I’m sitting here watching the numbers of customers without power in Houston tick up: 1.3 million, 1.6 million, 1.8 million…
I’m reading about the thousands of people who either ignored or couldn’t heed evacuation orders, and whose calls to 911 are now being answered with a sad, “We can’t help you.”
You don’t really think of things burning down in a flood and driving rain, but fires are burning: Galveston yacht basin, Brennan’s restaurant in downtown Houston, among others. It’s hard to respond to a fire when there’s eight feet of water on the road. The images are jarring: gray rain, gray floodwaters, bright orange flames.
The National Weather Service’s “face certain death” warning starts to look understated.
I have a friend in Houston. I hope he and his grandparents got out, or are in a somewhat safer area. At the moment, high ground and strong walls surely look inviting.
According to the pictures, some people find standing on sea walls watching waves crash is more inviting. There’s already one man dead because of it. When forecasters are predicting waves that will overtop the seawalls by several feet, it seems like a good time to slip your inner daredevil a mickey and get the fuck out of the area.
People do some damned fool things when floodwaters strike. When I lived in Arizona, we had one group of idiots die because they decided to take a backhoe out into a flooded wash in New River to see how deep the water was. Answer: deep enough to topple a backhoe and drown the people riding it. Another group of intrepid fools in Prescott decided that the best time to go canoeing on Willow Creek was at the height of a flood. They didn’t survive, either.
We don’t realize the power of water until it sweeps us away.
My ex-grandmother-in-common-law told me, after her vacation house in the Virgin Islands got destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, that she’d once had to ride out a hurricane in Hong Kong in a high-rise apartment building. She and the group with her spent a good portion of their evening bracing the wall, feeling the wind try to batter it down on them. The roar of wind and rain was nearly deafening, even inside. The glass wall groaned under the strain: they could feel it bowing under their hands. They were lucky to survive.
Houston’s high-rises look set to take a pretty hard hit, themselves. Reports say there’s already debris flying.
Water is pouring over levees in Louisiana. There’s only so much man-made structures can do to protect against storms like this. What Ike lacks in ferocity, it’s more than made up for in size, and when you’re talking about miles and miles of water being herded inland, size matters very much indeed.
At times like this, you understand that Mother Nature pwns humanity with ease.