Friday, September 12, 2008

 

(Attempted) mass murder by hurricane?

(4 updates below.)

According to the Austin American-Statesman, 1000 prisoners in the Galveston County Jail, along with their jailers, are not being evacuated. Here's the article.

And here's a quote from the warning issued yesterday by the National Weather Service:
ALL NEIGHBORHOODS... AND POSSIBLY ENTIRE COASTAL COMMUNITIES... WILL BE INUNDATED DURING THE PERIOD OF PEAK STORM TIDE. PERSONS NOT HEEDING EVACUATION ORDERS IN SINGLE FAMILY ONE OR TWO STORY HOMES WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH.
According to Google Earth and Google Maps, the Galveston County Jail, at 5700 Avenue H, Galveston, TX, is about 3 feet above sea level; the building appears to be two or maybe three storeys high.

(Note that jails, as opposed to prisons, are typically used to hold people awaiting trial; many the inmates, one must assume, haven't even been convicted of anything. Not that this makes the slightest bit of difference.)

Just to make sure the story doesn't vanish, here's the full article, copy-and-pasted from the web site:

Galveston prisoners still in jail

An estimated 1,000 prisoners remained locked in the Galveston County Jail this afternoon, as the Hurricane Ike began battering the island city with flooding.

County officials earlier had ordered a mandatory evacuation for all residents. Sheriff’s officials insisted the prisoners and jailers were safe and sound, in a 2-year-old building designed to withstand hurricanes.

A sheriff’s office spokesman said the plan was for the prisoners and jailers to weather the storm in place — unless an evacuation took place later today. Sheriff’s office spokesman Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo told the Houston Chronicle that the reason for not evacuating the prisoners is a security issue and cannot be discussed,

Even so, he said, “the prisoners and their safety and well-being are paramount and it will be handled.”

In Austin, several legislative offices early this afternoon lodged angry complaints with Galveston County and state officials that the jail had not been evacuated — and perhaps would not be.

Forecasters earlier warned that Ike’s storm surge of as much as 20 feet is possible — a level that would put water 3 feet over the top of Galveston’s seawall.

Galveston and state emergency management officials early this afternoon said they were checking on the situation at the jail.


UPDATE: According to another article in the Galveston County Daily News, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office claims that "The inmates are safe, sound, and the jail is high and dry". The same article says the jail holds 1300 prisoners. The same spokesman says the jail is primarily on one level.

I really hope that this isn't as bad as it sounds, and that I end up looking like a panicking fool in a day or two.

UPDATE 2: It's possible that the Sheriff's Office has plans to evacuate the jail, or perhaps has already done so, but they're just keeping the plans secret for security reasons. As an article in the Houston Chronicle hints:

Any decision to move the prisoners would be kept secret for security reasons, as happened before Hurricane Rita in 2005, he said.

"We did this during Rita and no one knew until it was absolutely done," Tuttoilmondo said.

We'll see.

UPDATE 3: I've updated the title, adding "(Attempted)".  It looks like the prisoners were not evacuated, but as far as anyone can tell they rode out the hurricane successfully.  The flood depth near the jail was 7 feet, less than was feared.  But now they're stuck in a jail in a city with no power or running water.

This doesn't (or shouldn't) let the Sheriff's Office off the hook.  Though the flooding wasn't as bad as initially feared, the Sheriff had no way of knowing that.  If it had been worse, the entire jail could have been submerged; no matter how hurricane-resistant it might be, I doubt that there would have been many survivors.  When you lock people up, you are responsible for their safety and well-being.

Much more information here in ProgressiveSouth's diary at Daily Kos.

UPDATE 4: It looks like the prisoners are ok.  According to this article in the Galveston County Daily News:
Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough said search and rescue efforts would be fully under way today as more help streamed into the county.

The sheriff's office didn't evacuate county prisoners, and Yarbrough said they were unharmed as Saturda'.s storm surge failed to reach the county jail or Justice Center on 57th Street.

"The good Lord took care of those 1,050 inmates," Yarbrough said. "There was no rising water, but some wind-driven rain did make it into the law building."
It was the duty of the Sheriff's Office to keep the prisoners safe, and I don't think the good Lord is one of their deputies.


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