9/28/2008

Called to Serve - Galveston Island


The last two weekends I’ve had the opportunity to take a few of the older Young Women on a hurricane relief work crew. Last week we got a glimpse of the destruction as we helped remove debris from a town about 10 miles north of the island.

Wednesday Galveston Island was finally open and residents could return to what was left of their homes. Friday I took the youth to the local LDS Stake Center to load the semi for Galveston. Thousands of boxes of food, hygiene kits and buckets of cleaning supplies were shipped in from LDS humanitarian headquarters in Utah for the citizens of Galveston. It was pretty amazing as we walked into rooms stacked floor to sealing with supplies ready to go.

Saturday morning we put on our yellow shirts (to keep from people shooting us, letting them know we were workers and not looters), pulled on our rubber boots and headed to Galveston with about 800 other LDS volunteers. For two weeks we have seen non-stop media coverage, but honestly no one knew what to expect. Driving onto the island was bizarre. There were hundreds of boats lined up next to the interstate, they sat in shambles on the shoulder, where dozers had pushed them rest to clear traffic lanes. Boats hung off posts and signs, sat capsized in the water, rested on top of cars in parking lots blocks from the water. I thought why a yacht of couldn’t landed in my front yard? From the outside there was damage, but the destruction was not as bad as I thought.
This boat is sitting ontop of the concrete median between lanes on Interstate I-45. One of the many stranded in odd places.

On the sea wall
We got to the ward building, still running on generators, received our assignments. Along with the food and supplies shipped yesterday there were dozens of wheelbarrows, shovels, chainsaws, and work supplies.

Our first home was just tree damage; we were in and out, and clean. You are given one assignment and then its just door to door to see what people need. Half a block down we found our house for the day, a one story brick home on a slab foundation that saw the force of the storm surge. We put on masks and walked in, the walls covered in mold to the water line – four feet. I have worked flood clean up crews before, but nothing to this caliber. Think of flood water, let it sit in a house that is boarded up for two weeks in 90 degree heat and left to fester and you have the interior environment of hundreds of houses in Galveston. The storm surge was so forceful it pulled everything off shelves and out of closets. When we walked into houses it was 1-2 feet of debris covering the floor. We found kitchen knives stuck in pianos, toothpaste in dining rooms, couches that had floated on top of coffee tables. Four feet of water in a house is almost total devastation. When you think of four feet, its every bed, every piece of furniture, every cupboard under the kitchen counter, the lower four tiers of books shelves, every electronic that was plugged in. The water was so forceful it flipped dressers and china cupboards.
Most of the furniture was covered in mold

Chris showing off her new rubber boots in the flooded living room & Cynthia cleaning out flooded cupboards.

This house had a sunken living room, it was now filled with 18” of backed up sewer that has been sitting for 15 days and it was rank. We spent the morning bailing out water by buckets and a 10 gallon wetvac. There was probably about 500 gallons of liquid sludge sitting on the floor. And in the middle was a beautiful piano, covered in mold, so waterlogged the keys wouldn’t depress. We pulled everything thing onto her front lawn so she could inventory it. My personal goal was to see the floor of the sunken living room. The damage is so wide spread, even a full days work does not make a dent. Chris and I stayed behind another hour to finish bailing out the living room, we squeegeed it clean and after four hours, found the pink tile that hide beneath the muck. It was one job we could complete.
Sewer sucking Sally, check out the mold on the wall. (Happy anniversary to me!).
This woman was awesome, she was in good spirits, all things considered; she was also one of the few we ran into that had flood insurance. Amidst the devastation, we pulled out an old photo of her grandparents, still in the plastic jacket…still dry. It was the find for the day that brought a smile to everyone’s face.
Jared and Christina finishing up house #2.

