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As I begin this article, I will say at the outset that I am a Houstonian, and so may be prone to a certain bias in favor of my hometown. That said, I would contend that Houston has established a very good reputation by its works, earned through the character of its citizens.
I was already proud of Houston’s response to Katrina; where so many other cities were mouthing sympathy, Houston took the overwhelming majority of refugees from Katrina, and amazingly, had major shelters finding places to live and temporary work for victims before most Louisiana shelters had an accurate roster of people staying there. Houston provided more supplies, helped more people with shelter, relief, and assistance in finding family than any other city, and did it in less time and with less bureacracy than any other government entity. This led to praise for the Space City not only from other Americans, but also other countries.
This weekend, it happened again. As motorists found themselves stranded on Interstates 10, 45, and 59, residents in North Houston took it upon themselves to bring water, ice, and gasoline to them so they could continue their evacuation. My wife’s mother in Hong Kong saw such actions on the news there, and remarked to my wife about how generous and helpful Houstonians are.
I have complimented Mayor Bill White not only for his planning and cool head, but also a professional modesty which allowed people to do their jobs without undue pressure. I would note, however, the cooperation and community spirit for Houston in general, from Centerpoint getting 83% of the Greater Houston area back with power in less than a day, to City of Houston services getting traffic lights back in operation and countless signs repaired/replaced by Sunday morning, to area gas stations and grocery stores getting open by Sunday morning to not only resupply citizens in need, but also send the message of re-establishing a comforting routine. I also found a strong city-wide commitment to courtesy and order.
Last night is a good example. Around 9:40 PM, ABC News showed a helicopter shot of an HEB on Highway 6 which was pumping gas. My wife and I did a quick consult, and we decided to try to get some gas, as no one in our immediate area had been able to find a place with any to sell, and the tank was close to empty. When we got to the store however, we found a very long line of more than a hundred cars, and almost immediately after we got into line, a Sheriff came by and announced that there was no more gas to be had, and to go home.
As we were driving home, I took a smaller road home than the one we took over, and found my lane slowing then coming to a stop. There was a lane to our left, but I had a gut feeling I should stay where we were at, and sure enough, as time passed we began to inch forward, and a gas station appeared in the distance. What was interesting, was that the line stayed orderly, no one cutting in line and no one losing their temper. It took an hour in line, but we got our gas. The station stayed open to at least 11:30 PM, and served more than a hundred customers in the time I was waiting and watching. My point is, that without the need for law enforcement or anyone getting unruly a lot of people were able to get what they needed, because the store was open, staffed, stocked, and had a plan to get people what they needed. That was the story across all 600+ square miles of Houston, and that made a real difference in this event.