September 28, 2005
Nice pumping station you've got there...

Continuing with the theme of risk aversion and how it impacted people's stay-or-flee decisions as Rita loomed in the Gulf, here's another data point to consider.


Water service to more than half a million Houston-area residents and several key industrial facilities was in jeopardy during the weekend when Hurricane Rita knocked out power to a crucial pumping station, officials said today.

CenterPoint Energy, Entergy and local governments joined to restore power to the station before the Lynchburg Reservoir, which is supplied by water pumped from the Trinity River, ran dry.

"Many Houstonians breathed a sigh of relief when we didn't confront 100 mile per hour winds, flooding and the kind of damage that was inflicted on our fellow Americans in Lake Charles, Port Arthur and Beaumont," Houston Mayor Bill White said. "But when you have a hurricane this big ... there are some untold stories on the effects to our region."


Flooding may not have been much of a risk for many Houstonians (though Tropical Storm Allison taught us that under the right conditions - and there was a real chance that those conditions could have occurred with Rita - places you don't expect can flood), but this again shows that there are factors to consider beyond flooding. Any sufficiently big storm is going to be scary enough, and have enough unknown dangers, to tip the scales in favor of bugging out for many people. We need to account for this in the future.

On the other hand, evacuating has its risks, too.


At least 31 people died in Harris County as a result of circumstances surrounding Hurricane Rita, several of them from heat-related illnesses during the mass evacuation before the storm hit, the medical examiner's office announced Tuesday.

More than half of those deaths 17 of the 31 recorded so far were of people evacuating to safer ground when they suffered some sort of medical distress, said Beverly Begay, chief investigator of the medical examiner's office. None of the deaths occurred during the storm itself, she said.

The office completed its grim inventory Tuesday and announced the results after identifying all of the dead and notifying their families. The fatalities linked to Rita do not include the 23 Bellaire nursing-home residents who died when their bus caught fire Friday in Dallas County

[...]

The dead ranged in age from 14 months to 92 years. Though the deaths occurred over six days, about a third of the victims died Thursday when the evacuation crush was at its peak, clogging major Houston-area highways.

Nineteen of the 31 victims died or became ill while they were inside vehicles, and seven of the deaths were thought to be potentially heat-related, Begay said. Some had body temperatures ranging from 105 to 112 degrees, the report shows.


Now that I think about it, I'm surprised I haven't seen more reports of highway fatalities during either the evacuation or the return. Driving 200+ miles, especially on crowded highways, is not exactly the safest thing you can do. More things to think about for next time.

The good news is that the latest tropical disturbance which could threaten the Gulf of Mexico appears to be disspating. The bad news is that there's still two months' worth of hurricane season to go, and we're not out of the woods just yet.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 28, 2005 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack
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