The crew with the owner from house #2

It was the same story house after house. What once were prized possessions were now merely junk suitable to be handled only by a scoop shovel. The last house we help with was a foster home, we watched and consoled a girl the same age of those YW who helped sifted through the mess to find something, anything, and yet found nothing. I won’t lie it was emotionally hard to grasp. It was not the fifthly conditions or the smell that made it a difficult day, it was the people who were coming to terms with reality that they had nothing, it was those who expressed so much gratitude for your help and the tinge of guilt, that I would return home that night to a home, roof and all and they would wake up again in the morning to nothing.

The last house we were at we found black mold in a dresser. We got the content out and fast as we could and headed outdoors. For the first time that day I felt sick, we all did. Christina said that crap smells like gas….it took a moment to register, but it was gas. We quickly loaded up as they evacuated several city blocks due to a gas leak and we called it a day. It took three washing to make our work clothes smell bearable. I went out to dinner Saturday night and all I could taste was sewage and natural gas.

League City Young Women Crew

For me it was a good experience, trying and emotionally unsettling at times, but it brought closure. For weeks we have watched the aftermath of Ike, unable to help, and we were give that opportunity, as we will continue to help in the coming weeks and possibly months. I am so grateful that we fared as well as we did. I am thankful our home still stands and that my family is all safe and accounted for. The silver lining has been the community. Neighborhoods have pulled together and the sense of community has been amazing. This is my last hurricane report for a while, maybe for good. I am hurricane-exhausted. Hopefully the next photos I post of work crew in a few weeks will show lots of rebuilding and progress.


The local mindset, citizens are ready to call Galveston home again.

9/25/2008

IKE from Space



This link has some awesome photos of the hurricane taken from the space station.

NASA IKE PHOTOS

9/19/2008

Clean Up



Our neighbors yard
Our Street Facing South
Our Back Fence

Our South Fence and Trees


The last week has been a whirlwind. I am going to choke the next reporter that uses the word "normalcy". We drove through Houston on our way home Sunday watching the damage get progressively worse as we drove south. It was a rainy dreary day and the skyline looked ominous with hundreds of broken windows. It looked like a scene out of Gotham City.
We had plenty of food and water but ice was sparse the first few days. The ice lines were sometimes an hour wait, standing there patiently to get your ration of two bags. Sunday and Monday night there were huge neighborhood grill outs as people tried to salvage what they could from thawing freezers. We spent dinner with friends several night this week grilling, fish, steaks, chicken and talking late into the night. I have to say we have really gotten to know our neighbors well over the past few weeks. We have been blessed with beautiful weather the past week. After the hurricane, a cold front set in - 85 day and mid 60’s at night. It made living without A/C tolerable.
Guess it was a good time to clean out my fridge, we kept things in coolers another day to make sure the power was permeate.
Monday Jared and I started the long day of clean up and damage assessment. We lost several sectionS of fence, a bunch of little trees and we lost our wood floors in our living room dining rooms entry way and one bathroom from wind driving rain. The rain was so powerful, it power washed our front door, just took the finish off of it. We had damage, but faired very well compared to most of our neighbors. We didn’t loose a singe shingle or window and we have so much to be thankful for.
Walmart Dairy section, one week after the storm
Our power was restored late Monday evening; we were really surprised as we were one of the first back on the grid. We were at some friends for dinner and the light flickered. You could hear cheers from across the neighborhood. Even three days away from power makes you realize how much you depend on it. Slowly life became routine again. Jared spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on a clean up crew cutting trees as I finished picking up half of our neighbor’s roof out of my front yard. Water became safe to drink yesterday. There are now several gas stations open. I ventured out last night to get a few groceries. Target was bare, Wal-Mart had milk, but meat is a still a rare commodity. Schools will be closed until Sept 29th.


Today we packed up our plywood and placed it back in the garage. We have a few more stumps to pull. The insurance assessor hasn’t called yet. Got our flooring and fence estimates today. NASA JSC will open Monday.

9/18/2008

Resident to Evacuee.


