by Amaury Nora
First, I like to thank everybody who expressed their concern for my safety and well being as Hurricane Ike passed through the Houston/Galveston area. The hurricane left Houston, the US’s fourth-largest city, and its surrounding areas battered and bruised and was reduced to near paralysis in some places.
As the power companies take their time restoring electricity, I wonder if anyone has noticed how Houston is serviced by one power company, CenterPoint Energy, that furnishes electricity to the area. Even though I signed up with a different electric provider, I am still at the mercy of CenterPoint because they are the local grid operator, which handles and services the electric grid. This is a result of the deregulation of electric services in Texas. Since CenterPoint controls the grid, they are responsible for all power failures.
As of last Friday Sept 19, of the total 2.2 million who lost power, 1.3 million are still without power. Not only that, my entire apartment complex did not have water for the entire week, despite Mayor Bill White’s assurance that water pressure is back to normal levels. During that time, I had to look for places that were open so I could avoid a build up of dirty dishes, while at the same time my laundry began piling up, my appearance began to suffer, and the water I stored in my bathtub for flushing my toilet was beginning to run critically low.
This is not the first hurricane I have been through a hurricane. In fact I did go through Hurricane Alicia. I also went through several tropical storms. This also not the first time I actually blogged a major hurricane. In 2005, I did the same thing with Hurricane Rita. There was something about Ike that made this one different than the previous ones I went through.
One day before Ike made its presence felt, on Sept 11, Harris County and City of Houston officials told people who weren’t living in Zone A & B of the evacuation zone to ride this out. This was done so the city would repeat the same mistakes three years ago and the steps New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin took with Gustav.
It is hard for people who live outside the Texas Gulf Coast to fully understand why so many decided to stay and ride out the storm. For some, the Rita evacuation process that took place three years ago is still fresh in people’s minds. When Rita was predicted to hit Galveston and Houston, more than 3 million people hit the roads almost simultaneously. When it was our turn to leave, it was being reported that people were stopped in traffic for hours in the Texas heat, many ran out of fuel waiting to get out, and there were rumors of traffic accidents. The gridlock was so bad, there was a fear if Rita did come in at a certain angle, it would have been a “death trap” if you were stranded on the road. As fellow Houstonian and blogamigo DP put it, “that was an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.” I don’t except people to “get it” because it is something one has to personally experience to fully understand.
When Ike finally arrived Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported that the hurricane maintained it’s 110mph wind speed, therefore classifying it as a strong category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, 1 mph shy of becoming a major category 3 (winds 111-130 mph). In other words, Hurricane Ike was a borderline Category 2/3.
I would be lying if I said Ike didn’t have an impact on me. Recently, I seem to have trouble concentrating, my sleep patterns is a bit off, my apatite has decreased, and for the past couple of days I have been reminiscing about the roaring wind and rain of that night. I hate to say it, but it seemed like it went on for hours with no end in sight. I think I only got 2 hours of sleep. During the storm, I noticed something very eerie outside my window, the natural light that normally enters through the window, there were periods when the light would disappear right before my eyes, as somebody put a was putting a cover over the apartment complex because the room would suddenly become pitch black. I found some accounts of others reporting the same thing. Those who survived the storm in Galveston also noticed the same phenomenon. Nanc, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “it turned completely black, you couldn’t see five feet in front of you.”
As the southern eyewall approached, that is when things really started rocking. A storm chaser noted that the “southern eyewall was very similar to Katrina in duration and relentlessness.” Around 5:30 AM, the winds began pounding my apartment so hard I was sure that the next massive gust would implode my sliding glass door or my bedroom window. Because the rain fall sideways during a hurricane, the pounding of the blistering rain against my sliding glass door sounded like someone got a handful of pebbles and threw it at my door non-stop. Throughout the night, as I hunkered down in my walk-in closet located inside the bathroom where the wall muffled the frightening sound, however, Ike made sure it’s presence was still felt. As I huddled on the floor with my dogs, I felt the apartment sway back and forth a couple of times, which brought about flashbacks of the first time I experienced an earthquake in Los Angeles.
I do have to admit, I was lucky. Despite the rocking, there was no damage to my apartment, however, there were some within my apartment complex that weren’t so lucky. Throughout the week, it was obvious that the people who lived on the bottom floor or in the mid-rise part of the complex were has rain enter as they were drying their towels outside. One tenant told me their entire ceiling was filled with water. As for my parents’ condo, they did sustain some minor flooding.
I think in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there has been an unfair comparison between the tragedies Katrina left and the one left by other storms. In today’s post-Katrina coverage, if damage pales in comparison to Katrina, in the eyes the national media, it’s not going to be seen as a “big deal.” What people and the media have to keep in mind, Houston isn’t dependent on vulnerable levees or below sea level.
However, damage from the storm was extensive. Thousands of homes and government buildings flooded, roads were washed out, power lines were down and parts of trees and roofs were everywhere. Highways were full of debris, shredded billboards and cars stalled in high water.
It will take several months and millions of dollars to replace the glass in Houston’s skyscrapers that was shattered by Hurricane Ike. Some of the city’s big corporations did not open their offices until Tuesday because the building sustained water damage.
The city’s theater district was flooded and shards of glass blown out of downtown skyscrapers littered the streets. Ike’s winds ripped off windows on Chevron Corp’s two main towers at 1500 Louisiana and 1400 Smith. All windows on one side of Chase JP Morgan were blown out. The retractable roof of the newly constructed Reliant Stadium was damaged by Ike. HoustonPBS sustained experienced extensive damage to the section of their roof which covers the TV studios and set storage during Hurricane Ike. The damage downtown was comparable to Hurricane Alicia in 1983.
As of this writing, the Houston Independent School District just announced that more than half of their schools are unable to open next week because damage sustain by the Hurricane. On top of that, they will also take in all the students from Galveston Independent School District as the City of Galveston begins the rebuilding process.
The situation in Galveston and the adjacent Bolivar peninsular is more serious. The visible evidence is dramatic enough: parts of Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula are reduced to matchsticks because the stilted homes were ripped from their pilings.
Even though more than 2 million residents in Texas and Louisiana heeded evacuation orders, it is estimated that between 90,000 and 140,000 ignored evacuation orders and decided to ride out the storm. While not all those who chose not to evacuate were put in harm’s way, federal officials reported that 2,000 people were rescued – almost 400 by air – in 2,500 search and rescue missions. However, there are some who suffered greatly.
In the beginning there was constant coverage of the aftermath, however, the fate of Bolivar remained unknown. If houses are destroyed and people were there, where are they? What we do know is that the death toll in Texas from Hurricane Ike stands at 23.
Many local and online news sources have gone either silent regarding the casualties and deaths from the devastation the hurricane inflicted on Galveston or provided the occasional glimpse of the devastation it left behind…
Unfortunately, the exact number of people who died as the result of Hurricane Ike is anybody’s guess, and most likely it will take weeks and months to get an answer to that question. Sadly, Galveston authorities are now conceding that the waters of Galveston Bay and nearshore waters could have washed them out to the Gulf, which apparently happened to one woman on the peninsula.
In the midst of the presidential election, one would wonder if the blackout is part of a concerted effort by the corporate media and political elites to trivialize the disaster so those outside the impacted areas won’t ask the vital questions.
In Part II I how FEMA is slowly turning Houston and Galveston and the surrounding area into another New Orleans as the Texas GOP plays with peoples lives.
Originally written on my blog Para Justicia y Libertad
Categories: scholars and rogues