Phone Call To Senator Helps Evacuation - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

9/24/05 Beaumont

Phone Call To Senator Helps Evacuation

Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith feared that thousands of sick and elderly people were not going to get to safety as Hurricane Rita approached Wednesday.

Private ambulances contracted to help evacuate them already were helping patients out of Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi, leaving them overwhelmed when the storm aimed farther east, toward Beaumont and Port Arthur.

As city and county officials used school buses to take patients from hospitals and nursing homes to a nearby airport, Griffith said, he asked the state to send ambulances and airplanes to evacuate them. They never showed up. Then, Griffith said, he called U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Thursday afternoon, which led to a series of conference calls that included a representative from the White House and other federal authorities.

Late Thursday, military helicopters arrived and helped take as many as 10,000 people to safety at other hospitals across the state and region.

Commercial airliners, including those from Southwest, United and Delta, helped with the effort. The last group of evacuees left at 1 p.m. Friday. "Without them, people could have died," Griffith said, referring to the federal officials and airlines. "It was an incredible response."


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