Ike's sun set, the first bands


We made good time as we packed the car while watching the traffic build on I-45. We left at 12:30 and I-45 was already back up to Brittany Bay where we live, which is about 25 miles from the center of the city. We option to take 146, which runs up the coast and the traffic heavy, but moving well. We made the bad decision of taking part of the toll road across the city since they had lifted the tolls, but we found ourselves at a crawl. After an hour of little progress we pulled out the half trusty map and took a few side roads. We probably added 40 miles to our trip, and cut off about two hours. We drove up through Sam Houston National Forest, making me once again remember that Texas does have stunning landscapes, just not in Houston. We found a Mcdonalds with a playground, let the kids roam and got to the shelter about 5pm to settle in for a few days.

Our church has a “sister ward” up in Madisonville so everyone has a place to go in the event of a hurricane. We stayed there when we evacuated for Rita a few years back. It’s a small branch building, each family taking a class room to make their residence for the coming days. It was barebones; bring your own bedding, food and supplies. There were no showers, but it was a safe place to stay and we are thankful for their support. We played lots of games and got to know some new families.

Eliza enjoying the shelter, the kids had a blast, they did not want to leave

Friday night the first reports started coming in as we watched CBS (the only channel we could pick up). We watched as the death and doomsday reporters stand on the sea wall telling everyone who stayed would suffer Galveston imminent death” as the waves crashed upon them. Idiots, but it was great to see Heraldo get pummeled by a wave. We wanted to know what was going on, not how big the waves were coming in.

Galveston went from “no need to leave” just a few days before to a “mandatory evacuation”. Even though the storm would hit as a CAT II the storm surge was that of a CAT IV, almost 20 feet. Government officials were asking those who stayed to write their SS# on their forearm in Sharpe marker so body identification would be easier….40% of the islands residents opted to stay.

So like all Americans we shut off the t.v. and turned to YouTube. After getting some great laughs we found a few guys located in Nassau Bay (across from NASA) doing mock reports. They would update hourly, driving around to all the communities taking footage. And they took requests. Although they had an arsenal of alcohol in their fridge and were pretty tipsy by 10pm, the raw footage they posted gave us a true idea what was going on.



At sunset I walked outside and the sky was beautiful, the first wispy bands were coming in and the breeze was slowly picking up.


By 8pm the Kemah boardwalk was underwater, by 9pm part of League City was flooding. The eye would come over our house around 1:30 am. By 11:30 the storm was ragging and we lost all signals so we went to sleep.

Ike swung North when it came inland and even at 150 miles inland we weathered a CAT I storm. The power went off at the shelter about 5am and the mugginess of the night set in. I can live without power, but when its still 80 degrees at night air conditioning is essential.

We woke up Saturday morning watching the storm rage over head. A friend stayed back in LC, updated us about our homes. The electricity was going, our cell phone no longer picked up signals and so we waited, patiently. By Saturday afternoon we found out part of the interstate was impassable and they were not advising League City residents to return until Tuesday, we left early Sunday morning….

video

9/16/2008

The Methodical Watch

This is how the story begins, I will probably post in sections over the coming days as time and resources permit. The last week has been surreal as we packed up and left knowing we may not come back to a home, we were luckily.
Like so many around here the story of us and Ike starts well before landfall. For almost a week we watched methodically as this peculiar storm wrecked havoc across Cuba and started its travels across the warm gulf waters. You can't evacuate for every hurricane you find yourself in the "cone of probability" (that looming white cone of where the storm might come ashore). This would be storm #3 since August that we found ourselves inside that cone. So we watched, turning off the fire and brimstone reporters, we ran to our computer every three hours hours for days to see the updated track from the National Hurricane Center in Central Florida. Ike was different, they had a hard time tracking him. The cone of probability extended from Mexico to Florida. They had never seen a hurricane take a direct path over Cuba. For a short time Ike had two eyes, for a time his surface level winds were more forceful than the upper level winds, and over the course of the week Ike grew into a monstrosity, his hurricane force winds extending 570 miles out.

