Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Home, Wet Home

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last five days, you know about the devastation Hurricane Harvey has inflicted on the Texas coast and is now inflicting on Louisiana.

We lived in Houston for a little over eighteen years. I graduated from law school there. Our son was born in a Houston hospital and considers himself a Houstonian regardless of what anyone says. It's a lovely multicultural city with lots of things to see or do no matter what your personal tastes are.

Unfortunately, it also sits on a swampy drainage area, that has roughly three inches of topsoil on an ancient clay seabed, right next to the warmest large body of water on the planet. It  also sits in the crossroads of three major weather patterns. In other words, Houston get rain, and it floods hard and fast.

Now, throw in the scattered remnants of a tropical depression, a patch of abnormally hot water in the Gulf, and two high pressure systems to keep any circulation practically stationary over that ancient seabed, and you've got the disaster of Hurricane Harvey.

It's not like folks in Houston aren't used to hurricanes and tropical storms. While we lived down in Texas, Hurricane Ike hit the city on DH's birthday in 2008. Our subdivision was without power for nine days, and we mainly encountered wind damage. Flooding came the day after Ike as a separate storm front swept through and dropped an inch or two on the already saturated soil.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison was closer to Harvey's damaging rains and subsequent flooding, i.e. turning the Southwest Freeway and 288 into rivers. However, Allison was much smaller and she sat on the southeast section of the metro area where the levees and reservoirs couldn't catch the water. When citizens bitched about the lack of preparation, etc., then-mayor Lee Brown said, when you get two-feet of rain in thirty-six hours, you're going to get flooding.

And he's right. There's only so much preventative work you can do before Mother Nature teaches you an entirely different lesson.

There's a lot of bitching online about why a general evacuation wasn't called. It's because Houston learned a different hard lesson in 2005. Hurricane Rita was bearing down on Houston as a Category 5 storm. Even though forecasters said she would turn east prior to making landfall, a lot of people felt the need to bug out, especially after seeing what Katrina had done to New Orleans only three weeks earlier.

In 2005, the Houston Metropolitan was 5.2 million people. You want to know what happens when half of Houston decides to evacuate at once? Traffic was at a standstill on every freeway. I-45 was literally a parking lot from Houston to Dallas, as did U.S. 290 to Austin, and I-10 to San Antonio.

People died in those glorified parking lots. From heat exhaustion. From stress-induced heart attacks. All because emergency crews couldn't get to them. What do you think would have happened if Rita had remained on course for Houston? Those people in their fragile little cars would have been sitting ducks.

After that horrific experience, the city and county leaders put together a layered evacuation plan. The islands and coast evacuate first. Then the zones closest to the coast. And the plan worked pretty damn well during Ike.

But Ike didn't squat on the city like the proverbially toad for four days straight and dump four FEET of rain!

The Houston Metro area has grown to 6 million people over 2200 square miles since Ike hit. Can you imagine trying to evacuate 6 million people at once when flash flooding is a major risk? So the citizens did the best thing they could have. They sheltered in place until that became impossible.

Even then, a lot of the designated shelters were underwater. Take a look at that map above. Pretty much everything, and I mean EVERYTHING other than Austin and Waller counties, is under water. The reservoirs and lakes are filled to capacity. At least three dikes have had sections collapse. The Army Corps of Engineers are doing controlled water releases to keep other dams and dikes from failing

We used to live up on the northwest side. In fact, we were closer to Waller than downtown Houston. Our old house is in the fucking 500-year flood plain! From what we're hearing from old friends and neighbors, a couple of inches of water has probably ruined the lovely hardwood floor we installed in 2012. And the folks who bought our house probably didn't buy flood insurance. We sure didn't. Hell, I can count on three fingers the number of times we had standing water on our street, and one of them was the day-after-Ike storm.

Yeah, that's how bad it is.

If you feel the need to help, here's a list of legitimate places to donate:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund by the Greater Houston Community Foundation

Houston Flood Relief Fund (Sponsored by Texans DE JJ Watt, who is known for his philanthropic work in Houston)

American Red Cross

To the people of Houston: I'm not going to send you any Cthulu-damned thoughts and prayers. I'll send you some real help.

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