Darned If You Do, And If You Don't

Despite mandatory evacuations, the decision whether to flee from Hurricane Rita or ride it out at home is ultimately up to the people who live in the storm's path.

Images of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina were all it took to persuade hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents to err on the side of caution.

But, Harry Smith, who's in Houston, many have been finding the road to safety clogged with obstacles — and other cars.

Those opting to stay put face challenges of their own, Lee Cowan, who's in Galveston.

The island was supposed to be ground zero for Rita but, thanks to a slight turn by the storm, the city may avoid a direct hit. Still, Cowan says, emergency officials warn Rita's turn doesn't mean it won't cause significant damage.

Galveston is the largest city still in Rita's sights. And that slight move to the east would be cause for at least some celebration in Galveston, Cowan says, if there were anybody left to celebrate. But 90 percent of the city's 60,000 residents have left town.

The last evacuation busses pulled out of town late Thursday, full of both people and pets.

"They told us we was going to die if we stayed here. I'm starting to believe them," one evacuee on a bus told Cowan.

There are few holdouts, but bedridden 83-year-old Annie Smith is one. She says she's never fled a hurricane before and isn't about to now. As big as Rita is, she says, "I know the man upstairs is bigger than it is. Oh, yes."

Even though the storm's track appears to be moving away from the most heavily populated areas of the Gulf Coast, that doesn't mean flooding isn't still a serious concern.

Cowan accompanied Galveston police as they tried to persuade double-amputee Anthony Carrasco to leave. He refused. Police promised Cowan they would go back to check on Carrasco Friday morning to see if he's changed his mind. And, says officer Dana Williams of the Galveston police, "If he calls anytime, we'll come get him."

There are those who are certainly able-bodied enough to leave if they want to, Cowan says, but now that the storm appears to be less of a threat than it once was, folks such as George Koch tell Cowan that they're staying.

"I don't fear for my life. I mean, I'm not crazy. Maybe I am crazy, I don't know. You tell me. We'll talk later," Koch chuckled.

  • Brian Dakss

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