As thousands of Houston residents found themselves stranded on rooftops and wading through apocalyptic floodwaters, questions have arisen as to why Mayor Sylvester Turner didn’t order a mandatory evacuation as Harvey bore down in the nation's fourth-largest city.
To evacuate a large urban space – millions call this sprawling metropolis home – would be logistically challenging, according to local officials and residents. Turner called it impossible.
“You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road,” Turner, a Democrat, said in a press conference. “If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.”
More than 6,000 calls for rescue have been logged by Houston’s police and fire departments, and the city is already providing 30,000 with temporary shelter – numbers that will increase as the deluge of rain continues.
However, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, suggested that residents should leave Houston during his news conference on Friday. “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating.”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honorè, who led the Department of Defense response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, told the Wall Street Journal that experience has made officials wary of ordering an evacuation.
“I’m not trying to be critical of the mayor and history will prove whether they guessed right or they guessed wrong,” he said. “But I do not believe we should leave people in [a] place we know is going to flood. It’s counter-intuitive.”