Texas Official on Evacuations, Preparing for Storm Damage
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Hurricane Rita, spinning over the Gulf of Mexico, decreased to a Category 4 storm today but it is still ferocious, with top wind speeds of 145 miles per hour. Across the Texas Gulf Coast and into southeast Louisiana, people struggled to get out of the way, but they found massive traffic tie-ups. David Paulison is acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Mr. DAVID PAULISON (Acting Director, FEMA): The evacuations are going very well. There--I know you see a lot of traffic on the road, but that's why we tell people to leave early when the evacuation's ordered. But we still feel that we have plenty of time to get those people out of harm's way before this storm makes landfall sometime tomorrow.
NORRIS: Closer to the storm, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was in the Texas Emergency Operations Center in Austin. The state took in more than 370,000 evacuees after Hurricane Katrina. Now, Dewhurst says, Texas is trying to evacuate well over a million people.
Lieutenant Governor DAVID DEWHURST (Texas): We have a plan that we're executing to evacuate people from the Gulf Coast, from the Gulf Coast counties between Beaumont and Corpus Christi. We're moving some 1.2, 1.3 million people north. And at the same time, we're bringing in resources. We're bringing in the National Guard. We're bringing in ice trucks, water trucks, generators, a field hospital, meals to be able to respond after the hurricane passes through the Gulf Coast area. But our urgent needs right now--we've got about 4,000 people who need evacuation out of Jefferson County, and these are mainly special needs, and the only way to move them is with military aircraft.
The other challenge for us is that as, literally 1.1, 1.2 million people move north out of the Galveston, Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur area that we're having some traffic slowdown. And we're in the process right now of opening up our Interstate 45; all lanes will go north. I-10, open up all our lanes. Folks, if you're listening to me, 59's going to be open from Houston, both lanes going to Lufkin. So we're in the process of opening these up, plus bringing in fuel for the motorists that are stranded. I just finished talking wi...
NORRIS: Motorists who are running out of gas, you mean.
Lt. Gov DEWHURST: Yes, that's right, who are running out of gas.
NORRIS: Now this is a one-two punch. This is the second hurricane in the Gulf in less than a month. And that taxes your resources, that taxes the physical endurance of government employees and also all those volunteers that were helping the Katrina evacuees. How worried are you about this?
Lt. Gov. DEWHURST: I'm talking to you from the Texas Emergency Management Center, the Emergency Operations Center. Some of these people here, Michele, have been her non-stop the last three or four weeks.
NORRIS: And they haven't had time to breathe...
Lt. Gov. DEWHURST: No, no. They're worn out.
NORRIS: ...and now here comes another hurricane. So...
Lt. Gov. DEWHURST: They are worn out. But they realize their job, and their--the highest calling for any of us in public service, is to protect our fellow citizens, and that's what they're working around the clock to do.
NORRIS: I can almost hear the worry in your voice.
Lt. Gov. DEWHURST: Well, it's a challenge. You know, we've got some real challenges. We've had some nursing home operators leave and leave their patients, and we've responded with our state police, and we've got them out. It makes you mad.
NORRIS: You mean, the owners left and left the residents in the nursing homes?
Lt. Gov. DEWHURST: Yeah, the owners left. And, you know, you got an obligation when you're taking care of someone of special needs. Last night, Michele, without sleep in some cases, our state police officers knocked on every door of every special needs facility in a five-county area where the hurricane is going, to make sure that anyone who needed help could go, to make sure that all of the nursing homes had been evacuated, the hospitals had been evacuated, our jails have been evacuated. And if they needed assistance, we'd provide it.
NORRIS: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us.
Lt. Gov. DEWHURST: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: David Dewhurst is the lieutenant governor of Texas.