Texas begins evacuating medically fragile

McALLEN, Texas - September 10, 2008 To help these residents who need to get out of harm's way, Nueces County expected to set up two intake areas on Wednesday at 10 a.m. to take residents by bus to San Antonio. Meanwhile, Lt. Rhonda Lawson with the Texas Department of Public Safety in Corpus Christi said plans were in place to open up the evacuation route on Interstate 37 beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Texas emergency officials were taking no chances with the lives of its medically fragile citizens. Forecasters said Ike could hit on Saturday morning just about anywhere along the Texas coast, with the most likely spot close to the Corpus Christi area.

"For people designated as special medical needs who have a health condition that will require them to be out of harm's way ... we will assist them in boarding state furnished transportation and we'll assist them in getting to San Antonio," said Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal. He said the order is a voluntary evacuation. County officials have not ordered a full evacuation as they await updates on Hurricane Ike.

The American Red Cross, San Antonio chapter, said in a statement that its mobile and fixed feeding trucks were being moved into place to help evacuees.

Opening up I-37 should facilitate smoother traffic flow, Lawson said.

"It gives people an extra lane of travel and it starts in Corpus Christi and it goes through San Antonio. Normally you have two lanes of travel going northbound and this gives a third lane of travel. Our troopers will be out monitoring the flow traffic to make sure no one breaks down," said Lawson.

Along with state troopers, more than 35 Corpus Christi police officers will help guide traffic along I-37, said Police Chief Bryan Smith in Wednesday's edition of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Texas officials were encouraging residents in the path of Hurricane Ike to do three things - listen to what local officials say, monitor weather reports and gas up, now.

"We have a fuel team that is part of the state operation system in Austin," said Allison Castle, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. "They are helping to push fuel to hurricane areas. One of the lessons we learned from past hurricanes is we need to have fuel ready," she said.

Castle said the fuel team was working with a "private fuel partner" to ensure adequate fuel would be available along hurricane affected areas.

Still, Castle said if local officials order an evacuation, "the number one thing for residents is make sure they have a full tank of gas and prescriptions."

As Hurricane Ike heads toward the state, Texas emergency officials were preparing to order 1 million people be evacuated from the impoverished Rio Grande Valley.

Emergency planning officials were meeting all day Tuesday to decide if and when to announce a mandatory evacuation for coastal counties close to the Mexican border.

Authorities lined up nearly 1,000 buses in case they are needed to move out the many poor and elderly people who have no cars.

"We have sent a number of them (buses) to Bee County, that way, should the locals decide to evacuate we will be ready to assist," Castle said.

On Tuesday, Ike roared across Cuba, ravaging homes, killing at least four people and forcing 1.2 million to evacuate.

Early Wednesday, Ike had maximum sustained winds near 85 mph, but was expected to strengthen. The storm was centered about 125 miles north of Cuba's western tip and moving west-northwest near 8 mph.

Perry declared 88 coastal counties disaster areas Monday to start the flow of state aid, and began preparing for an evacuation, lining up "buses rather than body bags."

The Dallas-Fort Worth area sheltered about 3,000 Hurricane Gustav evacuees last week and is prepared for up to about 20,000 people this time, said Steve Griggs, a county official. The downtown convention center would again serve as the main shelter.


Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan in Washington, April Castro in Austin, Texas and Regina L. Burns and Jeff Carlton in Dallas contributed to this report.

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