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Former area resident recounts Hurricane Ike

All hurricanes are destructive, the only question is where and when will they strike. We escaped Hurricane Rita three years ago because it veered east at the last moment and left us in Clear Lake (midway between Houston and Galveston) with minimal damage but destroyed towns in Western Louisiana. See “Wrath of Rita” in The Daily Herald archives of September 2005.
Unless a miracle happens, we sit directly in the path of Hurricane Ike with little chance of veering significantly. Ike is projected to reach landfall in Galveston around 1 a.m. Saturday morning.
Wed. evening (9-10-08): Started to board up the windows as a precaution. All the outside plants were placed in two cages we used for raising quail last year and staked to the ground.
Thursday: Went to work at Bayer Chemical as a crane operator and spent the morning tying down all loose items around the equipment yard. All mobile cranes were placed in a row with outriggers in place and booms lowered. The two 12-ton counter weights from the 200-ton crane were placed on the backside of the office trailer. Two 15-ton mobile cranes were placed in front of the trailer. Lifting straps connected each counterweight to a crane. The office file cabinet was placed in the bosses’ truck, which he took home with him. Everyone was sent home at noon. As it turned out, Baytown was hit pretty hard with major flooding.
Many towns along the coast were receiving mandatory evacuation orders. Later Thursday evening, 77062 zip code in Clear Lake received its evacuation request. Lillie packed up and left for higher ground but I stayed for awhile longer. I had three TV’s going to monitor where the “eye” was going to hit before I made my decision to leave.
Friday: Basically spent all day preparing the house and property. Ladders, wheel barrows and any large object that could turn into a flying missile was strapped and tied down on the gazebo deck. Bird, hummingbird, and squirrel feeders were put away – “sorry about that but you have to find a safe haven also.” Removed the gate from the fence on the north side so the fence doesn’t get blown away and relieves the flow of water from the backyard to the street out front. Kick boards were removed from the south side fence for drainage as well.
Duct taped the cracks in the door facing east to prevent water/wind from entering and placed sand bags at the base to slow down sloshing water. I cut a window in the plywood that covers the back door and inserted a square foot of Lexan to see out. The easiest way to remember which is stronger; Lexan or Plexiglass – Plexiglass is NOT flexiglass.  One of the garage windows is covered with a panel of Lexan in the front of the house.
Filled the bathtub with water in case the local filtration system is not working after the Hurricane passes. 30 gallons of drinking water in place. Flashlights in every room of the house. With the windows boarded up, it is dark inside even during the day. In preparation for the next Hurricane, a square foot of Lexan will be affixed to each plywood panel.  The truck is squeezed into one of the garage bays for safe keeping. One neighbor left their car outside their garage and subsequently, an adjoining fence gate collapsed and shattered the rear window.
Extra propane bottles for light and cooking over a gas stove in case power is not restored immediately.  A package of “dry ice” is in the refrigerator to extend the perishables in case.  Basic rule is when power goes out, start eating the contents of the frig first, then the freezer as things thaw and then your canned goods, MRE’s (meals ready to eat), apples and dry goods. Plenty of supplies to last a week or so.  The generator sits in the shed with two five-gallon Jerry cans of gasoline. Can’t run them during the Hurricane but they come in handy afterwards.
All rechargeable batteries charged and ready for use. Dozens and dozens of standard disposable batteries ready and able. Several crank-generator type flashlights as well as an emergency type (Grundig) radio available.  Two car battery-type batteries charged and ready to go. A portable DVD player to pass the time in case I get eye strain from reading. Plenty of books on hand.  Helped a neighbor board up their windows before they left town.  Just like Hurricane Rita three years ago, Clear Lake is turning into a ghost town. Abandoned, kind of spooky and nothing is open for business.
Friday evening: Curfew in effect from dusk till dawn. Wind is starting to pick up even though Ike is still a hundred miles from the coast. Small branches and limbs already on the ground. This is a BIG Hurricane. They are calling it a MONSTER Hurricane due to its size. A hurricane this size has never been recorded before. It is the size of Texas and stretches 600 miles at one point, encompassing almost 80 percent of the Gulf of Mexico. The one saving grace could be that the “eye” is enormous. If the “eye” were smaller, the winds would be more intense. As an example: a figure skater that starts to go into a spin, the tighter the spin, the faster they go.
