Thursday, September 11, 2008

I (don't) Like Ike.

For all three of you who might actually see this, we're getting ready for a hit from an actual storm. Prayers, good thoughts, etc welcome.

This is my timeline.


8 AM - assigned to the Emergency Operations Center. Ike is looking like it's hooking our way. We got complacent after the last couple misses, and Ike had originally looked to hit further down the coast. No such luck. I have a friend flying in from Germany tonight. Poor fellow. Kate has a half day, and the day off tomorrow. Again, no such luck here. I'm "essential personnel".

11 AM - staffing the emergence command center. Not half as exciting as it sounds. The tracking models show us getting a direct hit. Tomorrow starts a series of 12 hour shifts. There's soemthing to look forward to. Apparently all the local stores are wiped clean. So I'll have maybe 5 hours to completely get our apt. ready before being at work for an indefinite amount of time. There's a stack of resumes I've been meaning to send out. Right now they are laughing cruelly at me.

12:30 PM - Storm growing more menacing, but free lunch. Universe is in balance for the moment.

4 PM - Still manning the emergency operations center...imagine a smaller version of the NASA ground control room..rows of monitors and computers, very impressive...just on a much smaller scale. Itching to get home and start boarding things up.

10 PM - A long day work done, apartment as storm prepared as it will be. Very anxious. Looking to be a direct hit without hope of reprieve. We've had a lot of close calls, and they're a bit of a "it could have been" thrill. But this one just feels bad all around. May be a sleepless night.


8 AM - We wake up to what sounds like continual rain, but on inspection, it's just the air conditioner outside kicking over on high. It's actually a beautiful morning. Small wispy clouds and bright sunshine. We're still planning on sheltering in place. Emails from friends are pouring in. Concerns are being drowned in a large breakfast.

10:45 AM - Looks like we'll be on the "clean /west side of the storm, but still pretty close to the eye. This will definitely be an e-ticket ride. Lots of friends sending well wishes and invites. We set up three potential evacuation targets, at three other friends houses, and are well stocked for food, water, and beer. I have been taking pictures of our view from the apt. every few hours , and will post them when I get a chance.

1 PM - We make the decision to stay at the apartment. We have several options, including two houses. However, given considerations of distance (and ability to get back) and large trees in the area (we just have tiny crepe myrtles here). We took a drive around our apartment complex...everyone still seems to be here, and only a couple windows are boarded up. The massive supermarket in the shopping center across the street is still pretty hopping. The sun came out for a little, although clouds are now starting to be prevalent. There is a light breeze.

3 PM - I'd say the waiting is the worst part, but I'll save that judgment for the aftermath. We have filled up a bathtub with water and have supplies ready to go if we need to run at any point.

5:45 - We are starting to get preparation can only prepare and worry for so long before it becomes pretty tiring. We actually went out for a walk on a greenway trail nearby. The wind is kicking up a bit, with a few more clouds, but nothing drastic. There is something ...wrong in the air. Nothing you could put your finger on it, just a harbinger of unraveling of the social fabric. Something not quite right, just a bit off. Something wicked this way comes... But for now we're really a bit bored. I feel horrible that I have a friend visiting this weekend...what a way to guarantee someone never comes back:) Lunch was almost surreal...we had a very nice sit down lunch, it just seemed so civilized in a chaotic time. Dinner will probably be the same...might even go out..there are still neighborhood restaurants open...bizarre. My friend and I go for a walk, even in the gathernig wind, at the local park. To add to the oddness, we are caught in a police raid around a house we have parked by, and are required to stay in our car while the pd question us. They eventually ascertain we have nothing to do with whatever's going on, and let us go after some questions. We go for our walk anyway.

7:30 PM - We eat dinner. It's so odd that something so banal seems so extraordinary. It was quite a nice simple dinner. With cookies. The wind has picked up fairly significantly. The sunset was fantastic tonight. Like clouds torn to shreds, moving at different speeds, a million little facets reflecting the setting sun. Large, horizon-long dark cloud arms are spiraling along the curve of the earth. Impressive, but cowing at the same time. There are a lot of people still out and about at the complex.

9:30 PM - The storm is still heading for us dead on. We'll be slightly on the clean side, but still under the large eye area. We're somewhat heartened that the prevailing winds seem to be coming from the north (as air is sucked into the counterclockwise flow from the upper left quadrant of the storm.) our exposed windows are to the south, so our balcony seems fairly sheltered. On looking across the parking lot, we can see trees whipping back and forth, but on the proch there is no air disturbance. It's a magical porch/alcove. I feel slightly better about the windows. I feel even better realizing we have two bags of cookies and plenty of milk. We can hear the howling of the wind in the fireplace, but also the howling of neighbors drinking their way through the storm. As long as the sounds compete I think we're doing well.

Saturday Morning

12:30 AM - The storm is howling, but not horribly so. We still have the magic balcony effect, which baffles me to this day. Around this point we're all up, all bored, and I decide to get an hour or two of sleep before the storm "really" hits.

~3-4 AM - The storm hits. I wish I could relate to you the intensity of the winds but I cannot. I was asleep.

5:30 AM - I finally wake up. My wife and friend let me sleep through the storm. So in the middle of a roaring hurricane, I slept like a baby. We have a small breakfast and watch the storm outside. It continues to rage, but it seems we're not getting the worst of it. Occasionally there are somewhat disturning sounds outside of things falling off roofs, or ripping sounds. However, our building seems to be standing.

