Friday, September 14, 2007

All that they lost while they were sleeping

On Wednesday night we could have been characters in Titanic. What? Hit an iceberg? Band, play on! What? A tropical storm deadheading for us? Party on!

Wednesday morning we woke to a horrible storm dumping barrels of rain, with wind driving it sideways.

What's this, we wondered. Oh well, we mentally shrugged, it's Houston, storms happen. My husband drove on to work, and we didn't even trade cars. When I drove across the bridge over the bay to the grocery store, I looked through the rain out to sea and thought, hmm, that doesn't look too good, bad color to the sky. When I got home, I carried on my day as usual. After I picked up the kids, we ran a few quick errands and then went to a good friend's birthday party.

Meanwhile, my husband, growing concerned about the amount of rain dumped over the course of the day called to ask me if any roads were flooded.

"No, I think the storm must have passed by," I told him, "It's only been drizzling off and on the last couple of hours. All the roads look fine, not much standing water."

At the party, one husband came in and several people grouped to discuss whether it was best to pull the boats out of the water, dock them inland. The group agreed yes, and people were dispatched to work on that. When my husband arrived, he announced he'd battened down the gazebo, and put all the tables, chairs, toys and so forth in the garage or shed.

"What are you all preparing for?" one friend asked.

"There's a tropical storm heading this way," we told her, "No big deal, about 40 mile per hour winds, some rain, nothing to worry too much about."

"Wow," she said, "I have watched the news but didn't catch anything about a tropical storm. When is it supposed to hit?"

"Overnight, close to daybreak, or so they say for now."

"I better get home! I've got stuff everywhere outside, and my gutters are full of leaves!"

The party broke up a little early, and we all shuffled off under gunmetal skies that were spitting water and wind.

We made sure everything was secure, and got the family ready for bed. My husband and I watched the weather, tracking the storm, named Humberto, that was being pushed a little east and north of us.

"It's going to nail High Island," he said, referring to a spot just across the bay from us. "They'll probably take the brunt of it, break it up for us."

We sent silent prayers up for those residents, but weren't too worried. You mainly worry about storm surges and high winds. But they were only predicting two to three foot surges and 40 mile per hour winds. We could withstand that, as could most coastal residents. And, then, there is always homeowners and flood insurance (although, of course, you'd be out at least a couple of thousand, but still...)---if you have it. Recent reclassifications drove insurance rates up so high, many people were unable to renew their policies.

I did not grow up with hurricanes. I'm an inlander, thus coming from deep ignorance about these powerful storms. I'm learning, or trying to. My husband, on the other hand, grew up with hurricanes. He finds them fascinating, and shows no fear. Both vantages are dangerous, I suspect.

But do either take into account that storm prediction is an art as well as a science?

Humberto took everyone by surprise. During the day Wednesday, it was mainly a cluster of thunderstorms. If you listened to morning news, you would have heard about a storm cluster, a tropical depression, but that's about all. That's one reason so many people were not on guard. Over the course of the day, Humberto organized into a tropical storm, but again, not one to be too concerned about. Then, while most people were sleeping, Humberto took a surprise twist and became a Category 1 hurricane, slamming forcefully into sleeping houses, shifting them off of foundations, ripping off roofs, and flooding streets and land.

Out of seemingly nowhere, a hurricane.

We woke up and when we heard the news, we were shocked, and concerned.

My husband's job is near where the hurricane hit. His project team was there, meeting with clients and site surveying for new construction of a school. There's a lot of construction---reconstruction---due to growth and rebuilding after Rita. His coworkers had a rough night but had weathered the storm okay.

But this highlighted for us a big new worry: when we think of hurricanes, we think of Planning and Preparation. We had several days to prepare to evacuate from Rita. In fact, evacuation times are staggered across a couple of days.

This hurricane gave no warning. It hit while people were sleeping. People woke up to their roof flying off, stepped feet off the bed to encounter water. People planned on picking up limbs, calling tree removal services, walking about with big garbage bags to pick up debris. Instead, they are trying to board up broken windows and patch over gaping holes in the ceiling.

