Last year, the normal evacuation procedures were somewhat altered during Hurricane Laura because of COVID-19 precautions.

As more county residents become vaccinated, however, local emergency planners are anticipating that evacuation processes this summer, if needed, would look a lot closer to normal.

Hurricane Laura hit the coast of Louisiana on Aug. 27, but the uncertainty of the storm’s path prompted Galveston leaders to order an evacuation, the first since Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Many residents piled into cars for the journey to safer ground inland.

But some who need help getting out of town can utilize a free state-run program called State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry, or STEAR.

Older people, those with disabilities and people who require medical or transportation assistance typically load onto buses that will transport them to Austin during an evacuation.

Last year, the state sent more buses than usual and taped off some seats so people could distance on the bus. Masks also were required.

Evacuees still can expect COVID-19 guidelines this year to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said Seth Christensen, spokesman for the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

“Transportation coordinated by the state will continue to be at a reduced capacity in order to adhere to CDC guidelines,” Christensen said.

Masks still are likely to be required, but the city likely will fill up the buses to at least 75 percent, Galveston’s Chief of Emergency Management Mark Morgan said.

Last year, the city filled buses to only 25 percent, he said.

The state last year also put up people in hotels to allow for distancing but probably will transition back to large-scale shelters this year, Morgan said.

“They’re in discussion in transitioning back to the more open-type shelters as long as they can get the spacing inside the building,” Morgan said.

Ultimately, it will be up to the local city that’s accepting evacuees to determine whether to use traditional shelters, hotels or something else, Christensen said.

The state is talking about arranging for larger spaces so people can spread out, he said.

But the city likely will pass out and still require masks on the buses and in the shelters, he said.

What Hurricane Laura really taught Morgan is the importance of being prepared for anything during hurricane season because the storms are still unpredictable, he said.

“Even though we have a better understanding on the tracks of hurricanes, it’s still difficult and hurricanes are still unpredictable,” Morgan said.

Morgan worried most last year about storms intensifying rapidly, which leaves residents and officials little time to respond and evacuate, he said.

“In 12 hours, they could increase exponentially,” Morgan said.

Residents should make sure to keep their cars full of gas, prepare an emergency kit and communicate their plan with family members, he said.

“I would say our community is very well prepared and informed,” Morgan said. “It’s our job to make sure we get good information out to the community.” 

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri. 


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