6-10 AM - With the power out, there's not that much to do. We read a bit, watch the storm, and sleep on and off. Sometime after the storm begins to subside in the late morning, I go out to survey the damage. We make out pretty well...our building loses a few shingles, little siding. Our apartment is a-OK. Some of the other buildings are a little worse for wear, with large gaping holes where the siding has ripped off. Only a few of the trees are down. We have no power or water, but things are going pretty well, all considering. I pick up a small piece of siding as a souveneir, and plan to mount a picture of the storm on it and label it appropriately.

Late Morning/Early Afternoon - We venture out in blatant disregard to check out a friend's house down the street. A big tree portion is down, but they made out ok too. Lots of trees down all over, but very little structural damage outside of roof shingles/siding. We spend the rest of the morning and afternoon walking about our complex and surveying the damage and hanging about. I have to work that night, so I get prepped for what could be an extended shift.

6:00 PM - We get power back. This is nothing short of divine intervention, given that some 2 million people are without power. We are in an area that is a large commerical hub for many major oil companies (the offices, not the refineries:)) so apparently we get lucky and get power back asap. We didn't even realize we had power until the ice maker in the freezer kicked on. We had apparently turned off all the lights by accident as we were flicking switched on and off by force of habit during the outtage. We flick them on and off again, enjoying the incredible basking glow of electric coolness. I am tempted to plug in and turn on every major appliance in blatant symbolic defiance of the outtage, but decide against it.

6:30 PM - I leave to go down to Sugar Land for my shift in emergency operations. I will be working the 7pm to 7am shift in the command bunker which is far less exciting than it sounds. I realize it does not sound exciting to begin with. The highway is torn up pretty badly, with billboards shredded and pretty much every light out. Traffic is horrendous.

7:00 PM - I start my shift. I and seven or 8 other departmental representatives hunker down for night, as we begin to coordinate the picking up of the multitude of pieces. Our water system is untouched. Our sewer system...not so much.

Sunday morning

12:30 AM - With little going on in the emergency center outside of the occasional phone call, we watch the news coverage nonstop. This leads to weariness. Weariness leads to hunger. Hunger leads to the dark side. Luckily, someone discovers a stash of donated quarter-pounders. Goodness and mirth are restored. Many important people dash about now and again, holding important meetings and issuing important statements. I pretty much take phone calls and make phone calls. My lack of importance remains assuaged by my bounty of quarter pounders.

7:00 AM - I go off shift after a morning briefing. Things are bad, but not terrible. The City is back on its feet and moving toward normalcy. On the west side, we get the least of things, even though the hurricane was a direct hit on our area. It has begun to rain hard, though. While the storm brought wind and rain, we were on the "clean side" so the wind was prominent. However, the sheer size and speed of Ike managed to suck OTHER storms into its wake and drag them behind it. So after the primary storm passed, we get hit with a pretty intense deluge.

8:00 AM - I arrive home, in the midst of rain so hard my wipers can't keep up. The streets of our complex that drained the hurricane rain away just fine are now almost full to the top of the curb with water. I park at the front and wade my way home.

Sunday day - We continue to lounge about, not doing much of anything. I only end up sleeping 2 or 3 hours after I get home, but don't feel too bad. of all the things damaged by the storm, the big honking sattelite hookup for the complex came through just fine. Amazingly enough, my friend's flight goes out close to on time the next day. That night we go out and find a restaurant already open (although we don't have water at that point). We actually have a choice. While we're eating, we pass the time the City curfew is set for. We are not expectionally worried since there are actually police officers eating one table away from us. They depart about a half hour after the curfew is over, saying nothing to the patrons or owner. However, no more than five minutes afterward, a DIFFERENT cop shows up, and closes the place down and threatens us all with fines. Of course, as he's doing this, traffic is whizzing by on the street behind us. We are about finsihed anyway, so just decide to go home. o

Monday - My friend leaves to go to NYC, and I go to work. Our offices got flooded so we are a nomad unit for the moment, set up temporarily in a spare conference room. Cleanup and restoration is well under way, with debris being the main issue, not counting the general lack of power in the area. I begin to realize how lucky I was regarding electricity. We get our water back too, leaving us pretty well off.

Monday through Thursday - I spend the week rushing here and there at various emergency related duties. I assess infrastructure damage, make reports, smell more lift stations (sewer) than I ever care to again, and work 12 hour shifts.

Friday - A week after the storm hit, my part in it is over. Friday is my day off, and I finally geta chance to start cleaning up the apartment and getting back to normalcy.

It wasn't the Hollywood disaster movie we feared, but nor was it the tame pass from Rita several years ago. We have survived our first (Cat 2) hurricane, none the worse for wear. we turn our eye to the next forming systems in the Gulf...


stanford said...

Thought of you when I flew through TX yesterday. THanks for posting these updates. Hope all goes well.

Joel said...

Don't forget to run to the store in a panic to buy bread and milk. It's kind of a southern tradition.

I'll keep my fingers crossed for you guys.

JMBower said...

We made our partially-ironic store run already. The shelves were acceptably bare. Kate bought canned food and water. I bought ice and beer. So far my purchase has proved the most useful.

JMBower said...

**more to come, we have power back, just a little burnt out on Ike right now**