The largest traffic jam in the known Universe

Hurricane Rita is gone. And, as Stan Marsh of South Park would say, we learned something today: don’t trust the local and state and federal government, people who are supposed to give you advice and help during an emergency situation. Don’t trust them because they often seem incompetent, arrogant, dishonest, and self-congratulating.

To be more precise, on Wednesday, September 21, we decided that the best thing to do is to leave Houston, and left on the next morning. After six hours in the car, we were about 20 miles away from our home, and we already used up more then a quarter of the gas in the tank. That was the point when we turned around, and that was the right thing to do. Clearly, we were in the largest traffic jam in the known Universe. Important people like mayors and judges kept saying on the radio that (1) they were going to make all lanes of the highway one-way, and (2) gasoline was going to be provided by tanker trucks. After six hours, we could see no evidence of this whatsoever. We realized that we would sooner or later run out of gas and be stranded on the highway, at the merci of other people, or even worse, at the merci of the authorities who were arrogant enough to say at one point that they were not responsible for the traffic backups outside of their jurisdiction. And it is clearly better to be in a building as opposed to a car on a highway when hurricane-force winds start providing the entertainment.

I don’t get this. Do you have to be a rocket scientist to realize that, if you put 3 million people or possibly more at the same time on three highways, you will end up with humongous traffic backups and all those people will have to spend tens of hours or even several days on the roads? I understand that you want to evacuate as many people as possible when a category 5 hurricane is approaching, but that does not mean that you should create panic and call for evacuation in a totally disorganized way. During the days before the landfall of Rita, I haven’t seen on television a map of the three mandatory evacuation zones; I haven’t heard a definition of so-called low-lying areas of Harris county (are they below the 20 ft elevation? 30? 50?); and I haven’t seen a map of the road conditions on the major evacuation routes. How can you call this botched job a “successful evacuation” when there was no gas, no water, no food along the evacuation routes, opening up the counterflow lanes took forever, and most people went through a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and stress?

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