APTA | Passenger Transport
September 22, 2008

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Transit Systems Respond as Hurricane Ike Slams Texas
By Leslie Bucher, Special to Passenger Transport

Hurricane Ike was no Katrina. Ike was no Rita. But for the people of Galveston, TX, Hurricane Ike was the end of the world they knew.
Bus in Houston
With winds at 110 miles per hour and a storm surge of 15 feet, Ike took deadly aim at Galveston, crashing ashore in the early morning hours of Sept. 13 as a Category 2 hurricane and bringing untold devastation to an island that was home to some 60,000 residents. Not anymore.

“Do not come back to Galveston,” Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas warned. “You cannot live here at this time.”

Throughout the storm, as more and more people fled the devastated areas, Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County and VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio provided support efforts to assist the evacuees.

As the city of Houston dealt with its own considerable damage from the hurricane, Houston Metro initially reported service on only 15 of its more than 130 routes two days after Ike hit.

“The first two days we could offer no service, but by Monday we were offering limited service, focusing on operating priority routes to hospitals, grocery stores, and employment locations,” said Carolina Mendoza, media specialist. She also reported that Metro waived fares for the first few days after Ike.

According to Mendoza, Houston Metro has now fully resumed local bus service, with park-and-ride service on an abbreviated schedule. Power permitting, light rail was scheduled to return to service as Passenger Transport went to press.

Mendoza also reported on Metro’s efforts before Ike struck, evacuating and rescuing more than 2,300 people. “We’re continuing to provide emergency rescue help as requested by local agencies,” she added.

Four days after Ike made landfall, more than 35,000 people remained in shelters. Roughly two million were still without power as officials distributed millions of meals and liters of water, as well as generators, tents, tarps, and other supplies.

Two hundred miles southwest of Houston, San Antonio received many of the evacuees from the hurricane, and VIA was prepared to help them.

“We started late last week as we got word evacuees were being sent to San Antonio,” said Priscilla Ingle, vice president, public affairs. “Our efforts are targeted at shuttling evacuees around the city and to help emergency responders get to where they need to be.”

VIA also sent 14 buses to transport patients from the Corpus Christi State School to the San Antonio State School. Ultimately, neither Corpus Christi nor San Antonio suffered Ike’s wrath.

San Antonio provided four shelters for storm victims, serving an estimated 9,000 evacuees and counting, as more people were forced to flee the flooding and destruction—many from Galveston. VIA operations supervisors have been on hand at the shelters to help evacuees figure out what bus routes they may need to take to get around while staying in San Antonio. According to Ingle, the services also include taking evacuees to visit their pets at a specially designated shelter.

Throughout the siege of Hurricane Ike and the storm’s aftermath, VIA has operated two free, dedicated shuttle routes with 17 buses to serve evacuees. VIA also continues to offer evacuees free service on its Main Line routes, which operate with a fleet of 435 buses.

Ingle also looked back at 2005, when San Antonio hosted evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “Those people were here for a period of time,” she said, “and during that whole time we transported them to places of business so they could attend to their personal needs.”

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