Hurricane Ike: One Year Later

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It struck one year ago and did so with an angry, vicious severity.   Bolivar Peninsula and the communities of Crystal Beach and Gilcrhist took direct hits and for the most part ,were wiped off the face of the Earth.   

Here’s a before and after photo of the area.

crystal beach jpg

There’s little left.    

One year later, the view hasn’t changed much.   The entire Bolivar Peninsula remains shell shocked.

Galveston fared slightly better, but  it looked as though large bites had been taken out of the city scape.

Ike killed 195 people.  As of this writing, 26 bodies have never been found.   Nor will they ever be found.   The ferocity of water is mind boggling.  When  when it recedes to its watery depths,  it takes everything with it.   It makes no discernment.   Bodies are as much random flotsam as wood debris.

I wrote a piece called “The Calm Before” one year ago.   I’m republishing it here.. Sure, I could’ve written something fresh, but I didn’t.   I don’t have the bandwidth right now.  You see, in between commemorating the eighth anniversary of 9/11 and  the first anniversary of Ike’s making landfall, I’m just too exhausted.   I’m spent.

But before I go fetal for the next few days, I will say this much for my fellow Southeast Texans:  we are a tenacious lot.  We picked ourselves up by the bootstraps.   We demonstrated exemplary resolve in how we rectified what nature hath wrought.   We took care of ourselves and our own; just like the communities of Pass Christian and Biloxi did after Katrina.  They survived and thrived,  even in the shadow of New Orleans, which got all the press.   

Granted, the damage was different.  What happened in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward would never have happened in Houston.   Our founding fathers and municipal architects had the sense not to situate the city beneath sea level between the Gulf and a huge lake, then surround it by a levee system that always been inadequate at best.  

So, I won’t tolerate hearing any arguements that New Orleans had it worse.  Try telling that to a  delerious woman who watched her husband, child and home be swept to sea in the churning surge when Ike made landfall at Crystal Beach one year ago.   When it comes to loss of life and abject destruction, weighing apples and oranges is irrelevant.  

It’s also asinine.

We recovered and  we did it without Sean Penn going door to door supplying water to the thirsty, unwashed masses.  Sandra Bullock didn’t write a huge check at the insistence of her handlers.   There were no telethons, no benefit concerts.   Brad and Angelina failed to adopt a child that survived the storm.  

We applied for  natural disaster assistance, but what FEMA couldn’t or wouldn’t do, we did ourselves.

 We “helped ourselves” and it wasn’t via a broken window at a darkened department store downtown.   There were only a few cases of looting;  you could count them on one hand AND I’m extremely proud to report that not 0ne uniformed Houston Police Officer was seen taking a big screen TV or a pair of high priced sneakers from the premises.

Mozol Houston and Southeast Texas.   You did yourselves proud.   A nation could learn a thing or two from us about responsiveness.

And personal responsibilty.

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THE CALM BEFORE (original posting 9/12/08)

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.  Hurricane Ike

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 shoppers 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 walking harbinger of sensationalized gloom goes, the situation can’t be good.   His presence means a whole helluva lot of  ugly is heading straight for you..  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 l felt quite certain that Ike was coming to Houston.  It was a feeling I couldn’t shake.

By Wednesday afternoon, mandatory reservations were ordered for low lying areas in and around Corpus Christi.

I still felt that the National Weather Service was wasting their time with frivolous announcements like this.   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?  Who was I?   I  was jus a lowly comedy writer.  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; like those who live in fire prone areas in California—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.   And then I watch The Weather Channel and I see that Galveston is already flooding and huge waves are crashing over its legendary Seawall (built after the 1900 storm, thes worst hurricane to ever make landfall in the US) which is 17 feet in height. Forecasters say a 20 to 25 foot storm surge is possible and could even a whopping0 to 35 feet tall?  The tsunami waves which pummeled Malaysia weren’t that large.

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 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.

Ever.

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.

Seriously..

God help us all.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for this.

    I am proud of the Bolivar Peninsula residents…they are doing a remarkable job.

    We lost our house in Crystal Beach but we were blessed &/or lucky enough to have our main home. Many of our friends and neighbors there were not as lucky – they lost everything.

    Ike added insult to injury to 9/11…that hit close to home as well….my husband is a firefighter…..he lost many brothers.

    All the victims and their families – from both catastrophies – are in my thoughts and prayers daily.

