As Hurricane Rita moves toward the Texas Gulf shore and the Galveston and Houston area, fire departments are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. And the way Hurricane Katrina was handled in New Orleans painted a picture they want to improve upon.
Galveston will be first to see Rita. On a barrier island, a seventeen-foot concrete wall is there to greet the wind and waves, but it only faces the water a third of the way from east to west.
Galveston Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Smith said Thursday afternoon, the city was shutting down electricity to the island. Stations on the west end the island were abandoned and equipment was moved to a safe haven, the showroom floor of the convention center located on the higher east end. There was no longer any fire protection to the west end. Smith said the island in past hurricanes has split at two places leaving areas inaccessible. And by now, island evacuation is nearly total.
The police department is keeping their whole force on the island. The fire department is moving half their department to Friendswood, which is inland and about half way to Houston, to a high ground shelter of last resort.
In the city, Galveston Fire Department is setting up a command post at the San Louis Hotel located on an old WW II military bunker, hopefully above the storm serge. Shift operations will shut down Thursday night and firefighters have been given the choice of staying or moving up the Friendswood site.