It's lucky; this was only a category 1 and only one death has been reported.

But we are all left wondering: what do we do if this happens again?

Locally we have spent the years since Katrina and Rita focusing on disaster preparedness. But all of that anticipates---depends on---having several days notice.

I know where to go in the event of a disaster such as an explosion or a spill, an attack: our town's community center. But I don't know whether that can withstand hurricane force winds...is it certified to 140 miles per hour (hurricane shelter standards)? And anyway, the building and land just got sold (sadly)...what's Plan B?

And is it better to shelter in place, or drive through the storm bands to get to a shelter?

Wednesday night opened up a new can of worms for us and our fellow residents.

Hurricane season isn't over, and it doesn't appear finished with us.

Officials say they are working on a plan

Democratic state Sen. Mario Gallegos says he wants new public school construction to comply with strict building codes so they can serve as temporary shelters during a crisis. He hopes to emulate states such as Florida that have sought to erase a deficit in the number of shelters available.

The goal would be twofold: offering coastal residents a haven they could quickly reach during a rapidly developing storm, and giving inland residents worried about hurricane-force winds an alternative to long-distance evacuations.

Source: Houston Chronicle

But that is years in the future. What about the here and now?

I don't know, but at least people are talking.

The areas hit by Humberto range in socioeconomics, but quite a few people do not have insurance. I'll be checking into need, assistance, and so forth. I'll post links and information on my blog in case you are interested. A category 1 isn't very exciting, and the areas hit are not famous and glamorous like New Orleans (which, by the way, is not the only place Katrina devastated. But they are valuable. I know how easy it is to be financially devastated. You might be the only person on the block to lose a roof, but that can be a $20,000 problem. Devastating.

To see images of the damage: go the the Houston Chronicle front page, look for headline (currently top left corner) "Lessons from Humberto" and click on Images.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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22 comments:

Kyla said...

I know. It all feels so very tenuous. The planning, the preparing...we really can't control a thing. It is disturbing when you really think about it.

I was glad that once again, it wasn't us...but so sad that it had to be anyone at all.

Mary-LUE said...

That is really frightening, Julie. I hope it doesn't happen again soon -- to allow some time for some things to be put into place at least.

Tere said...

I've been thinking about you - glad you came out all right.

This, too, is an on-going concern for us. It's easy to be blase about it, and Lord knows we've had a lot of instances where we've run around like crazy getting ready, only to have it veer off course or turn into a dud, but still.

In 2005, Katrina caused minimal damage here. A few weeks later, Wilma (a category 1 and therefore met with nothing more than standard preparation and no further thought by many people) caused a surprising amount of damage. Lots of property damage caused by falling trees and high winds. For a category 1, it was the most damage we'd suffered since Andrew in 1992.

Karen said...

oh, dear. I don't know what to say, except that I'm glad you are alright, though clearly shaken. I also did not grow up with weather, in that way, and am just relieved you and your family are okay; I hope your community keeps talking, keeps finding ways to keep families safe, to take care of one another.

Emily said...

Glad you are safe. Thanks for the links and the awareness. Sad how we don't think about a disaster qualifying as a disaster unless it devastates x-number of families/communities.

Julie Pippert said...

Kyla, at some points I know I feel a wee bit survivor's guilt...you know, looking through the photos of High Island, for example. I think "Oh wow, could have been us, and then what? Crap. Oh wow, it was them! Now what? Crap."

But yeah, like you and Tere both said: it's easy to be super prepared and blase, but in the end, as Mother Bear told Little Bear in the story today, "You can't control nature."

I haven't been down to the beach to check things out. I shudder to think what washed up.

Some of the refineries took a hit.

****

M-L, I'm going to call the mayor today, get some info. Thanks for the wishes. From your lips to God's ears.

****

Tere, see that's it. Humberto did a lot of damage. I'm waiting to see the numbers.

One of the problems is the offshoot storms. The flooding we deal with sometimes is just from the outer rain bands. Humberto also spun off tornados.

***

Karen, thanks. Luckily, we've got a bunch of pushy people here who will keep talking.

