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Why Wasn’t Houston Evacuated?

(THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Ted Goodman Reporter

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner defended his decision not to order evacuations ahead of Hurricane Harvey, asserting that doing so would have made the situation worse.

“You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road,” Turner said in a Sunday press conference. “If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.”

As the city and surrounding areas continue to combat rising floodwaters and torrential rain, some observers are questioning Turner’s decision. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents from Corpus Christi to Houston to “strongly consider evacuating” Friday. The mayor disagreed.

Local officials, including mayors and county judges, are in charge when it comes to issuing mandatory evacuations. Leaders in Houston and the surrounding communities told residents to hunker down ahead of the storm, and have continued defending that position.

“To suggest that we should have evacuated 2 million people is an outrageous statement,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, calling the governor’s contradictory comments a mistake.

“It was a mistake, there’s no way around it. What he said was ‘listen to your local officials’, but then he said if he lived here, he’d leave. Well, those are contradictory messages,” Emmett said.

When coming to the defense of the local leadership, some have referenced Hurricane Rita in 2005.

When officials ordered the evacuation of Houston ahead of Rita, an estimated 2.5 million people listened, partly because Hurricane Katrina had just decimated the Gulf coast weeks earlier. While the worst of the storm never materialized, almost 100 people were killed during the evacuation process.

Drivers waited in traffic for almost 24 hours in some cases, and heat stroke claimed the lives of others. Fights broke out on the highways and a bus carrying nursing home evacuees caught fire, killing 24 people on board.

New mandatory and voluntary evacuations were ordered in Fort Bend County, Texas, which is located southwest of downtown Houston, over fears and expectations that water levels in the Brazos River will reach record levels. If the water pours over, it may compromise local levees and flood homes and businesses.

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