Eight days ago, I watched news accounts of how a massive hurricane named Ike ravaged the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The storm ate those islands. Literally ate them. It left devastation, death and misery in its wake and somehow, even then—as it churned 19-hundred miles away from Houston, I knew it had us in its cross hairs.
How? I don’t know. I’m not psychic. I don’t possess any special gifts, just gut feelings and this one was unflinching; damned near palpable.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my thinking.
Even though the storm was more than 600 miles away, I gassed up and got water and other essential items Tuesday night. At the grocery store, I pushed my cart up and down uncrowded and well-stocked aisles and I’d pass the occasional shoppers, who like me, probably had the same feeling I had. I knew who they were because they shopped in pairs and had this determined look on their faces–not fear, but serious concern. When shopping before an impending disaster, you do so with much determination. Captain Crunch isn’t on your mind; neither is the amount of Riboflavin in Wheat Thins–survival is.
I heard them pose questions to each other in hushed tones, “Do we have enough batteries?”
“You get matches and I’ll get water. How much should I get?”
“If we have to get canned goods, please don’t get any Dinty Moore stew! I hate that shit!”
Ordinarily, that would’ve made me laugh. I’m decidedly not a Dinty Moore fan either, but that night, it didn’t matter.
The next morning, the forecasters had Ike heading for the lower Texas Gulf Coast. I remember thinking, “Oh great!! Geraldo Rivera and his Camera Crew of Doom will be arriving in Corpus Christi!!”
I don’t like Geraldo. Where ever that self professed bad news junkie goes, the situation can’t be good. He’s a harbinger of ugly to come. Still, I got the feeling that Fox News should hold off on making Geraldo’s flight reservations. He’d only be wasting his time in Corpus; he should be heading north–not that I wanted Geraldo in Houston. Talk about hubris!
I still felt certain that Ike was coming to Houston.
By Wednesday afternoon, mandatory reservations were ordered for low lying areas in and around Corpus Christi.
I still couldn’t shake the feeling that this was unnecessary and I told my co-workers as much. They laughed at me; accused me of being a reactionary and unnecessarily nervous. I had one woman defiantly tell me that Ike WAS NOT coming to Houston.
I became extremely frustrated by the cavalier attitude that permeated the radio station. They wouldn’t listen to me and really, why should they? I couldn’t make them evacuate 72 hours out of Ike’s making landfall based on a hunch.
But I knew in my gut what I was feeling wasn’t a hunch.
It was so strong and carried with it so much urgency that I went home; packed what I could, crammed my Calico, Charlotte in her carrier and at 7:48 pm took one last look at everything I owned; shut the door, locked it and headed west–to the Texas Hill Country, some 260 miles inland from Houston.
I assure you, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But I did it, like countless other people who live along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts have done, you turn your back on everything you own; all you have; all you’ve worked for. You leave because you know you can’t stay, yet you have no idea if you’ll have any of it if you return.
If you even can return.
Uncertainty is evil.
So, here I sit at my sister’s desk and I cannot quell my fear. You see, I’m a native Texan–I grew up in a small town 65 miles due west of Port Aransas, right on the Gulf of Mexico. I survived hurricanes Carla, Beulah and Celia. I covered Hurricane Rita.
But this storm is different; it’s always felt different. I can’t shake this feeling. And then I watch The Weather Channel and I see that Galveston is already flooding and huge waves are crashing over it’s legendary Seawall which is 17 feet in height. Forecasters say a 20 to 25 foot storm surge is possible and combine that with the distinct possibility of 30 to 35 feet tall? We’re talking a wall of water almost 60 feet tall! The tsunami waves which pummeled Malaysia weren’t that all.
My God, how bad is it going to be when Ike makes landfall, some 13 hours away as I type this?
And what about Houston, which lies less than 50 miles from Galveston? I’m incredibly uneasy about its impact on the nation’s fourth largest city. We’re talking a population of right at six million people in the Greater Houston area, not to mention it’s the hub of the petrochemical industry for North America and beyond. The Port of Houston is one of the largest in the world, NASA’s Johnson Space Center is here and then, there’s the world-famous Texas Medical Center which is home to the renown M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where kings and queens, celebs, sheiks and imperators from around globe come for treatment.
In addition to that, I worry about menacing problems that exist in the aftermath–the lack of any semblance of infrastructure, lawless anarchy and incredible loss—the kind that runs the gamut. These are problems that are directly and indirectly associated with fierce winds, heavy rain and a possibly mammoth storm surge that forecaster’s say we mere mortals may be completely incapable of handling.
Thursday night, some talking head with FEMA and the National Weather Service warned people who live in the outer banks of Galveston and the immediate area (Houston lies 45 miles inland, by the way) that if they lived in a one to two story dwelling and chose to stay to ride out the storm, they’d be facing “certain death”.
My God!! I have never in my entire life, heard any government official say that.
I can’t even begin to tell you how that made me feel. My heart sank.
But as frightening and ominous as that was; nothing sent shivers up my spine in a foreboding quiver than the news I received a short time later.
A friend called to tell me that he’d heard Geraldo Rivera had just arrived in Houston.
God help us all.
God help us all.