Monday, September 22, 2008

Ike and the Aftermath Numero Uno

Whoa, what a crazy time for the Gulf Coast. Here we are well over a week past Ike and still no power. Trees and debris still litter lawn and streets. An insane week at work with an unheard of amount of fires. Despite the chaos I am grateful that most survived. That and I will have a historically low electric bill next month. :)
I was originally going to wait till I had power and some symptoms of a normal life again before posting this. However, there's no guaranty when the power will be restored. So before I begin to forget what this experience was like in my personal and work life. I'm going to kick off the first week or so. Enjoy!

After thirty six hours of work, I wanted nothing more than just to relax. I had spent twenty four hours at the fire station. During which I received a call to ask if I would come into work at my side job to help evacuate people on the south and southeast parts of Houston. Hard to refuse. So I went straight from the fire station to evacuating half a dozen hospice patients. One of which had already discontinued feeding. When Friday afternoon rolled around at home I was still in a lethargic mode. Spoke with a few of the neighbors to get their thoughts on leaving town. Most replied they would be staying and sticking it out. In agreement I decided to hunker down.
At dusk I moved the couch from the living room to a centrally located hallway (actually the only hallway in the house). I brought Maxine, my cat, indoors. We sat on the couch all night. I found it comical that about the same time my neighbors that were supposedly "sticking it out" were now leaving. Maxine and I sat quietly on the couch. Outside it was anything but quiet. The initial wind was hot and humid. It reminded me of mother nature's breath. Which surprised me. I thought there would be more rain at the beginning.
Around 10pm the lights went out. I lit a candle. The winds continued to grow in intensity as the night progressed. The closer the eye slithered toward us the worse it got. By 2am the wind around the house was as loud as a train. Intermittently it would sound as if medium sized objects were flying by the windows on the east side of the house. At times it felt as if the pier and beams under my house were loose. Ever so slight movements of the floor sent a few shivers up my spine. I gripped the couch tightly.

At 4am everything went silent. The eye floated over surveying the wake of it's destruction and sighing with pleasure. It only lasted briefly and the wind was back in full swing almost instantly. From then on the winds slowly decreased until the sun rose Saturday morning. The winds were still blowing fiercely as the few remaining neighbors began emerge to peruse the damage.
There was debris all over the lawn, house, and road. A piece of a tree, about the size of a SUV, had landed in my backyard. Thankfully missing the house. My neighbors seemed to be alright.
I took a trip to the fire station to see if anyone needed to be relieved. To my surprise they had more people than they needed. Still in the middle of my days off I left. But not before getting the scoop from the guys working last night. They had three or four fires (we usually make one a month if that) including the Brennan's restaurant downtown. At the storm got worse they were unable to effectively use water as the powerful streams (150-200psi) would veer off at an 90 degree angle from the wind. Even at only twenty feet away. I charged my cell phone off the station generator before departing.
The rest of the day was spent texting and talking to friends and neighbors. I went by Mechelle's and Emily's houses to check the damage. Mechelle had a large tree laying across the power lines. It had even ripped the weatherhead off the house. Emily had a section of fence down. As well as a medium sized shed that had blown over into the neighbors yard.
At night we found there were two bars within walking distance that were open. No power, they were serving beer on ice by candlelight or even flashlight. So we spent the evening in the dark, drinking with silhouettes of friends. We celebrated surviving.


Mildly hungover, I think most of the alcohol was sweat off in the heat. Some of my neighbors returned. It rained heavily during the night and allowed for severe flooding. Most of the roads in the Heights were flooded. The rain stopped early allowing the water level to go down. We spent a few hours cleaning debris from the street and piling it along the curbs. Some stacks four feet high. I got to meet some neighbors I hadn't previously as well as get to know a few better. We felt optimistic about the power coming on soon. We hadn't really heard anything other than rumors from the AM radio.
I managed to find an open grocery store. They only had non perishable foods. There was tons of news cameras and reporters standing outside. The line stretched around the corner and down the street. A man standing next to me and I had to scold a father and son for trying to cut in line. I stocked up on groceries. Mostly chips and cereal. The rest of the day was spent reading. That night I went to my friend Erik's since he had power. It was a nice escape from the heat. His parents also came over since they were powerless. We ate some venison, which was delicious. We also watched the TV a great deal. I hoped there would be some football on but it was all Ike coverage. Seemed overly depressing. All we wanted to hear was some positive. I kept hoping they would stop the news coverage with something like a monkey juggling. You know just to get morale up.

