PURPOSE: A massive evacuation of more than 2.5 million people along the Texas gulf coast was initiated in preparation for Hurricane Rita in September 2005. The natural disaster narrowly missed major population centers causing 10 billion dollars in damage but with only a few direct deaths related to the hurricane. Most of the 111 deaths that occured were results of the evacuation process. Analysis of these deaths may improve evacuation policies and prepare health care facilities for future natural disasters.
METHODS: Information was obtained from county medical examiners, funeral homes, and news reports of deaths. The deaths were reviewed for a 7 day period which included the mass evacuation and spanned 3 days before and 3 days following hurricane landfall.
RESULTS: There were 111 deaths related to Hurricane Rita in the state of Texas. The three direct deaths were from wind blown trees. A majority of the deaths (90/108 or 83.3%) were related to the mass evacuation process. Of these deaths, 10% were directly related to hyperthermia in motor vehicles. The combination of traffic gridlock and high temperatures, limitation of air conditioning to reduce fuel consumption, reduction of oral intake to decrease restroom visits, and conservation of limited supplies is suspected. 51.1% (46/90) of the evacuation deaths were persons found unresponsive in their vehicle. Hyperthermia and decompensated chronic health conditions are suspected but complete health information was not available. 25.5% (23/90) were nursing home evacuees who died in a bus fire that resulted from overheated brakes in combination with oxygen tanks. The evacuation of patients from chronic health facilities resulted in 10 deaths (11.1%).
CONCLUSION: Ninety lives were lost primarily as a result of mass evacuation from Hurricane Rita. Cooperation and strategic planning from state and local government as well as public health authorities is necessary to prevent similar evacuation problems in the future.
CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Disaster evacuation plans must be revised to prevent the unnecessary loss of lives.
DISCLOSURE: Anthony Zachria, None.