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State And Local Response To Record-Breaking Texas Flooding


Continuing with our coverage of the storm that's inundating Houston, we turn now to the response by state and local government. Ben Philpott from member station KUT is with us now from Austin. Ben, thanks so much for joining us.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Oh, no problem.

MARTIN: Tell us more about what the state is doing to - what the state is doing to respond to this overwhelming natural disaster.

PHILPOTT: Yeah. Right now the state's got about 3,000 National and State Guard troops that have been activated to assist in recovery efforts. The governor, this afternoon, said that the state is essentially in both recovery and rescue efforts. When you go to places like Corpus Christi, as the storm's moved on, they're beginning recovery. And then, of course, you have Houston, where at the moment, it is all about rescue. They do also have like 20 helicopters in the air from the Coast Guard along with dozens of water rescue boats.

MARTIN: You know, obviously, the immediate need is rescuing people and taking care of people. But the question has to be asked if state and local governments were prepared for this and if they did the right things ahead of time. And there is, of course, the whole question of whether an evacuation should be - should have been ordered. What are they saying about that?

PHILPOTT: Yeah. Today, the governor said that this is just not the time to even talk about things like that. That it is about rescue. But Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, also in a press conference today, you know, when talking about whether or not Houston and Harris County, which surrounds Houston, should have been evacuated earlier, he just said, you know, look, that just would not have worked. And here's what he had to say.


SYLVESTER TURNER: Look, Houston, Harris County - Harris County, got a lot of rain, a lot of flooding. When you combine Houston and Harris County, you literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.

PHILPOTT: And, you know, a lot of this comes from kind of lessons learned from Hurricane Rita, which hit in 2005. You know, more than 100 people died because of that hurricane. And the vast majority of those died during evacuation efforts. People got on the highways, got on the roads and could go nowhere. And then the storm came through and hit. So that's been in their mind this time when they've said, listen, we want people to just stay put.

MARTIN: Was there any logic as to which cities and counties ordered evacuations and which one didn't?

PHILPOTT: I think the local officials - because this, again, was something that was done by like a city-by-city decision, I think that they would say, yes, there was logic within their own city decisions, that they felt like either, you know, the storm would come in and then move through and everything, you know, would be fine.

Others inland - it's been really interesting. Corpus Christi did not have a mandatory evacuation. This city is right on the Gulf Coast. You know, 30, 40 miles inland towns, like Victoria, Texas, did have mandatory evacuations, you know, trying to move as many people out of the town as possibly could. But, you know, that was partially because of different rivers and creeks and streams that were coming through Victoria. So they wanted to make sure that their people were out.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, Ben - we only have about 45 seconds left. Some of the worst stories we're hearing today are from Houston. Is the local government there up to the task? What are you hearing about their response to this?

PHILPOTT: You know, they're are saying that, yes, they're doing everything they can. They have resources from, not just Texas and not just the federal government, but eight different states are offering - at least eight different states were offering to send in as much as they can to help. They are just asking people, again, to stay put. Call if it is absolutely necessary and it's an emergency, and they will get you out.

MARTIN: That is Ben Philpott of member station KUT in Austin, the state capital. Ben, thank you so much.

PHILPOTT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "BEIGE FINGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.