BLOGGING THE HURRICANE: The Sequel

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By: Greg Mitchell

Sadly, E&P’s special feature during the Katrina catastrophe returns for Rita (but will run for far fewer days, we hope). Here we will frequently add new items, from the top, from newspapers in the path of the hurricane damage: from Web sites, blogs and readers’ forums. The latest: thousands running out of gas on the highways near Houston, as New Orleans floods again.

11:55 PM ET. Good question from the Houston Chronicle’s “Stormwatchers” blog:

“Okay, so it took heroic measures, contraflow lanes, Boy Scouts handing out water and sodas, and huge gas tankers to help get over two million people to flee the coast in a ‘planned’ evacuation.

“Those millions need to come back at some time? How will TXDOT or other agencies arrange for an orderly resettlement of the evacuated areas to avoid gridlock in the other direction?”

***
10:05 PM ET. From the Beaumont Enterprise readers’ forum:

“Does anyone know about conditions on hwy59 near Jasper? My father is James Bolton. I last spoke to him around 9 this morning. He had tried to go to the Lufkin Shelter, but they were closed. He’s a diabetic, heart patient and he has limited communication because of a mild stroke. I’m in Ga. and I can’t reach him or his friends. I’m terrified he’s trapped on the road.”

***

6:10 PM ET. From The Houston Chronicle:

“Some of you may not have received papers at home today as Hurricane Rita approaches. Due to the fuel shortage in the Houston region, some of the Houston Chronicle’s independent delivery contractors are not able to deliver papers along their routes….

“The Houston Chronicle values its readers and their safety.
The Houston Chronicle will continue to post the majority of its stories on HoustonChronicle.com.”

***
4:40 PM ET. From the Hurricane Rita blog at the Houston Chronicle:

“Crowds of Houston residents loaded up on last-minute supplies this afternoon at the Food Land on Ella Boulevard, one of the last stores to close in Houston.

“Wanting to stock up on bread, milk, ice and other staples, shoppers flocked to the northeast Houston, filling the parking lot and even waiting more than an hour to be allowed into the store. At least six Houston Police Department cars were on hand and an ambulance transported a woman who had passed out while waiting in line, witnesses said.”
***

4:30 PM ET. From The Times-Picayune:

“Saying that power poles and tree branches are downed already, Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano urged residents this afternoon to stay off the streets as Hurricane Rita invades the Gulf Coast. ‘Entergy tells us that many of the new lines and power poles recently replaced from Hurricane Katrina damage were only temporary and therefore fragile and susceptible to the winds we are already experiencing in the city,’ Capitano said in a posting on City Hall’s website.”
***

3:30 PM ET: From a Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise readers forum.

“EVACUATION OF FRAIL ELDERLY. Does anyone know anything about the situation at the Bmt/PA airport yesterday? My father died there at 5:30 pm after waiting for hours for military aircraft that were supposed to have been there at 10 am.”
***

2:55 PM ET: From the Times-Picayune forum.

“Water in Lake Ponchartrain has risen two feet and flooding out of the Industrial Canal seen so far is of an ‘overtopping nature,’ an official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this afternoon.

“The flooding is on the west side of the industrial canal. Stephen Browning, director of programming for the Corps, said he didn?t think the water would go any further than Almonaster Avenue, which is a dozen blocks away from the canal in some places.

?Everything that has been flooded today was previously flooded,? Browning said. ? I don?t see additional damage to people and property. It is very dramatic but not an emergency situation.?
***

2:05 PM ET: A note from a forum at the Web site of The News in Port Arthur, Texas:

“We are going to attempt to keep the PANews.com site updated during the storm. The building has been evacuated, but staff are up the road working and reporting on the storm.” Another note advises that photos can be posted at the forum.

***
1:50 PM ET: From the Hurricane Rita blog at the Houston Chronicle:

“Two guys who won’t identify themselves are trying to ride out Hurricane Rita in a trailer outside Jamaica Beach, one of
the lowest spots of Galveston Island.

“The trailer is less than a quarter of a mile from the beach, on the inland side of road. Police said they expect the area to end up 6 to 8 feet under water, and water is already lapping the ground below houses on stilts in Jamaica Beach.

“On the side of the island facing the Texas Coast, by the way, water has risen to cover parts of the golf course.”

***
11:55 AM ET: From the Hurricane Rita blog at the Houston Chronicle, word on stranded motorists, with one confessing to eating dog food:

“Hundreds of families attempting to escape the wrath of Hurricane Rita have gathered on a Wal-mart parking lot in Sealy on Interstate 10 where they are standed, desparately in need of gasoline. The Texas National Guard plans to dispatch two 5,000 tankers from Austin to help motorists stranded along U.S. 290, U.S. 59, and Interstate 45 as well as Interstate 10.

With each passing hour, the situation is growing worse.

“I look at Interstate 10 and it’s still bumper to bumper and every third car seems to have their flashers on and their hoods up,” said Michael Stewart of Kemah in a cell phone interview. “They are out of gas, too.” While many have bottled water, there are no portable toilets for those unable to continue their journey.

Stewart has been nibbling dog food to stave off the hunger pangs.
Many of those stranded are families with small children who are attempting to sleep in the parking lot, on the tops of their cars or the beds of their pickup trucks: “This doesn’t look like a Walmart you would stop and shop at. It looks like a nomad camp.”

***

11:40 AM ET: Unbelievably, the Times-Picayune site in New Orleans now leads with INDUSTRIAL CANAL LEVEE TOPPED. An AP story begins:

“Water poured over a patched levee Friday, cascading into one of the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods and heightening fears that Hurricane Rita would re-flood this devastated city.

“‘Our worst fears came true. The levee will breach if we keep on the path we are on right now, which will fill the area that was flooded earlier,’ Barry Guidry with the Georgia National Guard.

“Dozens of blocks in the Ninth Ward were under water as a waterfall at least 30 feet wide poured over a dike that had been used to patch breaks in the Industrial Canal. On the street that runs parallel to the canal, the water ran waist-deep and was rising fast.”

***

11:30 AM ET: The Corpus Christi Caller-Times announces on its Web site today that it has suspended a print editon at least until Sunday. However, its site is up, and announces today that an evacuation order has been lifted and residents can start returning home–so one wonders if the paper will publish before Sunday after all. The city is south of the storm center now.

***

11:20 AM ET: The Daily News in Galveston (Texas) says things are looking up:

“A shift to the east in the storm?s expected path and projected weakening before it makes landfall early Saturday had Galveston officials breathing easier….And, while Rita?s shift to the right is terrible news for Beaumont, it could spare Galveston and Harris counties some of the flooding that was predicted a day earlier.

?’We feel a little sense of relief,’ City Manager Steve LeBlanc said at a noon press conference.”


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