I went by Lowes, a hardware store, to buy some tools. Mostly because mine were locked in the garage. I couldn't get it open without power. There's no other door besides the main one. I also needed a crowbar and axe. I headed over to Emily's and spent most of the day cleaning up. She was out of town helping take care of her nephew and pregnant sister.
After a long day in the yard I managed to cut the fence into sections that could be used again, I cut down a tree with an axe, and piled all the other debris by the street. Then headed over to Erik's again for a nice shower. By this time I was running out of gas. I passed two gas stations on the way but the lines were atrocious and didn't seem to be moving. I crashed early that night.

I awoke early and headed back into town. The whole city was black. I was unable to find any gas stations that had power and were open. When I arrived I found out the fire station had regained power on Sunday evening. We scrounged through the cabinets to find enough food for breakfast. It was my turn on the paramedic unit. We had a very busy and yet interesting day. One of our first calls was a worker who had a mishap with a chainsaw that took a good chunk out of his foot. There was a kitchen fire also in the a.m. It was small and not that interesting. We had several 911 calls for people having anxiety attacks. Some had been stuck in hi rise apartments without power. The only way for them to leave the building was descend several stairs. We ran all day. We lucked out and had a break long enough to grab some dinner at the station. That night was like a dream. As we drove around in the darkness, we had to dodge trees and sometimes even people. It's difficult to describe the feeling you get when you look around a city of four million people, pitch black. You know there's a million people the direction you're looking but it's a ghost town. Silent, black and still. The only sounds heard was the occasional sirens. We had made a call to the Houston Transtar center where the mayor and other dignitaries were giving press conferences. We stopped to talk with some HPD and Harris County Sheriff Deputies. The rumors passed were that several lootings had taken place and apparently not been reported to the public. Something about a Wal-mart that got hit. As we drove in the engulfing blackness I wondered how many lootings were taking place.


At least I remember trying to rest. After a crazy day at work I wished badly that my power would be restored. Unfortunately it had not. I took a cold shower in the dark and slept a few hours in the damp, warm house. Later, I managed to find gas at a station that had a long line. However there was a separate line for emergency responders (cops, firemen, etc). I was so tired that I spilled a decent amount of gasoline when my tank overfilled. The usual clicks in the pump that stop it didn't seem to be working. I tried to play it off and left. I made a trip to the fire station to charge my cell phone. I spent most of the day reading and reflecting. That night a cold front had moved in which brought some minor relief. To my dismay I found out my previously scheduled retreat would be canceled this weekend. A much needed vacation.


And back to the paramedic squad again. Another crazy day. We had a huge fire in the morning. The roof collapsed and we never found the old lady that lived there. I said a few prayers. One firefighter was injured. Thankfully it was only minor burns to his hand. The day continued with several other small fires, the usual EMS calls. We ran non stop. We did manage to snap some photos from damage in the Heights area in between runs. Most of which you see littering this blog. In the evening an older lady went unresponsive across the street from the station. She had a massive cerebral hemorrhage. We rushed to the hospital but unfortunately the bleed was too much and she wasn't expected to make it.

I slept in at the station. I knew when I got home there would still be no power. I was right. A week later and still no power. Another cold shower and an even hotter morning than usual. The cold front had left and moved on. Leaving the humid, heat in it's place.

Since there was still no power at my place or my whole street for that matter. I decided to work thirty six hours at my side job, most of Saturday and all of Sunday. It was rough since my side job doesn't have power either so we slept in the heat yet again. We did however have a generator which allowed us to watch some football. Although the Texans game was a huge disappointment.

GENERATOR! My dad got power back a few days ago and was nice enough to drop his generator off at my house while I was at work yesterday. In fact that's how I'm writing this blog is all thanks to the generator. Also got to do some laundry. A few fans helped battle the heat.

I hope others are fairing well!
More to follow.....