HOUSTON – Even with powerful Hurricane Dean days away and its path uncertain, officials in sodden south Texas left little to chance Sunday, readying planes, gasoline and hundreds of buses to get residents out in a hurry.
Authorities passed out sandbags, evacuated inmates and opened emergency operations centers in a region still soaked from the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin, which along with other systems caused severe flooding Sunday and at least 12 deaths from Texas to Minnesota.
“We’re preparing for Hurricane Dean just as if it is going to be direct hit,” said Johnny Cavazos, the chief emergency director for Cameron County at the state’s southernmost tip.
A state of emergency was declared in the resort town of South Padre Island. About 3,300 jail and prison inmates in the area were to be bused to correctional facilities elsewhere by Sunday night.
In Washington, R. David Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said up to 100,000 people might have to be evacuated from the state’s southeastern coast and its immigrant shantytowns near the Mexican border. The storm is on course for northern Mexico, but could shift and hit the region around Brownsville, Texas, Paulison said.
Flooding from what was left of Erin forced about 1,000 people to evacuate homes in Abilene on Sunday and was blamed for at least 12 deaths in Texas, Oklahoma and Minnesota.
The level of preparation for Dean was influenced by memories of two destructive hurricanes that hammered the Gulf Coast region in 2005.
“In part, it is because of the unfortunate events from Rita and Katrina,” Cavazos said.
During Rita, the evacuation quickly turned into a nightmare of clogged highways, stalled traffic and sweltering heat, as motorists from the coast ran into residents fleeing Houston. Gas stations ran out of fuel and supplies, and drivers sat for hours on grid- locked evacuation routes.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry mobilized the National Guard and search and rescue teams, shipped 60,000 to 80,000 barrels of gasoline to gas stations in the Rio Grande Valley, and got a pre-emptive federal disaster declaration from President Bush.
The state sent six C-130 aircraft to Cameron County to help if any critically ill patients need to be evacuated from local hospital. Buses from the city, state, and military were on standby for possible evacuations.