Monday, February 23, 2009

Hurricane Hell 9/16/08

For the last twenty-five years or so, the Houston/Galveston area managed to dodge some major bullets in terms of major hurricanes. Many times me and my family prepared for the worst and nothing happened. The most we saw in that 25-year span were baby hurricanes and minor tropical storms. Then, about three years ago, we got the wake-up call with Katrina first and then Rita, which apeared it would take dead aim at the Houston/Galveston area. Once again we'd dodged what was a monster hurricane.

This year's hurricane forecast as in recent years didn't look too good fo the U.S. coastal areas. Personally I'd become complacent in recent years. I'd pretty much determined that if it happened, it happened, and there was nothign I could do about it. This year we avoided a direct hit by Hurricanes Dolly and Gustav, but took a glancing blow from Tropical Storm Edouard.

Then the Cape Verde season began, and that's usually when I pay attention because those storms have historically taken aim at the Gulf Coast. So when Ike formed just off the Cape Verde coast, I really didn't pay much attention because the forecasters said Josephine would have a better chance of taking aim at the Texas Gulf Coast.

Ike was already ahead of Josephine and tmoving over storm weary Haiti, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Forecasters and meteorologists scrambled to predict where exactly the storm would make landfall. For the first time in 25 years, I actually stopped and took notice. Galveston and Houston were in the center of the cone of uncertainity, and the closer it got, the more likely landfall would be somewhere in the area.

Monday I got in touch with my family in Texas City, just to the south of Houston and north of Galveston. Mom told me that she had no idea we were in the target zone, but that she would concact me later in the week with their plans.

In the mean time, I hoped and prayed this thing would go the other way and miss us, but I knew our time was past due. The grocery store where I work was busy Thursday morning, and then by that afternoon, shelves had emptied of can goods, water, and even perishables like dairy, meat, and produce.

After I got off work, Mom had made the decision to evacuate now that it was obvious Hurricane Ike was about to take aim at Galveston. Dad and Grandma sheltered at my apartkment, and the rest of my family at my sister's house in Bellaire.

We watched the news coverage and waited as the storm got closer by the hour. Ahead of the hurricane water pushed into the bays and bayous south from Corpus Christi north to Surfside, Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula, and even as far north as Beaumont and southern Louisiana. This storm was huge and it was only a cat 2.

Just after midnight Ike began to move into the Houston area after battering the coast. For eight exhausting hours wind and rain battered my apartment complex. All over the Montrose where I live transformers exploded and the entire area went dark.

Daylight revealed lots of downed trees and there were branches and leaves all over the place. Listening to the battery operated radio I had, word from the coast wasn't good. Many landmarks across the Gulf Coast were gone or destroyed.

Just today I got electricity back, and I was able to see just what exactly happened. East of Houston in Orange County and Chambers County, the devastation was unbelievable. Entire communities along the Bolivar Peninsula to the east of Galveston Island were wiped off the map, and water still inundated areas further east.

Along Galveston Bay, many of the communities from Bacliff to San Leon, and north to Shoreacres and Baytown were nearly wiped out by the 13-15 foot storm surge.

On a personal note, my family went home Saturday afternoon and found their roofs slightly damanged, and the trees knocked oer. Nothing as major as what happened along the coast.

So far the Texas Gulf Coast from Brazoria to Galveston and Chambers counties are closed off. Do not attempt to go south and try and help. Instead I encourage people to donate to their local Red Cross and Salvation Army.

It will be many months, possibly even years before many of these areas fully recover. If you loved going to the Gulf of Mexico to vacation or to party or whatever, then I strongly encourage you to help those people because their situation is dire.

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