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Ref: Texas evacuation plans call on partnership with oil companies


Officials hope plan will stop hurricane evacuation fuel headaches

© 2007 The Associated Press

HOUSTON — State leaders and oil company executives hope their plan to improve gasoline delivery during hurricanes will greatly reduce the sight of stranded motorists and shuttered gas stations during storm evacuations.

Until Hurricane Rita in 2005 flooded Texas highways with 3.6 million fleeing residents, fuel supply wasn't a part of the state's nearly 200-page evacuation plan.

Damaged production platforms and evacuated refineries left the oil industry vulnerable to the crush in demand for gasoline during the evacuation. Motorists used up just about every drop of gas available in Houston and the surrounding area.

Jack E. Little, the former Shell Oil Co. president and CEO tapped by Gov. Rick Perry to oversee his Evacuation, Transportation and Logistics task force, said the state lacked a plan to keep pumps full.

"What we know now is there was no fuel plan," Little said. "Every company was on their own. The problem arose when the voluntary evacuation was overlaid on top of the mandatory evacuation and the roads were clogged."

After Rita, state disaster officials and oil executives of some of the biggest companies in the industry — Shell, Citgo, Chevron, Valero, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Marathon — met to craft a fuel delivery plan in times of hurricanes.

The task force set a series of benchmarks, including:

_ Gas stations will no longer operate with storage tanks that are half-full or less during an evacuation.

_ When storm winds are five days from the Texas shore, fuel trucks will be filled, positioned in preselected staging areas and directed to gas stations along the coast. Their underground tanks will be filled to the 65 percent mark.

_ When storm winds are two days away, fuel distribution will move from the coastline to stations along the state's key northern and western evacuation routes.

_ Once the storm passes, efforts will focus on redirecting distribution in coastal cities, so people will have fuel for work and generators when they return.

_ Officials are using the state's electronic highway signs to inform Gulf Coast residents that hurricane season is under way and they should keep their tanks at least half-full at all times.

_ The messages on the signs will inform drivers to fill up immediately as storms get closer.

_ Buses transporting the elderly and disabled will move out of a hurricane zone more quickly, reducing gridlock and the potential for health issues for those aboard.

The new plan does not include a free-fuel program.

"Emergency-assistance vehicles will only give fuel to those who have run out of fuel," said Scott Alley, the Texas Department of Transportation's emergency management coordinator.

The department has contracted for extra fuel to assist stranded motorists during storms and identified 17 rest stops along evacuation paths where state employees will be stationed to answer motorists' questions.

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