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Houston Residents Scrambling Out of City

Associated Press | September 22, 2005
By KRISTEN HAYS

Hundreds of thousands of people were frantically trying to escape the nation's fourth-largest city Thursday as Hurricane Rita approached the upper Texas coast.

But interstates were at a standstill for up to 100 miles and gas shortages were already being reported.

Gov. Rick Perry early Thursday ordered southbound traffic on Interstate 45 shut down and all eight lanes redirected north out of the city for 125 miles. Local officials warned residents to get out, and told them they would not be rescued if they waited.

"During the storm, we will not be able to get to you," Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said.

At 7 a.m. CDT Thursday, Rita was centered about 490 miles east- southeast of Galveston and was moving west-northwest near 9 mph. Wind speed was 170 mph, down slightly from 175 earlier in the day. Forecasters predicted it would come ashore near Galveston.

People unable to escape low-lying areas in Houston on their own were urged to call a city hot line, and White said 10,000 people have called. Throughout the night the city was sending buses to get them out, but people were still told they needed to count on family, friends and neighbors.

Gas stations were running out of gas and grocery stores were emptying of all nonperishable items, White said. He reiterated that there is no safe place to stay in low-lying and flood-prone areas of the city, and there won't be shelters in the city.

"There will be no central place for people to go," White said.

The mayor said everyone but emergency responders should leave.

"Now is not a time for warnings," he said. "Now is a time for action."

Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Janelle Gbur said Interstate 45, which is eight lanes and some points and four lanes elsewhere, was all going north to Buffalo. She said the measure had never been taken before.

Eckels said he recognized the frustration of evacuee traffic stacked bumper-to-bumper for up to 100 miles north of Houston. He reminded evacuees that the storm is still 48 hours out, leaving plenty of time for motorists stuck in traffic to complete their escapes.

"We still have time to clean out these roads," he said.


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911:  The Road to Tyranny