Recovery from Hurricane Ike

I’ve now been through two hurricanes in my life, Andrew in 1992 and now Ike. I didn’t want to repeat Andrew, and I feel the same about Ike. The good news is that my family and property came through Ike with no serious damage. The pecan tree in my neighbor’s yard to the north is missing three large limbs, one of which landed on my fence and in our yard. I’ll need to replace the fence on the west side of my backyard, which was blown down, and I discovered that I have a window that is leaking and probably beyond repair. My doorbell appears to be schizoid from a power surge, ringing randomly in the middle of the night (at first we thought we were being pranked by neighborhood kids), so I had to disconnect it until I have time to troubleshoot it.

My neighborhood, West University Place, suffered much the same. There are numerous trees blown down, many more tree limbs littering yards, and many fences blown down. A few houses, sadly, were struck by trees or limbs that had fallen. As best I can tell, no homes suffered direct wind damage in terms of either damaged roofs or blown-out windows. The winds in Ike just weren’t that strong, thank goodness.

Electricity went out, as I predicted, about 2:30 a.m. It was restored the next day about 6:00 p.m., just as we were loading up to spend the night at my brother’s house in Bellaire, where the electricity was still on. We unpacked everything, especially the food, and were relieved. We even got to see Auburn play a horrible football game against Mississippi State that night (which AU did manage to win, nevertheless). Unfortunately, the next morning, Sunday, about 5:00 a.m., a line of thunderstorms moved through from a cold front that followed Ike, and out the power went again. The electricity came back on at about 2:00 p.m. Sunday, teased us for about 30 minutes, and then went out again for the third time.

My brother also lost power that morning, so about 4:00 p.m., I loaded up the refrigerator contents again and took them over to my father’s apartment, where the power had been on and stayed on since Saturday morning. When I returned home, our power was restored for the third (and so far final) time about 5:30 p.m. My brother then called and said he wanted to bring his food over to our house. Thus began musical refrigerators. Later that night, my brother’s power was restored, so today we reversed the process and sent his food back with him, and then I retrieved our food from my father’s apartment.

I learned a serious lesson in Ike. While I had heard more than once that north and west winds in a hurricane are generally weak from traveling over land, and therefore we should focus on protecting the east and south sides of the house, that little rule of thumb doesn’t mean diddly when you’re in the western eye-wall of the hurricane (we never actually felt the calm of the eye). Next time around, I’ll board up the north windows, too. The west proved to be reasonably protected by my neighbor’s house, fortunately, but my brother and I both believe the west winds were higher than the north winds.

The PLYLOX™ held throughout the storm. While the wind didn’t blow from the south, the west wind would have placed a lifting force on the plywood as it passed over the surface, which is the bigger test. I’ll keep using them.

We rode out the storm upstairs, which I had chosen not to protect with plywood. More than once, I jumped at the sound of a pecan being hurled against the glass. From the limited reports I’ve seen, sustained winds inside the loop were in the 70s and gusts reached over 100 mph. If we get a direct strike from a Cat 3 or higher storm, we’ll need to shelter downstairs where the windows are protected.

Looking at tree damage has been fascinating. West U, like much of the Houston area, has a large tree canopy. The live oaks seemed to do very well. Ours, which reaches about 40 feet up, suffered no apparent damage. I suspect that the fact that Houston has so many beautiful old live oaks can be attributed to the ability of the trees to bow gracefully in a windstorm (there’s an excellent discussion here). Sycamores and pecans did less well. These trees generally lost branches. I read that many of the pines at Bayou Bend were snapped off, which is typical for pines, with their deep tap roots. Immature plants that were recent landscaping were easily toppled.

I suspect miles of fence were knocked down by the winds. Now is the time to be in the fence building business in Houston. The hilarious thing has been to look into some folks backyards and see the junk they have stored there, even in a neighborhood like West U. Fred Sanford would be proud.

My neighbors have all behaved admirably for the most part. It’s a bit ironic that it takes a storm like this for many of us to meet each other. I benefited from a good neighbor a street over who used his chain saw to cut up the large pecan limb in my backyard. Most people have already policed their yards for debris. There are piles of debris on the curb at most houses, waiting for pick-up. The streets are mostly clear because individuals took it on themselves to clear them rather than wait for the city.

As I suspected, garbage pick-up was cancelled for early this week. The City staged a pick-up point at West U Elementary this afternoon instead. The line was long but moved reasonably well. Most people behaved, but one or two drivers felt they were special and tried to jump their turn.

I’ve driven around the area within a couple of miles of our house all three days. Most of the traffic lights still aren’t working. I’ve seen two dangling precariously like the sword of Damocles. Very few businesses are open, because most still have no electricity.

The Kroger on Buffalo Speedway was open yesterday and today, running on a generator (or two). I drove by yesterday, and there was a line out the door and around the corner of the shopping center. I didn’t bother to go in. I actually went in today, however, to get some food for lunch (since most of our food was sitting in my father’s refrigerator), and the staff was doing an excellent job of managing the chaos. Of course, there wasn’t an item on sale in the store, as best I could tell. Everything was full price.

The amazing thing was watching the people milling around the store with this desperate look in their eyes, almost like ravenous wolves. You would have thought we had plunged into nuclear armageddon as people ran around trying to round up food for the lean months ahead. Certainly, and they have my empathy, many people still had no power, and they were easy to spot by the bags of ice piled into their carts, but others seemed to just be in a frenzy. I watched one woman madly inspecting bottles of wine, her cart already filled with at least two dozen bottles. I could only wonder if she was planning one last drunk before the end of civilization. Perhaps she just was a little late in planning her hurricane party.

Many of the shelves at Kroger were picked clean. The only crackers left were Kroger knock-offs of Cheez-its® and Triscuits® (I bought the knock-off Triscuits — they were good). The funny thing was that the Halloween candy aisle, recently stocked, was almost untouched. I suppose that candy corn and Tootsie Rolls® just don’t soothe the soul quite like a cracker when the end of civilization is nigh.

As for the big picture, we in Houston got off fairly lightly. The real damage from Ike fell on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula. Galveston is a wreck, and there are parts of the Bolivar Peninsula where just about every home was scoured from the face of the earth. The people who have lost so much there are in our prayers.

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