Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fun with hurricanes

(Reposting my email to family and friends)

Well this has sure been an interesting week for me.

Last Thursday, with Hurricane Ike predicted to come somewhere close to Houston late Friday night/early Saturday morning, NASA closed at noon to allow us to take care of our homes while at the same time Houston issued a mandatory evacuation for my area (among others). I didn't go into work but spent Thursday boarding up and taking pictures of my house, as early reports had the storm surge at 25 feet if it hit in just the right (wrong) place. My house sits at about 23 feet. On Thursday, despite the evacuation order, I was going to try to ride it out. But Friday morning as the storm got closer and targeted Galveston, I decided to leave ahead of the storm and spend the night at my parents house. They live in northwest Houston, I'm in southeast, about 40 miles away, and I'm about 30 miles from Galveston. I rode the storm out there and came back to my house on Saturday afternoon.

The stuff you're seeing on TV is probably Galveston, where the eye of the hurricane came ashore. It got hit hard. About 30 miles inland, where I am, we have a lot of downed trees and fences, damaged roofs and facades, and power outages. I've already got all my utilities back except internet (I'm borrowing my neighbor's wi-fi).

Damage to my house is, in the grand scheme of things, relatively cosmetic, but not cheap. I'm pretty sure I'll go past my deductible. I lost about half of the wooden fence around my house, and in falling down one piece knocked off a faucet in my back yard, causing water to gush out uncontrollably. My neighbors had to shut my water off at the street. The plumber couldn't make it until Monday morning (and had to cut a hole in my wall to fix the pipes) so I was without water for 2-1/2 days. My roof lost shingles in about a dozen places, some down to the tar paper beneath, some down to the plywood under that. Of course, that let water into the attic, where it flowed along the rafters and joints. I've got spots in 7 rooms or closets in areas ranging from fist sized to across the whole ceiling. I'm not sure if any of it needs replacing yet. The water also dripped down through my kitchen cabinets onto my stove and toaster oven, puddling on the counter.

Power came back on at my house on Sunday afternoon. I'm lucky, I was without power for only 36 hours. About 95% of the Houston area lost power, and I happened to be within the first 10% that got power back. But it's seemingly random, from street to street and even block by block some areas have it and some don't. My backyard neighbors do, but across the street from them, they don't. In those cases, there are orange extension cords running across the street from every house that has power to one that doesn't.

When not taking care of my house, I've been spending some time helping others, from helping to remove carpeting soaked with river water from a house that took on 3 feet of water to volunteering at the local delivery point where those without power can pick up free ice, water, and food.

I've also toured the area to see how badly others got hit. In general, the further south you go, the worse it was. You see the usual stuff like roofs missing shingles, brick walls fallen down, traffic lights mangled, etc., but also things like boats and yachts tossed up on to the lawn, the road, or each other. Low lying areas got flooded and the storm surge turned buildings into kindling. Even further south, towards Galveston, whole buildings are gone, down to the slab. Roads are washed away, and neighborhoods are giant debris fields. The mayor of Galveston has declared the city to be uninhabitable for now, with no power, water, sewer system, phone lines, cell towers, fuel, or food. Fortunately for the city of Houston, the storm hit on the east end of Galveston Island, meaning the worst of the winds and surge came up to the east (unfortunately for them). If the storm hadn't taken a jog to the east and had hit about 15 miles west, we would have gotten a 20 foot surge up into Galveston Bay and up into my area. But it did move east, so we only got about 10.

It's been 25 years since Houston got a direct hit from a hurricane, and this one was a lot worse in terms of the effects. After Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Rita threatened Houston not too long afterwards, and the city evacuated. Fortunately for us it was a false alarm, but the city learned a lot from that and we were much better prepared for this storm. With luck it'll be another 25 years until the next major hit.

For pictures I've taken over the last few days, here's a map of the area showing what's where (or click here for just the pictures).


Bill Miller said...

Wow, your blog is alive! Sorry your roof leaked. We had pretty much the same damage as you except no roof issues.

Michael said...

No, not "alive", just resuscitated for the event.

Grab the RSS feed and tell it to pick up new posts. Maybe I'll come back and put up a notice with a link to my pictures when I go on a trip or something. Although after my insurance deductible, who knows when that'll be.