those special needs/critical care people who got out the strike zone are now stuck in areas without power. Think about all the elderly people that are on oxygen. Without power, oxygen bottles can’t be filled so full cylinders have to be pushed into the strike zone. There are also lots of dialysis patients.
- Shelters. I can imagine pure misery in the shelters. No power, sewage, or water. Limited food. Texas did a great job of getting people out of the surge zone, but the cumulative friction of the last week left a large segment of the population in need. There is a huge logistical push going on right now to re-supply small towns throughout East Texas, but it will take time.
- Communications. There are severe disruptions because of power outage and wind damage. Emergency communications towers for fire, police, and EMS are knocked down. Ditto cell phone towers. Small, rural jurisdictions that have limited communications capacity to begin with are now effectively black holes. The State sent representatives by air to many of the smaller communities to assess the situation. That was the only way to be sure contact was made.
- Special Needs. Extra capacity in the state is already maxed out from Katrina. There is now a state-wide scramble to find extra beds.
What’s happening at my location?
We’ve spent most of the day returning people to their homes. We received many evacuees by bus so we undertook an effort to return them by bus. Our shelter population has dwindled from a peak of 20,000 to about a thousand. We are going to end up sheltering people from East Texas for at least another week.
We still have many Katrina evacuees from the initial evacuation and some that we received from Houston and other areas. Nobody is prepared to take them back because systems are beyond capacity. Given, what Rita did to New Orleans, I think we can now officially say that we have refugees in this country.
What happens in the next 24-48 hours?
- The State is evaluating what to do with the special needs population, especially the nursing home patients. They will probably be moved to more tenable locations throughout the state.
- The State might also set up more shelters outside of the strike zone and move people to them, especially those from the areas that will be without power the longest.
- Vector control. Mosquitoes will become a nuisance and then a potential health hazard. Controlling them will become a priority.
- The logistical effort will take shape and gain momentum, but it will take time. This will be a coordinated local, state, and federal effort.
- Power. It all comes down to how long it will take to restore power.
- Katrina Evacuees. We still have them locally and spread throughout the state. Another disaster, this region will be severely taxed, maybe to the breaking point.
We need improvement in communications. Local, State, and the Federal government have spent millions on radio interoperability, and this is a smart effort. But, not enough money has been spent on other forms of communications. Perhaps we should start spending money on satellite voice and data communications. I’d like to see satellite phones and data links in every county seat in Texas, especially in the rural jurisdictions that are the most vulnerable to having their communications cut.
We also need to re-vamp our special needs evacuation plans. I’m not satisfied with the evacuations of nursing homes. I think we did better than Louisiana and New Orleans, but not good enough. Some people have commented on this blog that more regulation won’t solve this problem. I’m not so sure.