The real threat will be water. It is projected that a 15-20 foot surge could result from Ike. We are 22 miles inland and ten miles from the Bay so there is a concern, especially if the Hurricane reaches landfall directly south of us. Hurricanes in the northern hemisphere turn counter-clockwise (CCW). If you are on the east side of a hurricane, you will be on the “dirty side”. This will bring water directly from the Gulf and the storm surge the greatest. If you are on the west side, it is called the “clean side” and will usually bring more wind than water. Right now, the “eye” is expected to come right up Interstate 45. We live two miles east of 45 and will take a tremendous pounding if it stays on course.
The house sits at elevation 25’. The crown of the street has only been covered twice in the ten years I have lived here and the garage is three feet above the crown. Not much of a margin but could be enough.
So far, Ike is listed as a strong Category 2 with winds gusting to 110 mph. A Cat-3 starts at 111. Not the strongest of hurricanes but by far the biggest!
For weeks, electronic message boards heed the warning “HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE. KEEP YOUR GAS TANKS FULL.”  As of Thursday evening, gas stations were running out of fuel.  At one point, over 50 tanker trucks were lined up outside a refinery trying to refuel. 13 of 25 Texas refineries went off-line, which supplies 19 percent of fuel to the lower 48 states.
On a Friday night, the theatre district is the place to be when in downtown Houston. Theatres, plays, shows, concerts, restaurants – all closed and streets are abandoned. Just like in Clear Lake, Houston, the country’s 4th largest city is in line for a direct hit.
Friday night: The “eye” is still quite large but shrinking and I decided to stay put. At this point, it could be more dangerous trying to flee. Winds gusting to 60 mph.  I hear a distinctive crack and a neighbors’ tree breaks and blocks the street leading down the cul de sac. I step outside to brave a look and see no real damage. I found out later it took out a light pole (metal) and the lamp assembly is on the street under the tree limbs. I see a distant flash of blue from a transformer and the “bwwvv” that it makes. Four more transformers nearby explode in the few minutes I venture outside. The house still has power. All TV’s on weather channels.
I managed to get some sleep for four hours while Ike reached landfall and hammered Galveston at 110 mph.
Saturday 4 a.m.: I slept on a sleeping bag on the living room floor so I could tell right away if there was any flooding. The floor was dry and it was the best news. Still had power, which was secondary good news. The backyard was still visible and the rain gauge listed about 5 inches, which is an absolute surprise. The TV reported that the Hurricane shifted slightly east which meant we were in the western portion of the eye, which lessened the chance of major flooding.
Cautiously stepping outside to assess the damage, I saw a couple more transformers explode in the neighborhood.  It is raining but not pouring. The back yard is strewn with limbs and branches but nothing major. A neighbor’s tree uprooted and fell parallel to my new fence and took out 20’ of old fence behind the utility shed that I was planning to replace someday anyway.
My northern neighbor, Ken, had two tall pine trees that snapped about 15 feet above ground. Both falling away from his house. My southern neighbor Troy had a tree also fall away from his house and is blocking the entrance to the cul de sac. Ken’s big tree blocks the rest of the lane. I am in the middle and if I wanted to go for a drive, it would be a short back-n-forth for about 50 yards. All in all, there is minimal damage in our neighborhood and no storm surge to speak of. Hobby Airport (10 miles distant) recorded gusts up to 92 mph and sustained winds of 70-80 mph so that is what we basically had in our area.
Saturday 7 a.m.: Donning a full length rain slicker and knee high boots, I did a “walk-about” (Australian lingo) inspection of the vicinity. Not out of necessity mind you but just an excuse to get out of the house for awhile. The damage was more intense than I thought but still minor in relation to other areas. Ken’s fence is down (he forgot to remove the gate); a huge tree limb is leaning against their picture window. With some effort, I was able to remove it and could not believe it did not go through. Three of his five huge back yard trees are broke in half and five neighbors to his north all suffered big-time tree damage. You could have sworn a tornado went through these back yards.
Troy’s new fence he built last year is on the ground. Part of his tree that covered the lane entrance split in half blocked the entrance to his house. He is a policeman on duty and his family is safe out of town. When Brenda called to assess the damages, I cleaned an entrance as they were coming home later that day. The place where they sought refuge did not have power.
