Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Happened

This was certainly one of the more interesting experiences I've lived through!

The wind picked up steadily after I sent my last post on the 12th. I stayed up watching the continuous weather coverage until 3:30 a.m. when, after several hesitations, our power went out. From that day till this we had no electricity; it just came on this morning. At first the water ran but on Sunday it stopped totally and stayed that way for several days. We used bottled water and what we'd stored beforehand in the bathtubs. The phone followed the same pattern: on at first, then down for several days, then up, then down, then up again, this time for good.

When I emerged Saturday morning backyard fences had collapsed and trees were down everywhere. The tree in front of our apartment had lost 2 huge limbs, one of which had landed in the empty parking place next to our van, the other behind it. If either had hit it I would have been without transportation, making it difficult to return to work when it reopened on Wednesday. There weren't many Toyota shops open at the time.

But, despite the 75 mile per hour winds we had little structural damage, certainly nothing like what happened in Galveston. Some houses had lost roofing or suffered water damage. There were a few broken windows. Store signs were widely shattered or disfigured.

Grocery stores and gas stations were all closed due to lack of electricity as well. Eventually the radio began announcing the WalMart Supercenters that were open so we drove out to the nearest one. We had to stand in line to be let in, and nothing refrigerated was available. However they were giving away up to 3 bunches of bananas, which we availed ourselves of. Other than that we ate unheated canned food throughout this whole week.

Texas without electricity -- and therefore without air conditioning -- is an inhuman place. The first night after Ike passed was very hard to sleep through: The humidity was thick and not a puff of breeze blew. But beginning on Sunday the 14th we were blessed with unseasonably cool weather, which continued throughout the week. Without electricity to power our TV and computers we fell back on 'the old technology:' reading and talking to each other.

This morphed into a rather pleasant situation, despite all the cold, canned meals. The kids, Mrs. Eonic and I sat around for hours out on the porch shooting the breeze about any and every topic. Even Scabby the cat got into the act, becoming for the first time in her life a quasi-outdoors cat -- something she seemed to enjoy as long as we were there to ward off other cats. She doesn't believe in the existence of other cats and has a mental breakdown when they obtrude into her world.

At night we slept beneath our windows with a gentle breeze caressing us. Other than the single generator plugging away in the distance it was delightfully still. The aromas and natural sounds made for deep, refreshing sleep.

The closer you were to landfall in Galveston, of course, the more horrendous things were. There are a dozen fatalities and hundreds missing there, possibly washed out into the Gulf. In many ways, other than the radiation, this was not unlike a small terroristic nuclear device being detonated with Galveston as Ground Zero. This is San Leon to the left (courtesy of Txcuda on the Weather Underground), one of the hardest hit towns.

What I learned this go around is that a big disaster like Ike catapults you back into something like the 19th century -- a 19th century with canned food and battery-powered radios. I also learned that you have to be ready to survive all on your own for at least a full week, not the 3 days they always mentioned in hurricane prevention commercials. And when help does arrive it will come from the local government, Churches, and the Red Cross. The utilities (particularly electric) are overwhelmed, and FEMA is nigh-unto worthless.

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