This is what I call not taking any chances.
Activating its emergency management plan this afternoon, Galveston asked residents to voluntarily leave in preparation of Rita, which is a tropical storm now but is expected to strengthen into a hurricane this afternoon. By the time it hits the Gulf Coast on Saturday morning, it is likely to be a Category 3 hurricane.
"It could hit anywhere in the window of Brownsville and New Orleans," said Lance Wood, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The Houston area is in the center of that window."
"It would be wise for everyone on the Texas and Louisiana coast to pay attention and watch this storm," he said.
Galveston's evacuation is to begin at 2 p.m. Tuesday if the weather forecast holds, but five-day forecasts are often off by hundreds of miles. Galveston officials are likely to decide whether a mandatory evacuation is warranted by Wednesday.
Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas urged residents to fill up their gas tanks and gather essentials such as a three-month supply of medicine in addition to identification, deeds, insurance policies and other important papers. She said those who need transporation should call 409-797-3710.
Galveston is lining up over 80 buses to take out evacuees starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday and running through 2 p.m. Friday. They will leave from the island's community center at 4700 Broadway, using buses from the city, school district and Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority. Volunteers will drive the buses and will be allowed to bring their families.
Taking a lesson from Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans who refused to abandon their pets, Galveston officials have decided to let residents bring their pets on the buses as long as they're in cages. Pet owners can call 409-763-8477 to make arrangments.
Bed-ridden Galveston residents will be evacuated by Emergency Medical Services. To make arrangements, call 409-938-2424.
Galveston UTMB plans to decide by Tuesday whether to begin some sort of evacuation and will post information on its website.
A third of those who stayed said they never heard the mandatory order to evacuate issued by the mayor the day before the storm hit. Somewhat fewer -- 28 percent -- said they heard the order but did not understand what they were to do. Thirty-six percent acknowledged they heard the order, understood it but did not leave. In hindsight, 56 percent said they could have evacuated, while 42 percent said it was impossible.