Voices of Hurricane Evacuees, on the Road

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Hurricane Katrina provided lessons for many residents of southern Texas, who are evacuating as Hurricane Rita approaches. But n packed highways, gas is scarce and traffic moves slowly, if at all. Host Melissa Block talks with people who are on the roads and trying to make their way to safety.


We spoke earlier today with some Texans scrambling to escape the Gulf Coast and the coming wrath of Rita. They carried with them what belongings they could, as well as fresh images of the destruction Hurricane Katrina visited upon Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. What the new evacuees found were clogged roads, limited supplies and ample confusion. Irma Washington and her extended family had left their home in Port Arthur, Texas. That's just across the Louisiana line. They were trying to join relatives in Austin. We reached her as they tried to head west on Highway 290.

Ms. IRMA WASHINGTON (Evacuee): It's just complete chaos. We left at 3 in the morning from Port Arthur. It's now after 12 noon, going on 12:30 noon out here, and we're still--we haven't even gotten out of Houston. People are running out of gas on the highways. People's cars are breaking down. People are having heat strokes. I mean, it's bad.

BLOCK: Now where is Port Arthur, exactly, where you're from?

Ms. WASHINGTON: We're right there on the coast, too. We're right by Galveston, Sabine Pass.

BLOCK: And so no question for you that you needed to get out?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Yes, ma'am. I mean, I stay right by the seawall. We walk the seawall for exercise. So, I mean, there was no doubt. I have two small babies. There was no doubt we had to get out.

BLOCK: How old are your kids?

Ms. WASHINGTON: I have a two-year-old and a three-year-old.

BLOCK: Now have you been through a storm before down there?

Ms. WASHINGTON: You know, what we get in Texas is so small, it's maybe a 1 or a 2. It's not really nothing. It's scary.

BLOCK: And everywhere you look right now, I guess, you see nothing but cars.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Yes, ma'am. That's a fact. I'm here with my father-in-law, my mother-in-law. We're actually at a gas station, and we're trying to get gas, but nobody has gas.

BLOCK: Everybody's out?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Everybody's out.

BLOCK: Do you think, Ms. Washington, that what happened with Katrina along the Gulf Coast, did that change your behavior? Was it really clear that you needed to leave?

Ms. WASHINGTON: It did open my eyes. It's not something that I'm even going to try to ride out. I'm not even counting on anything right now. I'm just trying to get me and my kids out. And I brought all my information for FEMA. I'm looking at worst-case scenario right now. The main things I brought was paperwork, but it's the kids' Social Security cards, light bills, you know, identifications, things like that. Wedding pictures, my children's pictures, things that are of personal value to me I brought, things that I cannot replace, material things I love.

BLOCK: That's Irma Washington of Port Arthur, Texas.

Howard Morris, by profession, does fire and flood restoration work. Today, he was with his wife, two teen-age children and the family dog in their Dodge Durango. They were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on US Highway 59, heading out of their hometown of Houston.

Mr. HOWARD MORRIS (Evacuee): We're in kind of southwest Houston, almost to Rosenberg. It's just a little suburb outside of--southwest of Houston, Highway 59.

BLOCK: On Highway 59. How long has it taken you to get that far?

Mr. MORRIS: We've done 46 miles in, let's see, about six hours.

BLOCK: And where are you trying to end up?

Mr. MORRIS: We're going to end up in San Antonio eventually. There's no easy way out no matter which direction you're heading.

BLOCK: Yeah. So you're trying to go south then to go north, is that what you're doing?

Mr. MORRIS: We're going to go southwest and then kind of cut--there's an interstate that you hit that goes down to Corpus that also ties back to San Antonio.

BLOCK: And what's in San Antonio when you get there?

Mr. MORRIS: Hopefully a clean shower and a hotel room bed.

BLOCK: Do you have a hotel booked?

Mr. MORRIS: Yes, we do. That's why we're headed there.

BLOCK: Oh, that's lucky. How hard was that to find?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, very. We actually started Monday when we knew something was kind of brewing, and we just didn't know really which way to book, so since the last hurricane, Katrina, everything to the east and north of us was already a problem, so we decided to try for San Antonio and figured we could always go further west if needed. Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, you just can't hardly get a room.

BLOCK: Can you describe, as you stand--you're standing on the road right now?

Mr. MORRIS: No, we're driving. We're--actually, we've just started moving for the first time, but mostly just been sitting still. And pretty much nobody's running their air. You don't know when you're going to get your next gas. And all those things are in the back of your mind, so you're just conserving, hoping that eventually the traffic will break free and you can make some time.

BLOCK: Yeah. Do you have a full tank?

Mr. MORRIS: Right now, I've got about three-quarters, and I also have five gallons strapped to my roof, so a lot of people are overheating, a lot of people are running out of gas, those kinds of things. If you can move a few feet, it makes you feel like you're doing something.

BLOCK: When you look around right where you are right now, what do you see?

Mr. MORRIS: I see six lanes of nothing but cars, just like a parking lot. It looks like you're going to the dome for a football game. It seems like everybody seems to be getting along pretty good. We haven't seen anybody try to kill anybody yet, so that's a good thing.

BLOCK: That was Howard Morris and, before that, Irma Washington, two of more than a million people trying to get out of the path of Hurricane Rita.

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