Some choose, or are forced, to stay behind

In a vulnerable neighborhood of Houston, people hunker down to ride out the approaching storm

September 24, 2005|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun reporter

HOUSTON -- His experience with monsoons in Vietnam convinced Frank Garrett that he could handle the worst that Hurricane Rita might bring, despite urgent evacuation orders for his neighborhood in the low-lying southeast part of this city.

He thought briefly of heading north to his hometown of Lufkin. But the miles of traffic jams changed his mind.

"If I got stuck in traffic like that, I don't know what I'd do. I'd go nuts," said Garrett. He planned to ride out the storm at home and use his steel Army helmet if things really got rough.

"I'll just put that helmet on and lie down in my closet," he said.

Despite the deadly example of New Orleans and days of warnings that Hurricane Rita could bring terrible destruction, plenty of people remained behind in this vulnerable corner of the city.

Marvin Lovick, a 53-year-old shipping and receiving clerk, went fishing yesterday.

The damage done by Katrina caused city and state officials to overreact in calling for such large-scale evacuations, he said. He boarded up his house and filled his truck with gas. He's confident he'll get through the storm.

"I feel better doing what I'm doing here than sitting in traffic," he said. "The fact is, if you're well protected in your house, you don't have to go anywhere."

Because Alan Apurim felt his house didn't offer quite the protection he needed, he packed up a suitcase and a plastic grocery bag yesterday, hooked one on each handlebar of his bicycle, and piled his Macintosh computer and a few other belongings in a two-wheel cart to tow behind.

A 58-year-old community newspaper journalist and self-described weather expert, Apurim said the house he has been renting for four months is less sturdy than a friend's place three miles away. He set off for there in clear, sunny weather.

"I have no family, no car and no insurance, so what alternatives are there?" he said. The storm is a continuing threat, he said, but with its approach, he felt as safe in the city as anywhere else.

"I remain determined to succeed, no matter what," he said.

The city continued to send buses yesterday to collect evacuees in the most flood-prone neighborhoods, and the pickup points were broadcast on area television stations. Some people felt trapped nevertheless, and others simply remained unaware.

Curtis Smith, 32 and unemployed, decided not to join his girlfriend on one of the buses.

Worried more about the potential expense of leaving town, he seemed resigned to whatever the storm brings.

"I may lose my life, or something bad might happen," he said. "But why would you want to go anywhere if you've got no money in your pockets?"

Baron Turner, a 30-year-old homeless man who stays under an overpass in southeast Houston, was aware of the hurricane's approach. But he knew nothing about buses or evacuation and had made no plans yesterday to seek shelter.

"I don't know what I'll do," he said in a barely audible voice.

Nor did word of the evacuation buses reach Monica Porche, who is in this city only because Hurricane Katrina flooded her home in New Orleans.

After that storm hit, the 33-year-old mother of four spent a week separated from two of her children. They were taken to a Houston emergency shelter, while she and the other two were sent to Baton Rouge. Since the family was reunited here, they have been staying at a Red Carpet Inn off Interstate 45 in the southeast part of the city.

But Porche feels vulnerable to the storm there. And yesterday her frustrations boiled over as she bought a few final snacks and drinks at a convenience store about to shut down.

"Where are we supposed to go? What are we supposed to do?" she asked. "I've been through enough. I do not need this."

dennis.obrien@baltsun.com

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