Thursday, September 22, 2005

Live from Houston: Riding The Storm Out

Well. I’m still here in Houston. I’m about 60 miles inland on high ground in the Heights, one of the highest points in Houston, and we are well stocked with food and water, and other emergency supplies. I’ve spent the day moving those supplies to a downstairs shower stall that is tiled on three sides and under the stairway, so they should be fairly safe. We’ve move all our plants, outdoor furniture, and the porch swing into the garage so they don’t become flying projectiles.

I’ve taped the windows, which considering the force of hurricane winds seems futile, but it makes us little humans feel like we are doing something to protect ourselves. And it does cut down on the windows shattering, but they’ll still break.

I have to say that Katrina was a wake up call and, thankfully, because of that hurricane I had already stocked up on food and water and had gotten other emergency supplies. I suggest everyone, no matter where you are, do the same – you just never know.

The evacuation has been messy, and I feel for those thousands stuck on the highway in 100 degree heat – yes, it’s that hot here. And there is no gas anywhere. I have a full tank if we decide to bug out, and you never know now that they have put the contra flow plans in place on I-45 North and I-10 South – traffic may clear up, but you’d have to go a long way to find a place stay. Hotels all over Texas are booked. And two families in our neighbor tried to leave. One family never made it out of Houston, and another headed out to Austin via some back roads, but then got stuck in traffic and didn’t move for 2 hours. Both families came back and are staying.

As of now, it looks like the storm has weakened since yesterday – I was a little panicked then. Plus it seems to be tracking to the east of Houston, which is good news for us. But we are still in the “cone of possibility,” so we still have be prepared.

We have several neighbors staying and we are checking in on each other and helping each other – there is real sense of neighbor cohesion, which gives you, maybe falsely, a little extra sense of security. You know you are not in this alone.

And I have to give praise to the local news stations here – usually they are, well, pretty lame. But this is thier moment. They have been broadcasting 24-hours a day since yesterday. They have there flaws, but they are providing good information and the weather people have been very good and surprisingly calm.

The local officials, especially Mayor White and County Judge Robert Eckels, have been very good and are giving regular news conferences. The contra flow traffic plan was not part of the original evacuation plan (maybe it should have been and I’m sure it will be in the future), but they it put together with TXDOT officials on the fly. They have been evacuating the elderly and sick for several days using buses and planes. I think people learned something from Katrina.

And I think the local politicians are really trying to cover all the bases, and I hate to be cynical there is probably a little CYA as well – but if it benefits the people, more power to them. Also, there have been some mixed signals from the pols. I think the plan was to get all of the people in the costal/storm surge areas out first – thus the mandatory evacs today, yesterday and Tuesday. And this has happened – I think people have been scared by Katrina and are heeding the warnings. Unfortunately, you can’t stop people from Houston also leaving and that has caused some of the traffic jams and some tension between officials from costal counties and Houston and Harris County. And some pols, like Governor Perry and a local councilmen were basically indicating to people if you can get out then get out regardless of where you are. While other officials were saying you should “run from the water and hide from the wind,” suggesting if you are not in a flood zone or live in a trailer home or other weak structure, it may be safer to stay put. But who can blame people for leaving, especially yesterday when a huge Cat 5 was heading right for Houston – I know I was really worried.

I’ll keep you posted as long as I can. I figure we will lose power. For now, we are trying to keep a sense of normalcy. I just got back from walking my dog. (The streets are eerily quiet expect for the occasionally sound of a band saw ripping plywood). My wife baked scones – we are trying to use food that will spoil in the fridge but keep once cooked, so we have also hard boiled eggs and grilled some chicken that should be good for a day or so. One of our neighbors is grilling up some chicken and sausage, and several of us are getting together for a pre-hurricane dinner. We are hunkering down and hoping for the best.

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