Preparing Coastal Communities for Next Big Storm

Residents in Galveston and Brazoria counties will be among the first people to evacuate when a hurricane threatens the Houston region. In part four of a five part series on the upcoming hurricane season, Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports on how the coastal communities are preparing for the next big storm.

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Emergency officials along the Texas Gulf Coast know waiting for a major hurricane is a matter of when, not if. And when it comes, they want to avoid a repeat of what happened last year, when thousands of coastal residents were stuck on roadways for hours attempting to cross through the Houston area.

"What we learned was that an hour and a half or two hour trip to Huntsville, Texas took anywhere from 18 hours to two days."

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas says it was a lesson that left many in the community cynical about the competency of state officials and the efficacy of the region's plans.

"The state did not follow through. We hope they will follow through, but as of this date, we still do not have detailed emergency management plans from the State of Texas."

Galveston has a longstanding plan that's been in effect for more than 25 years and is updated twice a year. But Thomas says after watching what happened to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, she realized the city would need more than just an evacuation plan. Thomas says for the first 72 hours after a storm, Galveston will plan for the possibility of being on its own with no outside help.

"If Galveston is 50 percent destroyed and 50 percent of our tax base is gone, we need to get workers in here. The bridges are gone, the ferry is gone -- we'll bring the fuel in by barge, we may have to bring food in by barge. That's what I'm talking about when we talk about recovery and all of those plans are in the pipeline."

The city is negotiating contracts with Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other large retailers for building supplies and goods. They're also working with Carnival Cruise Lines to bring in ships for workers to live on while rebuilding the city. A little further down the coast, Brazoria County Judge John Willy is preparing his constituents who live in storm surge areas, but he says it doesn't matter how prepared they are if the communities further inland aren't ready.

"Our plans have not changed that much in Brazoria County. It's when we leave our jurisdiction, i.e. the county line or our city limits in the case of the mayors, that's where their jurisdiction and our jurisdiction stops. What we have to have is a regional plan that will allow the resources to be put in place outside of Brazoria County."

Both Willy and Thomas agree no one can be 100 percent prepared for a natural disaster, but they say their communities are doing everything possible to be ready and they have to hope and trust the areas further inland are doing all they can to prepare as well. Tomorrow in the final part of this five part series, Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports on the region's progress toward making the upcoming hurricane season a smoother one. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...