More than 1m people fleeing from Hurricane Rita were trapped on roads leading out of Houston on Friday as vehicles ran out of petrol, overheated brakes caught fire and one bus exploded, killing half its escapees, when an elderly passenger's oxygen tank caught fire. Rick Perry, Texas governor, said he would rather people were stuck in traffic for 10 hours and escape than face the Category Three storm, with its potential 125mph winds and storm surges.
Although the storm veered away from Houston and Galveston, towards the upper Texas coast of Beaumont and Port Arthur, oil refineries in the region remained vulnerable. Fears about the vulnerability of weakened levees in New Orleans were underlined on Friday morning when the increased rainfall caused renewed flooding in New Orleans' ninth ward, the hardest hit region of the city.
In Houston, after two days in which traffic often moved at less than two miles an hour, many residents realised they could not get away in time and used what little petrol they had left to return home. Others, who feared getting stuck on the roads in the sweltering heat with young children, used the calm ahead of the storm to board up windows and fill bathtubs and jugs with drinking water. Some turned towards the airport, in a last-ditch effort to fly out, but not only were no new tickets being issued, even some with valid tickets found airport personnel had evacuated, leaving airlines unable to function. Both of Houston's airports are on the evacuation routes jammed with those trying to escape from the fourth most populated city in the US. And they, too, were closing down ahead of the hurricane.
The tabular content relating to this article is not available to view. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience caused. After viewing the jammed highways, Bill White, mayor of Houston, said people would be safer in standing structures than in vehicles on the open highways when the hurricane struck. Some, nonetheless, continued to hope they would make it out and walked up and down the highways with empty containers looking for petrol and water. Those who opted to return home planned to sleep in hallways or closets at the centre of their houses, which would be least vulnerable to the storm.
Mr Perry said 2.7m people in a 24- to 48-hour period had already fled the region. "Traffic was excruciatingly slow. But the goal of getting people out of the way of the storm has been achieved. People took the directions seriously. We had 15 airlifts out of Beaumont with six more for today. We will have a strong law enforcement presence in the aftermath of the storm," he said.
President George W. Bush was due to fly to San Antonio, Texas, to underline his hands-on engagement with the storm, in contrast to his slow response after Hurricane Katrina. Rick Perry, Texas governor, said he would rather have people stuck in traffic for 10 hours and escape than stay, as the Category 3 storm bore down on the Gulf coast with 140mph winds, 19ft storm surges and forecasts of 20 inches of rain.
The storm veered away from Houston and Galveston towards the upper Texas coast of Beaumont and Port Arthur but oil refineries in the region remain vulnerable. Fears about the vulnerability of weakened levees in New Orleans were underlined yesterday morning when the increased rainfall caused renewed flooding in New Orleans' ninth ward, the hardest hit region of the city.
In Houston, after two days in which traffic often moved at less than two miles an hour in jams stretching up to 100 miles long, numerous residents realised they could not beat the approach of the hurricane and used what little gas they had left to return home. Others, who feared getting stuck on the road in the sweltering heat with young children, used the calm ahead of the storm to board up windows, put sandbags outside doors and fill bathtubs and jugs with drinking water, Financial Times reports.