As Rita Approaches, ‘Houston Chronicle’ Begins Storm Blog

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By: E&P Staff

The Houston Chronicle, like the residents of that Texas city, is not waiting for Hurricane Rita to hit before moving into action. The newspaper’s new Hurricane Rita blog, managed by staffer Dwight Silverman, is already in full flower, including reports on the personal experiences of Chronicle staffers fleeing the storm.

E&P reported Wednesday that Silverman is also organizing bloggers in the region into an army of Stormwatchers.

Here are a few excerpts from the past day:

Chronicle employee Mike Matthews left with his wife and four cats from the Clear Lake area near midnight. Their plan is to take Highway 146 to Palestine. At 10 a.m. he said, “We’ve gone a total of 37 miles. Only another 120 or so to go.”

The Houston Airport System asks that no one without a confirmed reservation come to Bush Intercontinental or Hobby airport with the expectation of catching a flight out of the city. “People need to realize that there are a lot of people who want to get out of the city, and there’s a diminishing number of flights,” said system spokesman Roger Smith.

Chronicle reporter Robert Crowe decided to take his wife and newborn to San Antonio. The trip from Texas City took 16 hours, and he was pulling into the city about 9 a.m. today.

Along the way, Crowe witnessed many of the frustrations that evacuees are experiencing on the roadways out of the coastal areas: stop-and-go traffic, cars running out of gas, lines of people at service stations waiting for tanker trucks to arrive with fuel, haggard clerks explaining that the tankers were not likely to arrive.

“A lot of frustrated and road-weary people,” Crowe reported by cell phone, his daughter crying in the background.

At about 11 p.m. last night, a bleary-eyed pharmacy worker gawked at an endless line of customers and looked like she wanted to cry.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who waited until the last minute to fill my prescriptions. After standing in line for more than 30 minutes, I was finally able to talk to a pharmacist. She told me it would be about a day before I could pick up my medicine.

If you have tickets to a concert this weekend at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, put them away in a safe, dry place. With Rita threatening, promoter PACE Concerts has postponed the Journey, Coldplay, and Oasis shows at The Woodlands venue. According to a Pavilion news release, additional information on rescheduled dates and/or refunds will be released as soon as possible.

For those who didn’t stock up on non-perishable items and are worried about running out of food, fear no more. Youssef Mounis, who owns Gotham Pizza in Midtown, says he is staying open and will be delivering pizzas no matter how ugly the weather gets.

“If I have electricity I’m staying open,” he said. “A lot of people call during storms. We are always very busy.”

Some gas stations around Houston have run out of gasoline, but many still appear to be well stocked. However, the lines are long. The lines are also long at drive-thru ATM machines, grocery stores and other convenient stores. You can forget about trying to buy water at a Houston grocery store. The water aisle at the downtown Randalls looks like Rita just hit it. Empty water boxes are thrown all over the floor and there is not one bottle of water left on the shelf. People still in search of water have found a gold mine at the Watermill Express on 11th street near Rutland in the Heights. About a dozen people were waiting to fill giant jugs with fresh water there.

Chronicle reporter Harvey Rice reports that those 80 animals destined for tragedy today at 5 p.m. have been rescued at their San Leon shelter. A veterinarian in Smithville saw Rice’s story about the animals’ plight on the Houston Chronicle Web site and dispatched a horse trailer to pick up the homeless animals — 40 dogs, 20 cats, five rabbits, two guinea pigs, six gerbils and six parrots.

The Bay Area Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter was preparing animals to ride out the storm after failing to find foster homes for 40 dogs, 20 cats, five rabbits, two guinea pigs, six gerbils and six parrots. Officials at the shelter didn’t get the doctor’s name, but the benefactor said he would return the animals after the storm.

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