Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reflecting on Ike--updated X2

We went into full hunker mode about 8:00 Friday night. We still had electricity but had all electronic components except the TV unplugged. I was able to watch the storm approach on TV until close to midnight when I unplugged it. I was hearing terrible news out of Galveston, and the storm had not even made landfall yet. Ike has been described as a Category 2 hurricane with a Category 4 storm surge. Everyone knows by now the devastation Ike brought to those in the path of this surge. Inland, it was a very bad thunderstorm accompanied by howling and screaming winds; the slamming of limbs into roof and walls; and the occasional sense that all might be coming undone.

In the absence of Internet access Twitter worked perfectly. At any given time, I was able to post text messages to Twitter so that friends and family could keep up with our situation. After I tired of listening the storm howl, I posted a final update, put my earplugs and eye mask in place and went to bed.

At daybreak, I looked outdoors, and saw that the rising water threatened to pour into the passenger side of my car. We were getting rain from the south side of the storm, and the water was rising fast. I managed to move the car.

By seven or so Friday morning, the worst was over. The water was high but it receded quickly.

Some limbs were down.

Trees were snapped.

A neighbor's carport collapsed.

This humble man pitched right in with the cleanup.

Neighbors helping neighbors.

A few hours later, after the water receded, we tried the toilet. It flushed--what a relief! Mayor White put out an order to boil and conserve water, so we adopted the policy of, "yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down." There were no water problems. One of three main water pumps lost power but it was quickly restored and the pressure was only down for a short time. The order to boil water, however, is still in effect.

We kept the refrigerator and freezer taped shut for the first 24 hours just in case the power was restored quickly. We were pleased that we had gas and water. We spent Saturday cleaning up and listening to the radio. Bad news trickled in from Galveston. Mayor White made public statements that FEMA had assured him that large quantities of relief supplies were staged in forward positions near Houston. White continued, "I fully expect them to honor their commitments and follow through." He sounded skeptical.

Michael Chertoff, Governor Perry, and John Cornyn gave joint press conferences conveying a rehearsed-sounding message about how seamlessly federal, state and local authorities were working together, as opposed to the Katrina fiasco. Saturday was spent assessing need and staging supplies. As the day progressed, it became clear that damage to Galveston and coastal areas was catastrophic.

By Sunday morning, it was time to empty the refrigerator. We had been hoarding ice since Thursday, and there was some left but not enough to keep perishables through the night. This was during the several hours when FEMA supplies were delayed because of the state guys --the same ones who had been yammering on about the "seamless" cooperation--reneged on their commitment to man the FEMA PODS (Points Of Distribution). According to County Judge Ed Emmet, Harris County has 12, 000 volunteers trained to man the PODS, but the state stepped in and said that they would man the PODS. Then they realized that they needed all state assets in the devastated areas. 36 hours after landfall, only one POD was established with ice, water, and MREs. Conventional wisdom seems to be that natural disaster is always followed by some chaos. In this case, it looks like much of the chaos could have been avoided if the city and county guys had been heeded.

Fortunately, a friend who had electricity called, and I was able to get some ice from her. Our neighbor across the street got some ice and a generator from his employer, Fed-Ex. They gave us half a bag of ice. We had to throw out some food but saved most of it into a cooler. Next time, I will lay in three bags of ice in a cooler. Even though most of it will probably melt, enough might last to extend the survival time of perishable foods from 24 to 48 hours. Anyway, I had a small but steady source of ice for as long as I needed. We lost little food, and were luckier than most in this regard. We found pleasant ways to pass the time outdoors.

Monday, we played the waiting game. I showed up for ice at Jane's Monday evening just in time, as luck would have it, for dinner. It felt so civilized to sit at table for a meal with electricity

Our own electricity was restored that night. A cheer went up and down the street.

HISD is closed for the week. Lonestar says we will reopen Wednesday but it looks doubtful. It looks like some of the PODs are working well while others are chaotic. Today, grocery stores are mostly either closed or empty. We have plenty of food, and have transferred perishable back into the fridge.

Update: PODs distribution has been taken over by County Judge Ed Emmet at the request of Mayor White. News reports say that the truckers carrying supplies for the PODS were supposed to get their instructions about where to go with what this morning. When this morning arrived, the state guys or the FEMA guys--whichever ones were supposed to be in charge of the planning--were just getting started. The mayor was very upset, and he and Judge Emmett seem to have intervened with President Bush to take over the PODS logistics.

Update x2
The PODS delivery got clusterf@#$%ed because they were using a computor system that treated all incoming information equally without any knowledge of the specific needs and conditions of individual areas. Furthermore, every time an elected official intervened to request expedited assistance to his own district, that request got counted twice. The result was chaos. Judge Emmett then sat down at a folding table with a clipboard and legal pad, and had all POD requests directed through him. Like I said earlier, they had prepared for this situation. My guess is, we'll find out later that this had been the official disaster plan all along but the state and FEMA guys didn't read it.