By Rob Stafford Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 9/23/2005 8:35:52 PM ET 2005-09-24T00:35:52

Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, is a virtual ghost town.  But getting people out of town ahead of the storm wasn’t as easy as officials thought it would be. 

As millions of people took to the roads over the past few days, some of those roads weren’t taking people anywhere. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic for a hundred miles.

At the Harris county’s emergency center, the focus of the last two days has been avoiding a New Orleans-style disaster. With Rita, the new fear was people would end up stranded in their cars, not on their roofs.

Rob Stafford, correspondent: To families who have been stuck in traffic for 12 hours, with crying kids, and a  quarter tank of gas, what do you say?

Frank Gutierrez, emergency management coordinator for Harris County:  We are going to come to help you. 

Local authorities eventually sent in gas trucks to refuel cars stuck along the evacuation route. The traffic began to subside but the anger did not.

Even before the storm hit, officials were confronted with questions about what went wrong.

 

Robert Eckels, Harris county judge: The people on the roads, if they’re stuck on a highway up in Dallas, it’s better than being under 20 feet. of water in Galveston.

Officials here will have to wait until after the storm passes to determine the cause of the breakdown in their evacuation plan.

Stafford: Could you have done a better job planning this?

Eckels: Clearly, the evacuation did not work as the plan was designed. There are things that we have learned that we need to differently next time.

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