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Evacuation Plans Lacking For Hurricane Rita Evacuees
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 23, 2005

HOUSTON, TEXAS--After witnessing the plight of people with disabilities and significant medical needs during and after Hurricane Katrina earlier this month, authorities in Texas and southwestern Louisiana seemed to focus much earlier on evacuating thousands of people with "special needs" in the path of Hurricane Rita.

Still, misinformation, outdated emergency plans, and a lack of updated emergency plans apparently snarled those efforts.

The Dallas Morning News reported that while Texas nursing homes are supposed to have evacuation plans in place for such emergencies, many have not kept them up-to-date. When a reporter pushed to have state nursing home regulators provide copies of those plans, they could not.

Tony Myers, president of the Texas Ambulance Association, told WFAA-TV that his ambulance company offered help to coastal nursing homes, but found that many administrators were just then updating their evacuation plans.

"They sign up all these contractors -- whether it's providing buses, wheelchair transport or ambulances -- and they never check on it until they need it," Myers said. "Four or five years later, half of these private ambulance companies could be out of business."

One nursing home association spokesperson said that while it is easier to transport some by bus, many people need ambulances or helicopters to evacuate them.

Thousands of those who were able to escape early were caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on virtually all of the roadways leaving coastal towns and cities, Thursday and Friday.

"I've spent most of today talking to nursing home providers and heard numerous stories about bus rides taking 24, 30 hours -- and with this population that just doesn't work," said Tim Graves, president of the Texas Health Care Association.

The evacuation turned tragic for one busload of evacuees.

A bus carrying 38 residents and six workers from Brighton Gardens nursing home near Houston caught fire Friday morning outside Dallas as they headed north out of the path of Hurricane Rita.

The National Transportation Safety Board said 24 people died in the blaze, many from smoke inhalation.

A local sheriff's spokesperson said the bus appeared to have caught fire because of mechanical problems but that there may have been multiple explosions after oxygen tanks used by some passengers exploded.

"'I've never seen a scene like this': Elderly die in state's worst bus accident since 1952" (Dallas Morning News)
"Regulators have no evacuation plans for nursing homes" (Dallas Morning News via Lexington Herald-Leader)
Other Hurricane Rita and Katrina stories are available on today's Below The Fold page:

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