***

Emily, thanks and you're welcome. That does sadden me. It might not be as big as something else, but that doesn't lessen the devastation for those involved.

slouching mom said...

I'm glad you are OK. And alarmed by the suddenness of it all. You're right, it's easy to forget that meteorology in many ways is still in its infancy.

kim said...

My son had to bring a weather map to school and so when I found one for him I was shocked that a hurricane had hit. I've been thinking about you. Glad you are all OK.

Erin - ExpectingExecutive said...

We live in Galveston and we were pretty surprised as well. We were also quick to run outside and bring in all possible projectiles as well as secure outdoor furniture. We were surprised by the force of the wind and the amount of rain as each band passed through our neighborhood. We went to bed thinking that we had certainly experienced "the worst" that others would experience. Boy were we wrong. Our family's thoughts and prayers go out to the families, schools and businesses who were affected by the storm on Boliver and High Island.

Erin
www.ExpectingExecutive.com

PunditMom said...

Very scary. I'm glad you're OK.

Ally said...

This must have been very frightening. To have it come while people are sleeping and unprepared... scary. I'm glad you're okay.

Momish said...

My grandparents lived in a shore community, so I grew up with the full understanding of what hurricane's can do. It is scary and devestating when your home is destroyed, regardless of how well you prepared or even if it is covered by insurance.

I hope everyone effected fares well and are back to normal as soon as possible.

thailandchani said...

Glad to know you are safe. Being from Southern California, I have very little experience with huge weather events. I recall a storm in Thailand that scared the bejesus out of me.

It's true. We have no control over it.. nor should we, I suppose.


Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Emily said...

Oh, yuck. I am glad you're OK, but this kind of thing shakes you up. You just realize how vulnerable you really are.

Do you think Romeo R. was out in the storm? Just lookin' for a bright side :)

Lawyer Mama said...

Emily beat me to my comment about your raccoon problem! Fingers crossed for you.

Anyway, I know what you mean. It was pretty scary to hear how quickly it developed into a hurricane. At least it helps to know that it's very rare for it to happen so quickly. But still, even if you know a hurricane is coming it's hard to know what to expect. Isabel, which did some pretty serious damage in the DC area (and Virginia and North Carolina) in 2005 (and left us without power for 6 loooooong days) wasn't a bad one. We weren't expecting the sort of damage we saw at all.

Julie Pippert said...

Thanks to all.

I'm sure Romeo and Juliet are fine. (I say with mixed emotions LOL.)

I think in general people believe that the damage scale matches the hurricane scale.

And yet, the worst damage we've ever received came from an outer band of a tropical storm...brought same damage to us exactly as Hurricane Rita!

Emily, you nailed it: it makes you realize vulnerability.

I like to Be Prepared, so now must rethink my plans. :)

Mary Alice said...

I am so glad that you and yours faired well. The element of surprise is always the most difficult to deal with. I grew up with earthquakes, which you are NEVER expecting. Scary stuff.

It so happens that I wrote an epistle on disaster preparedness and emergency management for my blog Thursday. (my husband’s Masters is in Emergency Management so it is a subject near and dear to us) Statistics show that only 7% of Americans are "Red Cross Ready" for a disaster. From the looks of statistics such as that, lots of people need to be talking and thinking about how we can keep our families safe when the unthinkable happens to in our area.

atypical said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
atypical said...

(Sorry, had to delete the first one)

I breathe a sigh of relief that you are okay. As I sat up with insomnia, I was hoping the "quick change" wouldn't be too harsh on anyone. I'm sorry to see that it was.

It is so hard to realize that no matter how prepared we might be, we can never prepare for everything.

{{{hugs}}}

mcewen said...

I think this is why I prefer my news via the radio rather than the telly - the pictures get stuck in your head.

Glad to hear that you're all safe and sound.
Best wishes

painted maypole said...

things churn up so quickly in the gulf. Ya'll have been in our thoughts these past few days. Have been checking to see how you've faired... glad you did ok.

Julie said...

I'm glad you guys are all OK. Definitely scary, though, thinking how much can change without your knowing (while sleeping, for example).

I really love the title for this post, by the way.