Like many other Texas residents, I spent a great deal of time this week glued to The Weather Channel, the cable news networks, and the most helpful for local news on the scene, Texas Cable News (TXCN). I won’t insult the victims of this horrific storm by saying that watching from my safe living room in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was “just like being there”–it wasn’t. It is difficult to internalize the necessity to pack up all that you can, leave your home, and join the lines of vehicles leaving the area for safe haven. Even worse, the knowledge of what awaits when you return. Many people–as many as 40% of Galveston Island residents–could not, or would not, do it, and chose to stay behind, despite the mandatory evacuation order. “We can’t go into people’s homes and drag them out,” said one official. But those who stayed needed to understand that rescue might be impossible, once the full force of the storm arrived.
Everyone by now knows that this storm was so big that the northern Gulf Coast from New Orleans on west was impacted before Ike even made landfall, causing more flooding on top of soaked ground from Gustav. Fifty-foot waves crashed onshore. The seawalls held, but were overtopped. The acres of coastal oil and gas refineries were shut down and secured, though supplies of gasoline were still moved by truck and pipeline, first to supply evacuees and emergency vehicles. Prices went up in anticipation of short supplies, but price-gouging was penalized by heavy fines.
Here at home in the Valley, we prepared for moderately severe thunderstorms. We secured objects outside that might become airborne, but by today (Saturday) nothing has happened at all. When Dolly came straight at us, we boarded up and stocked up, since we are close to 100 miles inland. But we would be foolish to stay at home if something the size of Ike was headed straight for us! You hate to leave your home. You agonize over what must be left behind. But life is more precious than property, and staying in a flooded area, in a damaged structure, without power and communication, could be life-threatening.
Ike impacted the eastern third of Texas, parts of Lousiana and Arkansas, and is now on its way through the midwest and New England before it finally leaves. The state and national disaster plan went into effect like clockwork. We know how to handle these things, and there are many heroes doing this work who place themselves at risk because they care. We are all grateful to them. But sometimes there is no way to help people who won’t heed the warnings. The tourists and “Weather Warriors” who waded in their flip-flops in the storm surge taking pictures with their camera phones–returning as soon as the police car left–were unbelievable! Made me wonder what they had imbibed before stepping out into the wind and rain amidst the washed-up debris of collapsed fishing piers.
Did you see that alligator looking for a meal???