Another day...another snapshot of misery, suffering, and the havoc and damage a Category 2 hurricane can create. Yesterday found me in Beaumont and Vidor in far east Texas (if you drive much further east, you'd be in Louisiana), and most of both towns are still without power. (If Hurricane Ike has a soundtrack, it would be "Symphony for Chainsaw and Generator")
I was able to do what I needed to do (quickly, because Vidor is not really a place one would normally want to hang around in for any appreciable length of time), but something as simple as finding a place to eat was a challenge. Oddly enough, the absence of electricity means that most restaurants can't function...and people gotta eat, don'tchaknow??
Yesterday's highlight? It had to be the grilled ham and cheese sandwich (on white bread, of course...this is, after all, the South) and "redneck caviar" (hash browns to y'all) at a Waffle House in Beaumont. Hey, it was one of the few places open, and only because it was running off a generator. Normally, I wouldn't eat at a Waffle House on a bet, but sometimes you just have to be grateful for what you can get...and trust me, I was very grateful.
Things are slowly beginning to improve, but it's going to be a LONG road for southeast Texas. There are thousands of people like myself who've descended on this area from all over the country. The one thing we all have in common is that we're all doing our own part in helping to put things back together. There are battalions of people from out of town occupying hotel rooms all over the Houston area, and the biggest reason locals are having trouble finding rooms, even with FEMA vouchers, is that those of us here to work have to sleep somehwere. If you go to Beaumont, there are a couple of small tent cities along I-10 where workers have set up camp. Yeah, there are a LOT of us in town...and hopefully we'll have all y'all back on your feet sooner rather than later. It's going to take awhile, though.
There is some good news in all of this misery and destruction. After being barred from returning (and it's surprisingly easy to keep people off an island, as it turns out), it appears that residents of Galveston Island will be allowed to return to their homes this coming Wednesday. Not that they'll really have anything to return home to. From the reports and pictures I've seen, the island looks like the set of one of the "Mad Max" movies. Water, sewer service, phone service, and electricity may all be weeks aware from being fully restoring. The drawback with living on an island is that restoring basic serivces becomes a bit more complicated because...well, because it's an island. I may be on the island before too much longer, and it's not something I'm looking forward to.
And then there's the bad news if you happen to own a beach house on Galveston Island:
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- Hundreds of people whose beachfront homes were wrecked by Hurricane Ike may be barred from rebuilding under a little-noticed Texas law. And even those whose houses were spared could end up seeing them condemned by the state.
Now here's the saltwater in the wound: It could be a year before the state tells these homeowners what they may or may not do.
Worse, if these homeowners do lose their beachfront property, they may get nothing in compensation from the state.
The reason: A 1959 law known as the Texas Open Beaches Act. Under the law, the strip of beach between the average high-tide line and the average low-tide line is considered public property, and it is illegal to build anything there.
Over the years, the state has repeatedly invoked the law to seize houses in cases where a storm eroded a beach so badly that a home was suddenly sitting on public property. The aftermath of Ike could see the biggest such use of the law in Texas history.
Then again, if you built a beach house on the island without being aware of this law, you pretty much deserve what you get. Hey, the law's been on the books in Texas for almost 50 years, and if you live (or have a beach house) on the island's west end, it's never far from your consciousness. Still, this doesn't mean that dealing with the reality of this law is easy or pleasant.
One of the things that's impressed me so far is seeing the way people have come together to help out neighbors, people in some cases they've neither met nor had any interaction with. In Seabrook, neighbors went door to door helping each other rip out sewage-soaked carpeting and haul it out to the curb. This sort of thing has been happening all over this area as people try and do what they can to help out where they can. I suppose every cloud really does have a silver lining, eh?
On a personal level, while I've only been here a few days, I can already tell this is taking a toll on me. It's not just the lack of sleep, the eating poorly, or the ungodly amounts of caffeine I'm consuming (enough to wire a small village on a daily basis), the driving (250 miles today alone), or even the suffering and devastation that I'm witness to each and every day. This is a stressful environment to work in, and those of us here to help out are dealing with a lot of the same stresses that those who live here are- finding food, finding gasoline, making our way through major intersections that are now four-way stops because traffic lights don't work (imagine having to play "chicken" with a rental car several times a day), and the list goes on. Yes, I have the advantage of knowing that I'll be going back to Portland eventually, but in the meantime I'm a resident of Houston...and living here is no walk in the park. I suppose that's why it's called a catastrophe, no? I suppose that would explain the 9pm-6am curfew that's been in place since the storm left Houston.
Oh...and in case you were wondering, there's another tropical wave trying to get it's act together in the Carribean. It's probably nothing, but when you've just been floored by a left hook, you're going to be kinda jumpy every time that left hand flinches.