Hurricane re-entry

Galveston Police Officer B. Stroud checks the identification of people trying to re-enter Galveston Island at a checkpoint on Interstate 45 South in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Photo by Kevin M. Cox

Following the chaos of a hurricane, things can be confusing.

The confusion can be made even worse in the hours and days after a hurricane evacuation is ordered, as the storm ends and the recovery begins.

In Galveston alone, more than 45,000 people would be expected to leave the island in the case of a mandatory evacuation.

Part of the challenge that emergency officials face after a storm is deciding when to allow residents who have evacuated to come back.

Here are some things to keep in mind when the time comes to return after a storm:

• Re-entry policies are largely determined by the severity of a storm. Sometimes an evacuation is called, but the subsequent storm did less damage than was feared or anticipated. In these cases, people will generally be allowed to be returned as they are able.

• Each city in Galveston County is responsible for determining when it is safe for residents to return. One city issuing an all-clear does not necessarily mean that another city has done so.

• In the case of more damaging storms, re-entry may be more controlled in some areas of the county — particularly those only accessible by bridge. To gain access to the cities of Galveston or Jamaica Beach or the village of Tiki Island, residents and property owners may have to pass through checkpoints.

• At checkpoints, returning residents will be asked to show identification. Acceptable forms of identification include a current driver’s license, valid state identification care, utility bill, mortgage deed or property tax documents or any governmental document which includes an address. Tiki Island and Jamaica Beach also issue identifications to residents that are acceptable to use.

• In larger emergencies, re-entry to certain areas will be allowed in phases. The first phase is for emergency responders and hazardous material teams and public officials.

• The second phase is for rescue and recovery teams, as well as possibly evaluation and survey teams. In Galveston, this phase also may include owners and employees of businesses that are considered essential to the city. The city keeps a list of businesses that will be allowed entry. The businesses in this group are expected to evaluate the damage to their properties and begin to arrange repairs, in order to help speed recovery when other residents return.

• The third and final phase is for residents and essential employees.

• Visitors and nonessential employees are discouraged from returning until an area is ready to accept them.

• It is up to emergency management directors (the county judge or a city’s mayor) to officially determine when re-entry can start and when an area is safe to return to. There is no prescribed time for when re-entry can begin after an event.

• There are no pre-established “look-and-leave” programs for property owners to assess their properties — without planning to stay in them — following a storm. Emergency management directors can announce such programs.

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