The man down the street is a council member of Clear Lake City and was in charge of hundreds of people taking refuge at the local Recreation Center a mile away. They all spent the night without power. Many of them did not realize until later that they left the comfort of their homes (with power) to shelter-in-place without power.
A block away, a large tree uprooted and fell right on the house but none of the broken limbs punctured through.  On Sunday when most people returned, everyone was out and about helping each other saw limbs and bunch up branches and pile them high for the city cleanup crews that will be busy for weeks.
It was reported that Galveston was under water, meaning no surface was visible. Many places were several feet under water. Water was above parts of the highway leading to the causeway and for those who stayed, no way off the island. Quite a few helicopter rescues were made. The town of Seabrook, a couple miles east of us sustained a lot of flooding. There are many large marinas in that town and boats were tossed like plastic ducks in a bath tub. Kemah is isolated for the moment – no way in or out. Baytown was hit hard and I was told not to report to work until further notice, which gives me a chance to clean up my place and assist my neighbors.
My power was off-n-on several times during the night but collectively about eight minutes total. Very lucky?
What was it like to sit out a Hurricane (other than possibly foolish)? Unnerving, tense, concerned, a little edgy, anxious? Yes! Exciting? Not really! This was a monster hurricane without a doubt. Had it been smaller and more compact, it would easily have been a Cat-3 and possibly a Cat-4 and I would have been long gone and I could only imagine the damage that would have done!
And now the clean up begins.
Saturday evening: I put the hummingbird feeders back on their hooks, the other bird feeders went up as well and same with the squirrel feeders. All were restocked and shortly after, the yard was filled with activity. They seemed quite hungry and were probably glad to see us. Several of the doves were soaked but looked healthy. Between the two feeders, we counted nine hummers zipping around the porch. Life returned to our partial acre.
Sunday – The morning after: Ike is gone but a cold front moved in and it is raining and raining. Early church service was at 7:30 and only 20 people arrived at the beginning. Service was conducted by candle light as St. Bernadette was only a half-mile from the house and was without power.
After breakfast, I took a bike ride around the neighborhood as this is the first time I left my house on the cul de sac. Three streets south, residents were without power. 97 percent of the Houston Metropolitan area was without power (about 3 million people): we were in the fortunate 3 percent.  As I pedaled around the neighborhood, I heard the occasional sound of a generator giving some relief to those inside. Many trees down, fences did not stand a chance, and branches/leaves everywhere. As I finished my hour long ride, I realized those who were out cleaning up were doing so quietly. Some neighbors swapped stories, an occasional chuckle and on about business.
It dawned on me that although Hurricane Ike was a monster in size, the damage to our end of town was minimal. Nothing more than a mere inconvenience that a couple days or weeks of work won’t cure. Areas east of us felt a different blunt of the storm where places were several feet under water. The storm topped out at 13.5 feet; far short of the 20-25 foot wall of water that was projected. Our area received about 8 inches. Areas a couple miles east of us got eight feet.
Northeast of Galveston Island is the Boliver Peninsula, accessible by either the ferry out of Galveston or a hundred mile road trip. East of the Bolivar Peninsula is Crystal Beach, a resort-type community of beach-front property, inhabited by weekend vacationers as well as full-time residents. The west end of Crystal Beach fared remarkably well, where as the eastern portion suffered drastically. Helicopter footage showed sections where some houses still stood where as other sections of the area showed nothing but concrete pads, wiped clean from the winds and water.
There were a dozen reported deaths as a result. My mind drifted half-way around the world where thousands of lives were uprooted when cyclones, typhoons, tsunamis, mudslides, or earthquakes kill by the thousands and tens of thousands. Or even in the Midwest when tornados completely level houses, tearing off roofs and tumbling house trailers like toy building blocks. So, our area has very little to complain about and is very thankful.
Sunday afternoon: Neighbors have returned and now everyone pitches in and the buzz of chainsaws are all up and down the streets. Limbs are piled up and stacks of woods rise in front of almost every house.  Most schools are closed on Monday or longer, many have an extra day off work with fences to mend. Boards or plywood are removed from windows and stored in sheds for the next go round. That is the procedure when you live near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. For complete coverage, go to the web. For local photos, e-mail me at Ricks@texasarchery.org
“And now…for the weather in your area…”