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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