Bob Bestler

Why a mass evacuation in lieu of a hurricane works in Myrtle Beach but not in Houston

People evacuate a neighborhood inundated after water was released from nearby Addicks Reservoir when it reached capacity due to Tropical Storm Harvey on Wednesday.
People evacuate a neighborhood inundated after water was released from nearby Addicks Reservoir when it reached capacity due to Tropical Storm Harvey on Wednesday. AP

The bride and I had some mild disagreements immediately after Hurricane Harvey began dumping torrents of rain on Houston and surrounding areas.

She initially believed the city should have been evacuated well ahead of Harvey; I agreed with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who said mandatory evacuation of the nation’s fourth-largest city was impractical and possibly more dangerous than staying put.

(I think eventually the bride agreed with me and Mayor Sylvester.)

Mandatory evacuations always seem to make a lot of sense for anyone living in coastal South Carolina.

We’ve experienced several evacuations in the nearly 30 years we’ve lived in this part of the country.

Our first one was for Hurricane Hugo, and after that devastating storm, moving inland whenever a hurricane threatened became a no-brainer.

Like the rest of you, we’ll now be tracking the path of Irma, ready once again to load up our dog and cat and move inland if it begins to bear down on South Carolina. We won’t need a mandatory order.

In fairness to Houston officials, it is much easier to evacuate several thousand people along the Grand Strand than the several million living in Houston.

Bill King, a former Houston Chronicle columnist, spelled out the dangers of calling for a mandatory evacuation of a city like Houston, saying it “betrays a fundamental ignorance of evacuation dynamics.”

Writing in the New York Times, King recalled the evacuation ordered ahead of Hurricane Rita in 2005, when some 2.5 million Texans fled at the same time.

“This caused enormous, daylong traffic jams,” he wrote.

“While stranded on highways, people were injured or killed from heat stroke. Others got in fights. And a bus that was transporting elderly people from a nursing home exploded, killing 23 people.”

In all, he said, 130 people died in that evacuation, about half of those before Rita swept ashore.

Other problems are logistical: “There is simply not enough roadways, gasoline in inventory or facilities in nearby cities to transport and house 2.3 million evacuees.”

Whether to evacuate or not is now moot, of course.

Rescue efforts – many of them on a heroic scale – continue to find survivors and bodies. At last count, at least 46 people had died from the storm, but until the water subsides, no one knows what the final toll will be.

While it has been difficult to watch, Harvey’s devastating effects remain far short of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Moody’s Analytics estimates the total cost of Harvey will be between $30 billion and $40 billion, with an additional $7 billion lost in economic output (ie., money spent at restaurants, stores, hotels and the like).

Katrina losses amounted to about $140 billion total, with more than 1,800 lives lost.

Let’s pray Harvey does not reach anywhere those numbers.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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