Mandatory Evacuation Ordered for Galveston

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A mandatory evacuation is in effect in Galveston, Texas, as the city braces for a direct hit from Hurricane Rita. Noah Adams speaks with John McChesney, reporting from the coastal town in the direct path of the Category 5 storm.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

In southeast Texas, officials have warned residents to leave now, because it may be impossible to be rescued later. Freeways in the Houston area are jammed as hundreds of thousands of people are heading inland to escape Hurricane Rita. Today the mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas, said her city is preparing for the worst.

Mayor LYDA ANN THOMAS (Galveston, Texas): Immediately following the storm, Galveston will have the necessary state and federal troops coming on to island to help secure the city.

ADAMS: NPR's John McChesney is in Galveston, and joins us now.

John, the mayor said Galveston is an island and could feel the worst of the hurricane. What's it feel like now?

JOHN McCHESNEY reporting:

It's a ghost town, Noah. There's very little traffic. I'm sitting on the seawall here--what's known as a seawall, which is really a road about 17 feet above the water. The surf is coming in. The sun is shining. It's clear. There's hardly any wind. It's the proverbial calm before the storm. The air here's full of dragonflies. Everything is boarded up. There's hardly any traffic. I spent some time driving through a working-class district of Galveston. There's a lot of poor people out here, as well as the resort area here. And I didn't see a soul. I saw one car in about 40 blocks of very poor housing down there.

ADAMS: And, of course, too, a lot of people taken out by bus. You drove down to Galveston from Houston, 50 miles or so on the Interstate 45. What was that like?

McCHESNEY: Well, that's the contrast here. You mentioned in the open that there's the huge traffic jams up north. And as I was coming down I-45 from Houston, the first seven or eight miles coming down were just--I-45 going north was just a parking lot. And once you get down south here, there's no traffic at all because everyone's left. This traffic jam has become, I think, the story right now for this hurricane. The governor has ordered the gas trucks to be deployed along the rest stops of I-45. Some people have reported that there's a hundred-mile backup on I-45. There is no gasoline. I found no gas stations here on this island, no gas stations on the freeway, and most of the gas stations I went through in Houston were closed. It's a major problem, this gasoline issue.

ADAMS: What about bottled water? That would always seem to be something people would just jump for first.

McCHESNEY: Well, I've heard that in a lot of the big places like Wal-Mart and so on people have raided the water supplies. I found a little bit this morning in a small filling station. I don't know. I can't really tell you about the wide supply of it, but I would imagine it's just been stripped off the shelves.

ADAMS: Right. Now this part of Texas that you've been around today has some of the nation's biggest oil refineries up to Port Arthur, Texas. How are those industries getting ready for this storm?

McCHESNEY: Well, they're shutting down, Noah. I think if they're not already shut down, they're in the process of shutting down. And one of the things that's come out recently is the storm seems to be veering slightly to the east of Houston. That might be good news for Houston if it persists, but it's bad news for Port Arthur and that area where there are 22 major refineries that supply a quarter of the nation's fuel. So that's a big problem.

There's another problem for Houston that the officials here are worried about, and that is as people hear that that storm may be veering to the east, they may try to sit it out, and they're very worried that that might happen, because no one really knows where this storm's going to go at this point.

ADAMS: Thank you, John. NPR's John McChesney talking with us from Galveston.

McCHESNEY: My pleasure, Noah.

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