Hurricane Ike rattles reader, leaves work in its wake

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 17, 2008

A longtime Houston, Texas, coffee companion witnessed Hurricane Ike’s fury last week firsthand.

Dr. Denise Youngblood-Coleman, who lives in a relatively “safer” part of America’s fourth-largest city, weathered the storm with minimal personal damage compared to many in the Houston-Galveston area who lost everything to the wind, rain and surge. Even so, it was an experience she hopes never to repeat.

In the letter I’m about to share with you, she describes her feelings as terror engulfed southeast Texas.

Denise is executive vice-president and editor-in-chief of Country Watch, an information service on the worldwide community of nations. I first met her some 20 years ago when she was a student of mine in religious studies. She is a gutsy, in-tune person committed to thinking globally and acting locally.

In her local experience of Ike, however, her global thinking got tested to the limit. Here’s her Sept. 13 e-mail:

We lost power around midnight but it was restored this morning. We are the few lucky ones with power thanks to underground lines. Most of Houston and all of Galveston are in the dark and the roads are impassable for repairs to get done.

Somehow, two of the computers in the house no longer connect to the Internet but the one I am using right now does, so at least I have contact with the outside world this way.

We have other problems. The water main right outside of our house broke, so we're trying to resolve that ourselves or it will flood the neighborhood – can't wait for city; no one can drive through the debris right now. The break was caused by one of the trees in our yard being uprooted and falling forward onto the water pipe. That was preferable to falling the other direction, onto our house and destroying our roof – and our house, by extension. Many were not so lucky.

We supposedly caught the "clean" side of this beast but with a Texas-size hurricane, there is no clean side. In our neighbourhood alone, multiple trees were uprooted and are either in the streets along with the power lines and debris, or in houses. I tried to get to the hardware store a little while ago but it was mission impossible.

The streets look like Beirut during the war. There is widespread flooding; debris, glass and downed tree limbs cover the streets. In downtown Houston, the streets are littered with signage, glass from the windows of skyscrapers, and other debris. Neither (my husband) Ryan nor I know how our offices fared.

But worst of all is the question of how Galveston and the Galvestonians fared.  There were people on their roofs "Katrina-style" according to the news before I lost power. I have no idea what happened to any of them. The lesson of course is, if you live in a storm surge area, GET OUT.

Now that brings me to my own home. I don't live in a storm surge area, and I do live on an incline on the west side of Houston – perhaps one of the parts of the city with the least weather-related issues. We also completely boarded up the windows so we were in a virtual fortress and stocked up on supplies. So it seemed reasonable to ride it out here for a Category 2, as the authorities directed.

That said, after a completely sleepless night in which I felt as if I was waiting to die, I am not sure I will ever be able to emotionally handle anything like that again. I've been all over the world and I've worked and traveled to war zones. But Mother Nature is another story. You're entirely at her mercy. I thought I would lose my mind from the eerie sound of the wind, the pounding of the rain, the shaking of the house – the house literally pulsated – the everlasting loud snaps and thumps I heard on the roof, while waiting for the roof to go flying or for a tree to come flying through the ceiling, and the constant rushing into the closet every time my shortwave radio gave off a siren announcing another tornado warning.

It was terrifying. Period.

I feel entirely grateful and blessed that we are alive and fine and that the problems that we have to deal with are fixable. My heart breaks for anyone who was not so lucky.

—Denise Youngblood-Coleman, Houston

Denise closed her letter with a quote from the Talmud: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's misery. Do justly, now. Walk humbly, now. Love mercy, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."

Thanks to Ike, it looks like Denise and her neighbours have their work cut out for them for quite a while.

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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