By Mallory Sherwood, Managing Editor
1801 Lincoln Drive may receive a few more roommates Friday as family and friends from the southern coastline of Texas and Louisiana flee and head north, some as far as Abilene.
Ben Fike, junior Christian ministry major from Friendswood waits to hear from his parents if they will move in with him and his roommates until Hurricane Rita passes through the Houston area and over their home.
“They packed everything into the car that was irreplaceable and left to come here yesterday morning,” Fike said of his parent’s move.
His parents, along with more than 1.8 million residents in the two Gulf States, fled after a mandatory evacuation was issued in order to avoid a repeat of Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana on Aug. 29.
Hurricane Rita, the 17th named storm of the hurricane season, is currently wavering between a Category 4 and 5 rating but is expected to return to full strength by the time it crashes into the coastline late Friday or early Saturday.
Thursday afternoon, Rita sat 460 miles off of the coast traveling northwest at nine miles per hour sustaining winds of more than 165 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The Texas and Louisiana coastlines are the hurricane’s target and where the nation’s largest concentration of oil refineries lies. This region accounts for 25 percent of the nation’s oil output.
Forecasters predict that Rita could be the strongest hurricane ever to hit Texas. To compare storm strengths, the last Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States’ coastline was Andrew, smashing into southern Florida in 1992. Hurricane Katrina only reached a Category 4.
Fike said he doesn’t know what to expect from Hurricane Rita, but he hopes it isn’t as bad as predicted.
“I guess you never know what they’ll do,” Fike said. “It could be nothing or as bad or worse as Katrina.”
For the Fike family and others fleeing the city, traffic was at a stand still.
Fike said it took his dad more than five hours to cross Houston at noon Wednesday, when it normally takes an hour and a half.
Others face the same situation.
Chris Butler, junior nursing major from Houston, waits for news of his mother’s arrival in Dallas after leaving her home across the street from the coastline Wednesday morning.
“My mom packed all of our family pictures, albums and memories of the place in her car and put the rest of the house in storage,” Butler said.
“I guarantee the house will be gone the next time she returns,” he said, “the storage will also be gone too, which makes it worse.”
Butler said he was worried about his mom and his friends who were still in Houston.
“The thing is, my entire life up until college is there, and next time I go home, there won’t be a home,” Butler said.
Gov. Rick Perry halted all southbound traffic on Interstate 45 into Houston on Thursday, and opened all eight lanes to northbound traffic out of the city, extending for 125 miles to speed up evacuating the city of more than four million people.
But according to MSNBC’s Web site, cars were bumper to bumper for up to 100 miles north of the city Thursday, gas stations were reported to be running out of gas, and grocery stores were out of non-perishable food items.
CNN reported Thursday that the Department of Defense was helping to set up field hospitals to hold 2,500 beds, supplying materials to build temporary bridges and organizing food kitchens in preparation for Hurricane Rita.
Learning from the mistake of Katrina, President Bush declared Rita an “incident of national significance” before it hit, and hundreds of buses were dispatched to Houston to evacuate the poor, and hospital and nursing home patients were moved to northern cities.
Rita’s arrival marks this year’s hurricane season as the fourth busiest season since the National Hurricane Center began recording in 1851. The record season has 21 named storms and the hurricane season won’t end until Nov. 30, leaving two more months of hurricane anticipation.
Houston sits 60 miles inland, is the state’s largest city and home to the largest concentration of Katrina evacuees.
Kaia Jennings, sophomore special education major from Houston lives on the coast and fully expects her home to be destroyed.
“My parents boarded up our house, took all of our valuable items and paperwork and moved the rest to the second floor of our house,” Jennings said. “It’s going to be gone- completely destroyed though.”
Jennings said most of her family lives in the same area, and they evacuated already. She said her parents moved into Houston hospital where her mother is director. Jennings was able to talk to them Wednesday, but said she can no longer call the hospital or the area because the lines are jammed with other calls.
“It’s the last time I could talk to them until it hits,” Jennings said.