OFs living with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike

Updated story from Andy : Hi guys, I just thought I would give you a brief account of the hurricane and let you know that we survived it!
We are always watching one storm or another at this time of year but otherwise pretty much go about our business. The weather guys are always scaremongering about the probability that it will hit our area and they never do – even when they pass by fairly close it is just another rainy, windy day in Houston!

So, it was without too much concern that I took off to Vancouver knowing that Ike was ravaging Cuba and headed into the Gulf. As the week went on it started to become clear that Ike was going to make landfall somewhere along the Texas coast and as it ever more certainly turned to the North and West the phone calls home became increasingly more tense! I still wasn’t dreadfully worried about it as I knew that the storm wouldn’t hit until early Saturday morning and I was due home on Thursday night – however, I am always out of town when these things happen and knew that I would have to earn some brownie points back when I got home so I dispatched my neighbor to go and get me 16 sheets of ply-wood to board up the house (boy do I owe him!).

By the time I got back on Thursday it was now obvious that whether the storm turned away from us or not it was going to be close and we were going to see some weather. I half expected to be in grid-locked traffic for hours trying to get home from the airport after our experiences with evacuation during Hurricane Rita but it was the opposite. The evacuation weary folk of Houston had either left early or not at all, and the drive from the airport was spooky – the highways were virtually empty except for a constant stream of ambulances evacuating patients from the hospitals in Galveston. I picked up some last minute supplies (3 cases of Miller Lite) as Blythe had already done the bottled water and battery thing. I earned my Brownie points back by staying up all Thursday night measuring windows and cutting boards and then spent all Friday boarding up and preparing for the storm. We chocked the wheels of the boat and travel trailer and let the tires down to stop them from rolling and parked the horse trailer in front of the barn to break the wind before it went through the door.

I called my buddy Dennis (an ex-marine) at about 4pm – he lives (lived) in a huge gorgeous house on Galveston Bay (4 miles from us) on 4 acres. I told him not to be a hero and to come and ride the storm out with us at least some distance from the water. He told me that Marines don’t evacuate and pointed out that his 300 foot peer was at least 9 feet above the water on a normal day and his house was at least 9 feet higher than that – although he admitted that the water was getting a little high. He called at 5 and said that the water was at the top of his pier, he called at 6 and said that his pier had collapsed and been washed away, he called at 6:30 and said that waves were crashing against his windows and he was coming to my house. He never made it but did make it to another friend’s house closer by. The actual storm was still several hours away this was just the storm surge!

Meanwhile at home we cooked dinner and started drinking. The weather was eerily calm with the occasional gust of wind. The Chicken Kievs were ready at 6:59 and at 7pm on the dot the power went out (I think they turned it off on purpose to prevent fires once the lines started coming down). We started playing poker by candlelight and then the storm came.

I have seen hurricanes on TV and been to places that have just had them. I have evacuated and been through the hassle of looking for gas and living off fast food etc. etc.. However the real thing is something else. It is a bit like the difference between going to a Formula 1 race and watching it on TV. On TV it is quite exciting watching a bunch of cars going fast but when you are there and can feel the speed as well as see it, smell the rubber and be deafened by the shriek of 950hp at 16000rpm and feel the whole ground shake as they pass, it is a whole different experience. That’s sort of what it was like. An unbelievable experience that I am really glad I experienced but will be quite happy never to experience again.

We stood in the shelter on our breeze way and watched trees fall and bits of debris fly through the air, we watched rain that seemed come from every direction including straight up. I trained the flashlight on the shed and wondered when it would let go, then the barn, and saw 4 sets of eyes staring back at me (3 horses and a goat). I thought about my pathetic storm defenses and realized that it was about as effective as a band-aid on an amputation. We watched with curiosity as our 30 foot palm tree took on an ever more interesting lean and finally came to rest on the roof (very heavy – not good). When I suddenly found myself lying on an upturned pool chair Blythe suggested that we go inside (to be honest it could have been the beer). And then it stopped (the eye). We walked around the neighborhood under the stars and surveyed some of the damage and it was dead calm, weird – and then it started again! I had seen enough hurricane and it was 3:30am so I went to bed. In the morning I could not believe what I saw. The other side of the hurricane had returned the favor with the palm tree and saved me some work by lifting it off the roof and depositing in the back yard exactly where I would have put it. We had big tree limbs broken everywhere, millions of leaves and twigs covering everything and the pool looked like vegetable soup. I went out to where the travel trailer should have been and it was there – no damage, then the boat, no damage – nor the barn, nor the shed!. All of my homemade window blinds were still there and then I started to notice pieces of roof and chimneys in my front yard. I surveyed for damage and realized that this debris was from other people. Our house did not have a scratch on it. The rest of the neighborhood was another story!

I got in the car to go and survey the area and got about 100 yards where a tree and power lines were across the road. I went home and got the dirt bike and tried again. I rode around trees, crashed cars, power poles and pieces of peoples sheds (all except mine) and headed for the coast. I rode down FM 517 in about 18 inches of water for 5 miles with water as far as I could see in every direction – it was like riding across the ocean. I thought I would ride down Bay Shore Drive to Dennis’s house to survey the damage but unfortunately Bay Shore Drive wasn’t there – I don’t mean flooded or covered with debris – it was just gone. I say bits of it 100s of feet from where it used to be and other bits that had toppled into the bay. In some places there were bits of tarmac held in place by boulders half the size of cars that had been tossed out of the bay somehow. I tried to get to Dennis’s by a different route but the road was blocked by a State Trooper who told me that everything from then on to Galveston was closed and would be for days and in any case there was no point going down there as destruction was 100%. Pellicans were standing around everywhere in the street looked totally confused about life.

