It's bad enough to risk the inmates' lives, but downright bizarre to me that the Sheriff is willing to risk his deputies. The National Hurricane Center has predicted waves that will top Galveston's seawall potentially by several meters, which would easily flood the town. Take a look at these scary projections of how much flooding might occur if Ike does its worst.
"We did this during (Hurricane) Rita (in 2005) and no one knew until it was absolutely done," said a Sheriff's spokesman. Of course, Rita didn't hit Galveston Island directly and there was never a serious risk that it would breach the seawall. By contrast, with Ike still two hundred miles away, the surge has already raised water levels more than five feet, with 25 foot surges expected.
In 1900, more than 8,000 people died on Galveston Island after a major hurricane (pictured). The Sheriff is definitely tempting fate to take such a risk.
UPDATE (9/13): The Galveston Daily News reported last night before the storm fully hit quoting a mother who'd spoken to her son in the jail:
“He said, ‘Mom. I’m worried, scared and hungry. All of us are here cramped into this little room on the first floor. The flood waters are rising and we’re not going to evacuate.’”So from this we learn that the jail is a one-story structure, while most of the people who stayed in Galveston lived on the second or third floor, which is why they thought they'd survive widespread flooding. Besides, those folks chose to stay; inmates were put in this situation by the Sheriff. The whole thing sounds like a recipe for disaster potentially worse, even, than the abandonment of thousands of prisoners in the New Orleans jail during Katrina.
Nuzzo said her son didn’t see water in the jail, but heard it was rising on the island.
“I called but they’re not answering the phones. It’s ludicrous they left the inmates there.”
Tuttoilmondo said the jail is primarily one level. Its phones were ringing all day
The Sheriff's decision tees me off the more I think about it. If he didn't stay at the jail himself along with the prisoners and the deputies he left behind, the man frankly should be run out of town on a rail when the Hurricane is past.
I checked the most recent (Aug. 1) Galveston jail population report (pdf) which showed 1009 inmates at that time, about the same number in the jail now. The majority of them, 653, hadn't yet been convicted but were sitting in jail awaiting trial; 264 of those were charged with a misdemeanor or state jail felonies (low level drug and property crimes). The Sheriff said these prisoners couldn't be moved for security reasons, but that's a bogus claim. The truth is he could have RELEASED most of them without harming security.
NUTHER UPDATE: Officials announced at 9:30 p.m. last night that there was no Ike-related loss of life, but I can't find any reports mentioning the jail from after when the bulk of the storm hit. I found some tidal data for Galveston showing the surge - nearly eight feet above normal levels around 3 a.m. - has gone back down, thank heavens. But that's high enough to risk drowning inmates on the first floor if those floodwaters reached the jail. What security concerns could justify such a risk?
AND MORE: Still no word on the jail. There was an earlier report that six feet of water surged into the county courthouse next door, but this morning CNN reports "The storm flooded the historic district with 7 feet of water, which has since subsided to 4 feet, according to a Galveston county official. A foot of water flooded the city's main courthouse, where many people rode out the storm." If folks in the courthouse are okay, that's also a good omen, one would think, for the stranded jail inmates. Other areas of Galveston were harder hit. According to the New York Times:
[Fire] Chief Varela said flooding in the city was from 8 to 10 feet deep in some areas. On the way to a fire that his department couldn’t reach, he said he saw a pickup truck that had water over its roof.
“The low-lying neighborhoods are extremely flooded right now,” he said.
STILL NO WORD: As of this morning, Governor Perry's spokespers said she "did not know about any Ike-related deaths and did not have any information about inmates at a jail on Galveston that was not evacuated."