  2. I think we would do well to refrain from the comparitive judjement you engage in when compairing the plight of katrina victims to that of Ike victims. Ill give you some comparisons if you really want them. The victims of Katrina were not the citi planers of a century or more ago. They were not responsible for the poor planing that left a city in ruin. They were merely residents of that city who lost everything. when the flood waters came to their city they stayed for months destroying everything. Bolivar residents on the other hand had to know the risks associated with living near the waterfront on the gulf coast. Most homes on bolivar are owned by reasonably wealthy persons who have pretty long boot straps to pull themselves up by. I’m glad you and yours are resiliant, but quit deminishing others because they arn’t as resiliant. Truth is they dont have the resorce’s that you do. They probanbly didn’t have all the advantages you had growing up either. They probable had a better chance of winning the lottery than ever owning a beach home. The residents of bolivar had the good fortune to have the coast guard at the ready the day before the storm hit and imidiatly after rescuing people. Katrina victims were trapped for days with out adaquit food or water. The ike flood waters came and went in a few days and then the cleanup and rebuilding could start as it did. Most Katrina victims homes were under water for a month or more and they cant rebuild even if they wanted to. As for your harrowing storie I can simpathize but I have to also say, you should have known better. You were warned and never should have stayed on bolivar risking your life and that of your children. Sorry if you find me a little harsh but I’m really tired of people trying to score political points at the expense of Katrina victims. I’v spent a lot of time on bolivar and I’m saddened by the devastation, but I also realize it is a resort comunity and many of the homes are 2ond “Vacation” homes. YOU MIGHT WANT TO REBUILD A LITTLE HIGHER UP AND A LITTLE STRONGER BECAUSE ANOTHER HURRICANE WILL COME AND WE WILL ALL PROBABLE BE A LITTLE LESS SYMPATHATIC NEXT TIME.

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    Let’s get something straight, Randy–Katrina was by far more of a political storm than anything produced by nature. I’ll try my best not to play political sides here, but I’ll be happty to break it down for you: what happened in New Orleans was an abomination before, during and after that storm ever made landfall.

    Tell me the blame game that was played from Nagin’s office up to the Oval office WASN’T politicized???

    Obviously, you’re entitled to your opinion and I will allow you to voice that here, but there has to be some accountability on the part of Katrina’s victims…especially those in New Orleans.

    “Victimization” is key in the preservation of a generational welfare state and those “left” to their own devices to fend for themselves in the Ninth Ward and elsewhere, were/are prime examples of the behavior of those who’ve survived on the dole generation after generation. They live to be told what to do and when to do it. I don’t blame the people as much as I blame partisan politics. These people were “victimized” by politics as they have been all of their lives. They’ve been forgotten about because their vote doesn’t apply to one party’s cause (the Republicans) or they’ve become convenient pawns by the other party which needs them to stay down and politically beholding because their vote is pivotal (the Democrats) .

    The problem is that somehow, being poor has given people an excuse to live lives completely devoid of human decency and personal responsibility. I don’t give a goddamn how much you have or don’t have. Self preservation is an innate instinct. I’m sure there were those that had the innate need to flee in the hours before Katrina made landfall, but couldn’t.

    They are in my opinion, the true victims here. Not the ones who waited (just as they’ve lived their lives) to be told to jump, then they waited to be instructed as to how high. Is this harsh? Perhaps, not all that more than your conveyance as you see it and like you, I too am tired of everyone in New Orleans getting a pity fueled head shake INSTEAD of accepting some of the responsibility where it belongs. We don’t do that because it’s not considered politically correct to point fingers at anyone who isn’t white. Sorry, but that’s the reality and that reality is crap.

    As for residents who were without food and water. well I hate that. Hate it like hell, but these are people who know the Gulf and the risks of living close to such a prolific hurricane generator. When a Category 5 storm is churning in the open sea and making a beeline toward your state, you DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Storms that produced false alarms or near misses in the past be damned. People were told to prepare; told to buy food and water for at least seven days. THAT’S STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE FOR EVERYONE living on the Gulf coast or 50 miles inland. This is beaten into our consciousness even en utero.

    Yes, the levees broke and the floodwaters kept people in harms way longer, but again, when you live in neighborhoods that butt up against the Ponchetrain and when you look up from the sidewalk and you see boats sailing above you and all that seperates you from a watery death is what amounts to a sheet metal fence, dried mud and the grace of God, should anybody really be surprised the levees broke and so much of New Orleans, a city that on avaerage is eight feet (or more in some places) below sea level, flooded as severely as it did?

