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Rita and Katrina

So why did people run from Hurricane Rita?

Having seen the handiwork of Rita’s vicious cousin, Katrina, all of Houston’s coastal suburbs and a good percentage of everybody else in the area decided that discretion was the better part of valor. There was no talk of hurricane parties.

As the week wore on and Rita’s ranking escalated as fast as the price of crude — all the way to Category 5 in what seemed like the blink of an eye — so did the anxiety of people not easily moved.

Residents don’t flee The Woodlands, 100 miles from the coast. This time was different.

“Events make an impression to the extent they are recent, frequent or very intense,” said Michael Lindell, a professor at the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University. “We know that storms the magnitude of Rita are not frequent. But there was one that was recent and very intense.”

As I said before, it all comes down to how risk-averse you are. You can give a rational and lucid explanation of the likely effects that a Cat-4 hurricane barreling up I-45 would have, but fear is a funny thing and so is relative risk. There’s a reason why there’s a well-documented fear of flying in an airplane but not of bacon double cheeseburgers, even though the latter is much more likely to contribute to your ultimate demise. Let this be a lesson to us all: Whatever after-action reviews of the evacuations take place, they’d all better account for the fact that more people than strictly necessary will get the hell out of town when the next Big One looms.

Speaking of which, there’s an editorial and a news piece on that subject today. I’m still thinking about how I think things could be done better – it’s easy enough to point to problems, but coming up with workable fixes, not so much.

In other hurricane news:

I haven’t worked my way through these stories yet, but the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has an investigative report on FEMA’s recent history of disaster mismanagement. Lots of grist there for your mills, so check it out. Thanks to Sergio for the tip.

Everybody’s probably already seen this debunking of the lurid tales of rapes and murders at the Superdome in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but if not, do read it. Bottom line: It was about 99% baloney.

After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA – Beron doesn’t remember his name – came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

“I’ve got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome,” Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice. State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been killed inside.

File that one away, because sooner or later you’re going to have to correct someone who hasn’t heard the real story. And may I add, similar allegations were made in Houston as well. Time for a little followup there, too, since it’s likely to be about as true. Thanks to Julia for the NOLA link.

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  1. Rita and Katrina

    Rita and Katrina

  2. Pete says:

    Why did I leave?

    1. On Wednesday, the majority of the prediction models were putting Rita ashore at Freeport as a Cat-4, if not a Cat-5.

    2. My house is surrounded by 90-foot pine trees, and I wasn’t convinced they could stand up to 100 MPH winds.

    3. My house is also 60 years old and made of wood, so there’s no guarantee it would’ve stood up to hurricaner force winds.

    4. I have a 21 month-old child, and her safety was of paramount importance to me and my wife.

    Given the same information and the same circumstances, I’d do it again.

  3. hope says:

    Interesting. Eileen said she talked to a person who saw a pretty grisly murder, I believe in the Superdome. I wonder how to square the offical report with such anecdotes.