Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hurricane blues before the big blow

I am remiss to even think about how inaccurate and tiresome this article will appear when folks read it after Hurricane Ike blows through. Here it is Friday morning, the twelfth of September; we are expecting the wind to pick up in about five hours and the feeling of controlled panic/resolve and gut-grit are wafting through the city.

Anyone can readily see that this storm is going to be Alicia all over again and for those of us who were subjected to her fury; this won’t be a picnic or a near miss like Rita, Eduard, or any other storm since 1983. This one feels serious. Everyone knows it. Some are vocalizing it to ease their dread, some are warning to do all we can to prevent loss of life and damage to property, but no one is joking about how tough they are or how this storm is nothing to worry about. We don’t even want to think this will be Carla again.

All other hurricanes are forgettable to me since Alicia. I sometimes get Katrina and Rita confused with which was which and that is why I call them forgettable. I remember Tropical Storm Allison and I remember that I once again marveled how Baytown seemed to be in a high-pressure bowl with the storm rotating around it, dropping more water everywhere than it did here. I think we got about 9 inches and that was plenty.

My neighborhood is taking this storm warning to heart. This morning I looked down the street and for the most part, driveways are vacant. Many folks figured the wisest course involved making a surprise visit to a relative. Many of us here in Chaparral Village are communicating phone numbers, prayers and promises of support through our crime watch mailing list. We are stocked up on salsa and tortilla chips.

I really have mixed feelings about this one. The old impression of adventure is totally absent though, as only someone with no hurricane experience wants to actually see and experience a real one. I dread the damage and the loss of electricity which always accompanies these giant malevolent storms.

Yesterday, Thursday, the city issued an evacuation order for zip code 77520. This was a tad misleading in my opinion and needs to be accompanied with an explanation of city elevations. Some of 77520 is about three feet above sea level but a lot of it is outside a Category 3 flood zone. Nevertheless, this is not a hardcore complaint as we are making terrific progress in disaster preparedness.

Judge Ed Emmett released a statement concerning security from looters and this is one reason I see a giant step forward for evacuators. When I was a twelve year old kid living in Toledo, Ohio, we suffered a terrible tornado on a Sunday morning. It came with little warning and in my Aunt Pauline’s neighborhood many houses were devastated. She heard the sound of a locomotive and dove behind her couch as the front window exploded.

The poor woman was trapped by debris and broken shards of glass behind her own couch and had to be rescued, but survived, thank the good Lord. The area was declared a disaster area and the State of Ohio brought in the National Guard. The Guard was issued live ammunition and signs were posted everywhere that “looters will be shot on sight”. I know those days are long gone, but it sure made an impression on me as a twelve year old. Ray Nagin made a similar statement during their last hurricane when he told the residents of New Orleans that looters “will go to prison” and he told folks to “get your butts out of town”.

I like that no nonsense approach. He made it plain that no looting of any kind was going to be tolerated and as far as I know things went very smoothly in the “Big Easy” this time. Ray Nagin has learned that tough times call for strong words and leadership. I was also pleased to see our Mayor Stephen DonCarlos on television explaining that Baytown was not only prepared, but city council was “on it” with constant meetings and decision-making.

My wife facetiously asked me to call Bob Leiper and find out if he had any private and secret advice on evacuation. I told her I could just see Garry Brumback whispering to Bob to give me an ultra-secret encoded phone call and tip me off before the rush started.

Hopefully Baytown will have picked itself up without loss of life by the time you good Baytown folk read this and may God bless our city.

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