Gulf Coast, East Texas Prepare For Rita

Thousands of people in the Galveston and Houston areas are evacuating, and many of them are headed to East Texas.

The massive evacuation is a slow process because of traffic jams. Three days ahead of Rita's projected landfall, city highways are packed non-stop with people trying to get out of town.

Galveston is in a state of emergency, with a mandatory evacuation ordered. Thousands of residents already have been bussed out of the city of a quarter-million people.

"It's truly a blessing, because for me, without transportation, I would be stuck," one Galveston resident said.

The message has been clear.

"We are reminded once again by Hurricane Katrina, that by the time we have a sense of where a catastrophic hurricane will make landfall, it is simply too late to begin a mass evacuation," Governor Rick Perry said.

Residents are boarding up their homes and packing up what they need to find higher and safer ground.

"We have our clothes, water, our personal stuff, some pictures, our Bible, stuff for the animals. That's about it," Jane Huddleston, a Galveston resident evacuating, said.

Houstonians are doing the same. The mayor has ordered a voluntary evacuation, especially for residents in the flood plains.

Traffic in Houston is congested even on a normal day. But now, with everyone trying to get out of town, along with Galveston residents, too, it's taking several times longer than usual for people to navigate the highways.

Officials say it would take 33 hours for a full evacuation of the Texas Gulf Coast, so people should not wait for a mandatory order, but instead, get out now.

"I'm truly thankful to Galveston," a Galveston resident said. "I give them an 'A' for this evacuation."

City leaders are hoping this early and pro-active effort will help them avoid the tragedy that Hurricane Katrina caused in New Orleans.

Julie Tam, reporting.