Up to a million people might need to evacuate from the city of Houston, says Mayor White. For point of reference, that's about half the population of Houston.
"I'd like to ask all Houstonians to begin thinking about their own evacuation plans if there was a request — or order — to evacuate," White said at a City Hall news conference. "If the storm continues on its current trajectory, based on the statistical models, there will be some instructions made to evacuate."
White, who has been in touch with a hurricane expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the city would watch the storm closely and perhaps make decisions by Wednesday afternoon.
"We're going to follow the policy of better safe than sorry," he later told the City Council, noting that the earlier the decision, the easier it would be for people to drive on the major roadways designated as evacuation routes.
Depending on the storm's behavior in the next 24 hours, White said, he might ask local employers to release all non-essential workers from their jobs Thursday and Friday.
"We hope that this storm will pass us by, but we need to be making these plans for each workplace right now," he said.
The mayor presented a map showing the areas that could be threatened by storm surge if the storm grows to Category 3 strength or higher, including parts of the Clear Lake area and some eastern neighborhoods.
He said areas throughout the city that flood regularly during heavy rains also might need to be evacuated.
SciGuy has some preliminary damage estimates, in case you weren't sufficiently wacked out over this whole thing. Polimom is watching and worrying from Katy. 'stina is making her evacuation plans. Banjo reports that Brazoria County has called a mandatory evacuation.
Brazoria County officials have called for a mandatory evacuation beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday as Hurricane Rita nears.
A voluntary evacuation went into effect at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
A mandatory evacuation for health-care facilities, including nursing homes, hospices and hospitals, goes into effect at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Brazoria County Judge John Willy called the evacuation and reminded residents that there are no hurricane shelters in the county.
Once the mandatory evacuation goes into effect, residents east of the Brazos River will travel Highway 288 to Beltway 8, then west to Highway 290 and on to College Station, where shelters will be opened. Evacuees are asked to follow posted signs to shelter locations.
Pets are welcome at the College Station shelters, said Brian Hilton, emergency management coordinator for College Station.
The mandatory evacuation will go in stages, beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday with those living in low-lying coastal areas such as Surfside Beach, Quintana and San Luis Pass leaving first, Willy said.
Residents in Zone B, south of FM 2004, should begin evacuating at 2 a.m. Thursday.
Residents in Zone C, which is between FM 2004 and Highway 35, should begin evacuating at noon Thursday.
If Hurricane Rita develops in a Category 4 or 5 storm, residents in all other areas of the county need to be prepared to evacuate, officials said.