I took a different route home not fancying my chances in the floods again. I passed South Shore Harbor which usually has a picturesque little lake in front of it (now a small ocean) and noticed the roofs of a Hummer and Ford Expedition poking out of the middle of the lake. Both passenger doors were open so I guess the people got out but quite how they got into the lake is anyone’s guess. I got home, hooked up the generator to the travel trailer, turned on the TV and the AC, did a quick inventory of the gasoline situation (boat full – 30 gals, all 3 cars full – 60 gals and a spare tank of 15 gals and realized that we were good for a month if needs be). So we started cooking the slowly defrosting meat from the freezer starting with the most expensive (Rib-eye steaks) and it was hurricane party time at my house. I now know neighbors that I have only nodded at before and everyone helped everyone with the clean-up, clearing the road, cutting down trees etc. etc. Everyone in the street suffered some damage except us. Our house burned down 2 years ago so some may say that it was time we got a lucky break but in reality I think it had a lot to do with it just having been rebuilt to highest storm codes.

I tried several times over the following days to check up on friends – Galveston Island, no entry or exit – too dangerous, Bolivar Peninsular – no entry even to emergency crews but reportedly completely washed away, Tikki Island – entry only to residents and then only to “look and leave”, Clear Lake Shores – entry to residents only but houses condemned to demolition etc. etc.. I went to check on our sail boat, no damage at all, tied up to the dock just as we left it with the ropes still coiled up even though every house on the street had major roof damage.

A week later and 2/3 of the area still has no power, many with no water or sewage. Ours all came back on 2 days ago and life is slowly returning to ‘normal’, stores are starting to open and the evacuees are starting to return. Driving is interesting with most stop lights out (Texans aren’t much good at driving even when they work). The cleanup will take a very long time and some areas will never recover or are just plain gone (some of the above mentioned).

The death toll so far is remarkably low but will increase. The authorities know for sure that people stayed in Bolivar and Tikki and especially Galveston and other areas that suffered 100% destruction. They are saying that some people will never be found.

Dennis showed up a day after the hurricane. He had hiked to his house after the State Troopers had stopped his car. He said that things looked good from a distance (a great distance). He found his front door in the street 300 yards from the house and things didn’t look so good. Half of his 100 trees are down, his shed and garage and Jeep were gone. All the windows were broken and his furniture was piled up in heap broken against the far walls of house. His fridge had migrated somehow to the living room and everything was covered in mud. His front yard is full of boulders (I told him he should make a rockery). He said the upstairs looked pretty good but the house was making strange creaking noises so he though he had better leave, so he came to my house. He said it felt strange that his only possessions were a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a Mercedes 500SEL, I told him that I did know how he felt (the fire) and that I didn’t even have a Mercedes – not only that but he was exaggerating because he still had his cell phone even if I did have to charge it for him. So we had a few beers. He said he is going to rebuild (and I thought only the Californians did that).

Original message from Andy says : Thanks for thinking of us. We are all fine. It was quite a ride and the devastation is unbelievable. Our house is the only one in the neighbourhood that has zero damage. We have no power or water but we have moved into our caravan and are sitting here cooking steaks and drinking beer so we are better off than most. I went to visit my friend who lives on the bay today – had to take the dirt bike through the floods – when I got there not only was his house gone but the road to his house too! I can send some pics when I have internet – right now only Blackberry!

Hi, I am back in the office today. I went to check on my friends who live on the bay and the all of the homes are gone. The pictures are of the street that runs along the bay and has some gorgeous houses. [Click here to see all his pictures]. Not only are the houses gone but the road too. The rest of the pictures are of my street. The last photo is the house behind mine. I took it because a tornado went through their yard and uprooted about 40 trees without even damaging my fence! As I drive around here and look at the devastation it is even more remarkable that we had no damage.

So far nobody I know has been injured or killed but we are still not in touch with everyone. A number of places (Galveston, Bolivar Peninsular and Tikki Island) are close by but still not safe to enter, so the emergency services still don’t really know what became of the people there except that they know that some people did stay and that the devastation is 100% – I am sure that the death-toll will rise before this is done.

Chris also contacted Richard Rowe (S65-74) in Florida, who although not affected by Hurricane Ike has suffered his fair share of storms this year. He gave the following thoughts on living with the aftermath of a hurricane :–

“I managed for a few days without power and it is terrible – the obvious – no air-conditioning, no fans, no fridge/freezer, no cooker etc. The cell phone tower and internet are down. The petrol station pumps don’t work. The supermarkets can’t store fresh or frozen product. The cash tills and credit card systems don’t work; and most stores are so dark without lighting it is difficult to get around. The bank ATMs don’t work, so you don’t have cash or credit. It is pretty miserable; on top of which you may have a damaged flooded property with no way to do repairs or clean up. Kids to look after. It becomes sheer hell after a couple of days.”

He also provided a great link to some more dramatic pictures of Hurricane Ike – click here


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