Saturday, October 4, 2008

Houston, We Have Power

A little over 3 weeks ago, I scoffed at losing power. My husband fretted over breaking his years long streak of not missing a daily shower. I worried slightly about the inability to turn on a video in times of crisis for the kids. But, I am from Alabama. I have roughed it. I have gone hunting and killed a deer. Not just a deer, a buck. A big one. I could live a few days without water and power. Bring it on. And then I talked to my dad.

My dad has faced many a natural disaster, so I thought it would be a good idea to go over my shopping list with him to make sure I covered the basics. You know, batteries, flashlights, water, extra laptop batteries, etc. It was Thursday and hurricane Ike was set to hit Friday in the middle of the night. I left work around 12 and called him on my way to the store. Before I could I even get to my shopping list, he said, "I am glad you called...I left you a message this morning. I just wanted to know where you are going to evacuate. If you need us to pick you up at the ariport, just let us know." My dad is very, very wise and experienced and not prone to drama (despite raising 3 high drama girls) so I felt a knot in my stomach as he said those words. Stupidly I explained to him that the great mayor of the city of Houston had told us to shelter in place...that the worst that could happen was that we would lose power for a few days and we could leave after the storm if we were 'uncomfortable'. I laughed at the idea of the Houstonians scrambling in fear of losing power for a few days....hadn't they ever gone camping? My dad (who by the way is an army man and has spent more days than anyone I know camping...and actually built a raft in high school and sailed down the alabama river just like Tom Sawyer and has a newspaper article to prove it...)said, "If this storm hits the way they say it is, you will lose power for more than a few days and you won't be able to get out any time soon because the roads will be impassable."

Why didn't we listen? I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we spent 12 hours overnight with a one week old baby and a 2 yr old trying to evacuate to a place that was only a 3 hour drive constant fear of running out of gas and passing station after station that was sold out. Alex has a co-worker whose mom died in that storm...she died of a heart attack on the side of the road as they tried to evacuate...the ambulance couldn't get to her. It made sense for us to evacuate then since we had such a young baby who got sick that week and wouldn't have gotten the medical attention he needed if we had stayed in Houston. But for most people, it was nonsense, as the storm did minimal damage to Houston.

We did get more serious, though, after my dad's warnings. We boarded our bedroom and bathroom windows so that we would have a 'safe' place to ride out the storm. And I plugged up all personal and work laptops and our portable DVD player all day on Friday and forbid anyone to unplug really would be a disaster that we have a moment in those few days without power where we desperately needed a video and couldn't have it. I also did some things that seem ridiculous in hindsight...I went to Kroger and stood (well, actually, I called Alex and said leave work now and come stand in this line) in a 2 hour line to get a few more canned goods and more water. And then I cleaned out the closet in our boarded up bedroom and put food, water batteries and toilet paper in there so that if a tree fell on our house we could live in the little cave of our boarded up bedroom for as long as possible. Silly, I know, but it made so much sense at the time.

The day of the storm we nailed boards and waited. Our dog barked and howled like crazy making us even more worried. A couple of times I looked at Alex and said, "maybe we should go now". But we kept hearing the city officials saying over and over to stay, so we stayed. And that night we all slept in one room. At one point our bedroom door (which was closed tight) blew open. We thought for sure a window had been broken in the house and the wind was blowing open the door. We cautiously looked out and found nothing broken...the wind was coming through every crack and space it could find and shifting our house about. We looked out the windows and immediately ran back to the bedroom and shut the door. It was a very scary sight...and this was not my first hurricane. Strangely enough we slept off and on. Around 7 am we woke up and ventured out of our bedroom. Our house was intact. The storm was still going, but you could tell it was the end. I started to think, 'hey, that wasn't so bad'. Alex looked out the front windows to our street and promptly said, "Someone died last night." WHAT???? I yelled. First of all, it was spooky the way he said it and second of all I couldn't believe he was talking like that in front of the kids. "You mean in Galveston?? Of course someone died in Galveston....all of those people who didn't leave when they should have.."

"No, I mean someone in our neighborhood died, someone on our street died, a bunch of people in Houston died. Look." I looked outside and it was like a scene from a disaster movie. There were huge branches covering the ground. It would have been impossible to drive or even walk down the street just for all of the huge branches. But even scarier than that were the massive trees down everywhere. Our neighbor across the street had 5 or 6 in her yard alone...and they all fell away from her house. Looking at that it was impossible not to think that the whole city was destroyed. As the morning progressed and people began to poke their heads out, neighbors suggested that it was a tornado that had hit our street...surely it couldn't be this bad all over...why would they tell people to stay in a situation like this? Later that day, I walked the dog (our fence was gone so we had to walk him now)to go check on some friends in the neighborhood who weren't answering their phone. I realized that it was not an isolated tornado....I really was walking through a movie set of the latest disaster neighborhood would never be the same. Praise be to God, Alex was wrong. No one in our neighborhood died. People lost their houses, but they were either not there or they were in a different part of the house when the trees fell. And A LOT of trees fell away from the houses. Which was good from the whole saving human life perspective, but totally proved my dad's point about making the roads impassable.

Saturday was a very surreal, miserable day that I honestly don't remember that well. We thought about leaving but all of the reports on our battery operated radio said that people were getting hurt trying to get the hell out of Houston....rumors were flying that it could be a month before power was restored. A month!! Most people laughed at could we go a month without power in this great city in this day and age...surely it would just be a few days like they said in the beginning right??

By Sunday, I didn't care if it was going to be one month or 12 more hours...I had officially become a city girl and I couldn't take it. Not to mention that our 3 year old (oh yeah, it was his birthday that Saturday) was on seizure medication where we had been told to never get in a situation where we didn't have access to air conditioning....he could have a heat stroke as a side effect, but it was rare...and really, why would you ever be without air conditioning in Houston, Texas????

To be continued....:)