Image: Galveston evacuees
James Nielsen  /  AFP - Getty Images
Galveston evacuees from Hurricane Rita leave after President Bush urged people in the path of Hurricane Rita to heed local authorities' evacuation orders.
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/22/2005 12:52:37 PM ET 2005-09-22T16:52:37

With Hurricane Rita threatening to devastate the Texas coast, Galveston is under a mandatory evacuation order.

And with the images of Katrina fresh on the minds of residents — as well as the city's history as the scene of America's deadliest hurricane — no one is questioning it.

The elderly, the disabled and those without transport began leaving first. They were loaded onto yellow school buses on Wednesday morning.

Taking a lesson from Hurricane Katrina, during which many people wouldn't leave because they couldn't take their pets, the buses leaving Galveston will accommodate cats and dogs.

Calm evacuation
Later Thursday, officials planned open all lanes of the bridge that connects Galveston to the mainland to northbound traffic, meaning people will no longer be able to enter the island city. 

The city was calm and orderly on Thursday, because preparations for the storm started in plenty of time.

That said, people still were worried. It showed in the lines for gas and ice, supplies of which were dwindling fast. Schools on the island were closed, and hotels were emptying quickly.

For the time being, though, there was still traffic heading into town, and plenty of it. Galveston is a popular destination for residents from nearby Houston, many of whom own boats and homes here. They were flocking to the island to do whatever they could to protect their property. 

No stranger to storms
Such preparations are guided in part by history. In 1900, well before hurricanes had names, 6,000 to 12,000 people lost their lives and the city was mostly wiped out.

As a result, a 17-foot, three-mile seawall was built and the elevation of the city was raised. The city eventually recovered, but it was changed forever.

There have been other storms. Many in southeast Texas remember Hurricane Alicia in 1983, when more than 20 lives were lost and damages reached into billions of dollars. Shattered windows from Houston office buildings, some 50 miles from Galveston, littered the streets.

Like Mississippi's Biloxi and Gulfport, there is little natural protection for this community.

FEMA preparing in Texas
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking the threat of Hurricane Rita very seriously in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and widespread criticism of the federal response to that disaster.

In particular, the agency is prepositioning supplies and commodities in the areas that may possibly be affected by the storm. 

In Texas, 45 truckloads of water, 45 truckloads of ice and eight truckloads of Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs, were being stockpiled. Nine urban search and rescue task forces, consisting of approximately 130 people, were ready, along with nine disaster medical assistance teams. The U.S. Coast Guard was also ready with helicopters in Houston and Corpus Christi.

No panic, but hoping for the best
There was a sense of seriousness on Galveston Island as it emptied.

No panic, only the hope that Rita will treat the Gulf Coast with a kinder hand than her sister, Katrina.

Janet Shamlian is an NBC News correspondent based in Dallas. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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