Gov. Rick Perry today announced that state and local leaders have developed a plan to stagger the return of more than 2.5 million Hurricane Rita evacuees over at least three days to ensure that the affected areas are safe, fuel supplies are adequate and traffic keeps moving.
"If you return today, we cannot guarantee enough fuel, we cannot guarantee safety along the roads because of debris and down power lines, and we cannot ensure a fast return," Perry said.
The Governor called on all school districts in the affected areas to remain closed Monday to provide evacuees with adequate time for a safe and orderly return. Perry said the staggered plan also would provide emergency workers with enough time to assess damage and ensure that neighborhoods are safe.
"We do not yet have enough fuel along the return routes and in Houston to accommodate the return of everyone who evacuated," Perry said. "If Texans will be patient and follow this plan, they will find their return trip to be easier and more efficient."
Perry urged evacuees to follow this schedule to ensure a safe and orderly return to coastal communities:
Sunday: Residents may return to communities west of I-45 and north of I-10, including residents of Tomball, The Woodlands, Waller, Hockley, Katy, Brookshire and surrounding communities.
Monday: Residents may return to communities west of I-45 and south of I-10, including residents of Richmond, Stafford, Rosenberg, Sugarland, Pearland and surrounding communities, plus all Houston residents inside Loop I-610.
Tuesday: Residents may return to all remaining areas east of I-45 and north of I-10 up to the Liberty and Chamber county lines.
State and local emergency officials continue to develop a plan for the safe return of evacuees to communities east of the Houston area that sustained the most damage from Hurricane Rita.
Earlier today, Perry asked fuel terminal owners and operators to begin refueling service stations as quickly as possible.
"We need to ensure there are adequate fuel supplies along the routes," Perry said in a special announcement to fuel terminal operators. "If you will open your terminal throughout this weekend, we can begin refueling service stations along the major roadways."
The Governor cautioned that evacuees should not begin returning to the affected areas ahead of the state schedule.
"I can’t say in strong enough terms to those who evacuated the coastal region that they should not begin their return for the time being," Perry said. "We are not through assessing the damage and cannot assure you at this time that your community is safe to return to."