mellicious: pink manicure (Xmas - pink aluminum)
[personal profile] mellicious
This is the first day of Holidailies, so by way of introduction, I am posting the version of the Ike story I wrote up to put in my Christmas cards. Full of holiday cheer, I am, right? (A few of you may get repeat versions with your cards, but I wasn't planning to send it to people I know read my Livejournal regularly, anyway, since they already know everything in it, more or less.)



This is my second try at writing this letter because my dying computer ate the first one, and so far I haven’t managed to retrieve it. Which is par for the course, lately, and is in fact related to the main topic of this letter, as you will see!

Some of you may recall getting a change-of-address postcard from us a year or so ago. Last fall, we moved into a new two-bedroom apartment in the same complex we’ve been in for a number of years, right behind the Galveston Seawall. We waited a couple of months to get a ground-floor unit, mostly because I’ve been having back problems off and on and climbing the stairs is not easy for me when my back goes out. Bad decision, in retrospect. But there hadn’t been a major hurricane in Galveston in 25 years, and while we knew it was always a possibility, we really didn’t worry about it a lot.

The whole hurricane season was a bit odd this year, actually - there were far more near-misses than usual. We had a tropical storm (Edouard, I think) hit close enough that there were Weather Channel guys out on the Seawall trying to act like they were blowing away, even though the storm itself was nothing. We were fairly worried that we might have to evacuate for Gustav, but then that didn’t happen. And right behind that was this storm named Ike, that we really didn’t worry about at first because it was supposed to go in way south of us. Only its track started creeping further and further north, first Corpus Christi, then Matagorda. That was when the E-word started cropping up again. We spent most of our last full day at work looking at tracks of past hurricanes - especially Carla, in 1961. Carla started looking very similar to Ike as the day went on. One of my co-workers actually said, “I have a bad feeling about this” but at the time we thought she was overreacting a bit. Rob said he didn’t want to evacuate. The mayor told everybody to “hunker down.“ That was Wednesday, September 10th.

Then on Thursday they were talking about it maybe hitting the west end of Galveston, and we went to work, only to find out we’d already been released to go because they were evacuating the hospital. Rob changed his mind and was ready to evacuate, too, so we went home and threw a bunch of clothes and basic necessities in the car, and left. We went to my Aunt Linda’s house in Bryan, which is 100 miles or so inland. At the time, we were really worried about there being a gigantic traffic jam like before Hurricane Rita, and that’s partly why we decided to leave one of our cars behind, but it turned out not to be nearly so bad as that. We circled around Houston on Highway 6 and got there in only a few hours. Then we just had to wait it out.

You probably saw that part on the news, just like we did. Friday when they were showing all those spectacular pictures of the waves crashing on the Seawall, I was a little sorry I wasn’t there to see the show. But I didn’t really have any desire to experience a hurricane up close, and I’m really glad I didn’t have to. (Everybody I’ve talked to who stayed said “Never again” very very definitively.) We saw the crumbling fishing piers and the track coming right over Galveston and knew by Friday night it was going to be bad.

The worst part of the aftermath, for those of us who weren’t actually on the island, was that there was virtually no communication with Galveston, not for ages. (Some of the phones are still out, actually, and it’s been, what, more than 2 months now.) So we just didn’t know whether we had a home or not. We saw Anderson Cooper standing in front of a huge pile of debris on the Seawall, and the pictures of people wading in several feet of water on Broadway. But it was really hard to find out what happened to any specific place, like our apartments. We saw a flyover, once they finally let the news helicopters come in, that showed the buildings seemingly intact, and that was about all we knew for a long time.

We also knew that our workplace had to have been decimated, because more water came in on the back side of the island than the front, and that’s where UTMB is. UTMB actually got their website back online pretty fast, and one of the first things they posted was pictures of the four feet of water on the first floor of the hospital. So we knew we weren’t going to be going back to work right away, and once we started hearing that they weren’t letting people back on the island for some time, we decided that rather than go crazy kicking our heels in Bryan, we would drive to Ohio and go see Rob’s parents.

So that’s what we did. On the whole I’m really glad we did it, just because it gave us something to do. We bought a laptop on the way up - we figured we were going to need to replace at least one computer, anyway, and we were right about that - and I spent a lot of our non-driving time trying to find wi-fi connections and eke out what information we could. This was not made any easier by the financial crash a couple of days later, driving Ike and the Texas coast right out of the news. They let people back onto the island on September 24th, finally, but we figured things would be less chaotic if we waited a few more days. We were headed back by then, but we had hotel reservations in Austin for the weekend which we decided to keep, so we could stop by to see my sister Paula before heading home. So we got to Galveston on Sunday the 28th.

To tell you the truth, my first reaction when we got to Galveston was that it didn’t look quite as bad as I expected. But I expected really terrible, and it was - just not quite as terrible as I was imagining. A lot of people had already been back a couple of days and had had a chance to start pulling their wet stuff out of their houses, and there were debris and trash piles everywhere. There was one fortunate thing, and that was that the weather, once the storm was over, wasn’t too bad, by our usual standards. Dry and not too terribly hot, so that being in a non-air-conditioned house was bearable.

We didn’t feel too terribly fortunate when we got to the apartment, though, although actually it could have been much worse. We looked at the car first, and it had water visibly running down the insides of the windows, so we knew right off that that was bad. And all our neighbors were moving out. It turned out that there was not a huge amount of water inside, but there was enough that they were making all the first-floor tenants move out so that they could pull all the carpet and sheetrock before it molded. The water line on the walls of the apartment looked to be about a foot high. Anything right on the floor was unsalvageable, for the most part, but things that were above that were mostly okay. And we had mostly solid-wood furniture, inherited from my mom and grandparents, that survived pretty well, with some cleaning.

There followed a couple of weeks of really scrambling to pack up and find an apartment and move. We ended up in Friendswood, about 25 miles inland, and we really like it there, although Rob doesn’t love commuting back to Galveston. We had to buy some new furniture - we needed a new bed, anyway, and we got one we really like at Ikea - and we had to do odd things like completely re-stock our kitchen from scratch, but on the whole, really a huge amount of stuff was salvageable - enough that I felt really bad for the moving guys. I have to say that FEMA came through fairly handsomely for us, and so did State Farm, on the car, and I have a nice brand-new Toyota to show for it.

I never did go back to work in Galveston, which is why only Rob has to worry about the commute. I worked in a temporary office in Texas City for a while, and then they decided that we could work from home - and then a couple of weeks ago we found out that half my office (and just about half the hospital, overall) was getting laid off, including me. Rob works in a different division, though, and he kept his job, so we’re okay for the moment. I have full pay and benefits though January, and I can switch over to Rob’s insurance after that, so that’s not a problem, and hopefully I won’t have too much trouble finding another job. I haven’t even started looking yet, I’ve been taking a couple of weeks off. Secretarial skills are highly transferable, at least!


So that’s the Ike story. It’s certainly the most exciting thing to happen to us this year!




(Note: I know it's highly uneven - it dwells on the early parts of the story and skims over the later parts - but it's hard to tell about a life-changing event in a way that will fit on the front and back of one piece of paper. Like I said, the computer ate the first draft when it died, but actually I think this version is better anyway. Not fabulous, exactly, but better.)

(Another note for newcomers: if you're really fascinated by this and want to know all the details, the posts from the evacuation start here.)

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