    I watched video of people stranded on the bridge near the Superdome and the Morial Center. I saw the news reports of elderly people who died in their wheelchairs and were left on the sidewalk with a sheet separating them from an schocked an appalled world. Maybe a name on a piece of paper was attached; maybe not. I saw panic in the eyes of countless mothers who sat their helpless as they cradled hot, thirsty children in their arms. I saw shame in the eyes of the men there, able-bodied, but helpless to fix a horrific situation. Inside, the dome and elsewhere, conditions were deplorable. There were deaths, murders…rapes. When conditions deteriorate so, do people and they resort to ferality. Who was in charge inside the Superdome? Where were the bullhorns? Where were police? The sheriff? Rent a cops? Why weren’t plans made, then implemented in case the thousands inside the dome would have to stay longer? Why didn’t someone/anyone take charge locally? And considering New Orleans is situated where it is and that Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall, why didn’t anyone dare to think the unthinkable as ar as the levess were concerned??? And all of this in a town that can flood after a decent spring thunderstorm.

    Oh yes, make no mistake: the life was post Katrina in downtown New Orleans and the Ninth Ward was horrible. The word “tragic” doesn’t even begin to describe it. But I also think the things that lead these people there, days after the storm made landfall are just as tragic.

    That’s what makes me just as angry.

    I still get angry that a seemingly cavalier Bush seemed to immulate Nero who, as the story goes, played the fiddle while Rome burned. I get angry at Nagin and Blanco who have been the first to blame everyone else even when they themselves have blood on their hands. Then again, can we really blame them? They’re just doing what scads of “Louisiana lawmakers” have done before them. City, parrish and state officials in Louisiana have spent entire careers perfecting the fine art of graft, malfeasance and exctreme corruption. Sorry Louisiana, but historically your politicians leave much to be desired.

    Is then then were this attitude stem? I don’tknow, but I do know that accountability and the insane lack of it, was an issue across the board in New Orleans. I seem to remember a countless number of school busses that could’ve been used to evacuate. There was one photo after Katrina made landfall–they were all submerged under 12 feet of water. I remember hearing about Amtrak’s willingness to use trains to evacuate and that offer apparently fell on Nagin’s deaf ears.

    Again, I don’t discount the abject horror that befell parts of New Orleans and yes, I pitied and still pity the poor people who didn’t need this to happen to them, but as a whole, I resent the situation for what it was, abominal on more levels than one can count.

    Nor am I going to discount the blight Ike created in Boliver. Just because some of those homes were “second homes”. In your comment, it seems to me you’re missing the big picture. Heartache is heartache. A rich man weeps with just as much heartfelt emotion as a poor man. And a poor man can be just as stoic and rife with integrity ridden as his wealthy counter part.

    You’re demonstrating reverse snobbery in this case, Randy.

    Katrina’s aftermath in the Ninth Ward was conveniently morphed into a story about ethnicity and socio-economic status. But on the flip side, it was about underlying human traits; dignity and self respect; self-preservation and the courage to act responsibly and in many cases, the lack thereof. That the bulk of those who didn’t display these traits had more melanin in their skin was simply luck of the draw and the Planning Department in the City of New Orleans. New Orleans’ municipal government from decades ago elected to place the economically strained Ninth Ward in the shadow of the levies….not the Bush admininstration.

    In closing, I disagree with you wholeheartedly on what true resiliency is and isn’t, my friend. Resiliency stems from within–underneath the skin and its whiteness, its browness…its blackness.

    Lastly, you didn’t read this post very well, because I never stated or even inferred I lived in Bolivar during Ike. I don’t own a home there. I live in Houston and evacuated to the Hill Country before the storm hit. In my post, I was merely conveying an amalgum of about five different stories of survival that I’d heard after the storm. And yes, if you must know, I was just as angry as those crusty “BOI”s, those “born on the island” who refused to leave in spite of some of the most foreboding warnings ever issued before a hurricane’s landfall.

    Even so, I’m going to ask you NOT to pick and choose who gets blamed and who gets absolved from blame because of life’s circumstances and a lack of access to resources. By the same token, it’s extremely unfair to chide people who HAD resources and opportunities and took advantage of them.

    What it all boils down to Randy is this: people are responsible for themselves everywhere in Gilchrist…in Dallas…in Scranton, PA…in Jupiter, Florida… in Brownsville, Texas.

    And yes, even in the Ninth Ward.

    Here’ your reality check, Sweetie: it ain’t all a bed of roses for all people, all the time; the well manicured state of the rosebed not withstanding.

    LK

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