GALVESTON, TEXAS - Nearly 2 million people who were in the path of Hurricane Matthew have packed up and left. But as the Houston area has seen during Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Rita, not everyone heeds the warnings.
Even after surviving Hurricane Alicia as a kid, Anthony Jackson said Hurricane Ike was like nothing he'd ever seen.
"It's like Louisiana, Katrina, water's up, all cars on the streets are flooded over,” said Jackson, who lives in Galveston. "The one thing that really messed my head up is when we went to the seawall after the storm, I was like, ‘Where are the buildings?’"
Jackson said he stayed behind to protect his home and his elderly mother down the street.
"I just felt like maybe, somehow, someway, God will look out for me if I'm still here, and He'll save my house,” Jackson said.
Current Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough was County Judge during Ike and made the call to evacuate, the second time he’d done so after Hurricane Rita in 2005. Mayor Yarbrough says oftentimes the call is made on a sunny day and can draw backlash from residents.
“You don't want to cry wolf,” Yarbrough said. "It's certainly not a science."
Instead, he says, it's a decision that starts five days out, with local officials considering disruptions to residents and loss to businesses but never risking loss of life.
"It's a risk,” he said. “You do it with the facts you have, you make your best call, and you live with it."
Yarbrough says they hold conference calls with emergency officials at all levels, including Harris County, to coordinate a plan.
“We’re constantly in a state of monitoring,” said Mark Sloan, Harris County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Coordinator. “Where is it going? What’s the potential impact and threat to our region?”
Yarbrough says sometimes even if that call doesn't go as expected, such as the Rita evacuation resulting in hours of gridlock on area freeways, he says he and other officials have used the lessons they learned from that experience to form a stronger plan. He says that includes opening up tollways as highways and contraflow lanes, which allow cars to travel in the opposing lanes of traffic, as well as working with the state to designate hurricane evacuation routes.
Sloan also says they’ve made sure the essentials are placed along the routes.
“People can get on the system and off the system whereas prior we used to lock everybody down and you couldn’t get fuel or resources,” he said.
Sloan says the evacuations happen in phases based on ZIP codes, starting with those closest to the coast.
“It’s by surge,” said Sloan. “We run from the water, hide from the wind.”
All the while, hoping those in the storm’s path follow their lead.
"The storm would have to be a Category 4 or Category 5,” said Jackson, when asked if he would consider evacuating during the next hurricane. “If it was that strong, I would just say, ‘You know what? I'm gonna leave.’"
Yarbrough also says improvements to the building code since Hurricane Alicia have drastically cut down on the amount of wind damage. However, he says the storm surge still remains a major threat.
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