For days we called friends, the conversation always the same "are you evacuating"? "Not sure, its dropping south, we might be okay". Five days before landfall the mayor of Galveston stated the island would just catch the corner of the storm, no need to evacuate and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We watched thousands in the neighboring counties left under a "mandatory evac"

Wednesday night I sat down at my computer and the models had shifted north, close to Galveston. Jared and I packed bags in anticipation of leaving, but it had been moving north all day, so we both thought by the time we woke up its northward journey would put us on the south side or "clean side" of the storm.

I woke up Thursday morning about 6 am, went to my trusty Florida Hurricane site. And there he was, eyed in on Galveston Island, we are 20 miles inland of Galveston so a hit for them meant a hit for us. I scrolled down to see Ike was projected to become a CAT IV and hit as a CAT III. I grabbed Jared out of bed, the decision had finally become clear, it was time to jump ship. We were under 48 hours from landfall and we knew hundreds of thousands of other would be making the same decision to leave their homes in the early hours of the morning, timing was crucial, I-45 was already clogging with hurricane-crazed drivers.

Jared still had to go into work. He helped me drag out the virgin plywood that had been taking up space in our garage since we moved two years ago. I quickly went to work sawing, fitting and hanging sheets of plywood as I watch our neighborhood turn into what looked like a ghost town. The hum of power saws and electric drills filled the air. The only thing louder was the sneering noise of the chopper blades flying overhead. Everyone was out, we were throwing back and forth drills, saws, evacuation plans and contact numbers.
And then it was time to pack. People often ask what you pack, what are the truly important things? The things you cherish, the items that might be the only things you possess in 48 hours. When we evacuated for Rita a few years back, we packs wedding albums, photos, some artwork. This time priorities have changed. The few "important items" we set aside to pack a pack-n-play so Eliza would have a place to sleep and enough food to feed an army, or two of my kids. We packed 4 outfits a piece, the kids picked out one toy to take, bedding, the title to our house, our insurance policy and a small box of century old photos from my grandmother and a copy of a handcock journal from the pioneer trek. We locked the door, said a prayer and we left with thousands of others.

9/15/2008

Back to the Hurricane Path

Its been a long tiring week. Spent three days in a shelter, lost power for the last 24 hours. Didn't have cell service since Saturday. Came home Sunday morning, haven't had power or cell service since. We have a good amount of damage but nothing structural. We fared better than most. They said 2-4 weeks without power but we got ours back tonight, hope it stays. today started clean up, lots of shingles, trees and miles of wood fences blown over. Would post more but I need to move everything from the cooler to the fridge, shower, do a load of long needed laundry and catch the news. We have been days without a radio, t.v. or internet. Will post tomorrow. Again thanks for all the messages. We got lucky, League City was a bubble in the midst of destruction.

9/12/2008

Update

..And we left.....We evacuated yesterday about noon. Jared was called into work so I spent the morning boarding our back windows by myself (and I am feeling it today). We just boarded our east facing bottom windows. Traffic was moderate. Not nearly as bad as the Rita evacuation a few years back. It took us about four hours to go 150 miles. We are staying at a church shelter in Madisonville, about 150 NW of League City.

The good news is the storm is not as strong as projected, the bad news is we are taking a direct hit. The storm swung north at the last minute hitting Galveston, we live about 20 miles inland from the Galveston coast.

We are safe, thanks for all the emails and prayers. We'll know by tomorrow of any damage. We have limited cell service and probably will not have internet for who knows how long. We might not have power at home for several days but time will tell.

Anyway SURFS UP DUDE!

9/10/2008

IKE..

Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble, but if I stay there will be double.

We are in limbo. Big hurricane, NASA does not get release until noon tomorrow, which is pretty late and by that time the traffic will be horrific so we might just ride this one out if the projections stay at a CAT II for landfall.

9/08/2008

IKE....TAKE A HIKE


Blah, I typically don't get into the hysteria of posting hurricane updates, but seriously this is the third one this season that has been eying us. Its like we are a magnet in the long-term forecast. Thus far these massive blobs on the radar have taken their warm water gulf journey elsewhere to wreck havoc on people praying that it would hit us instead of them. That is the bad thing about hurricanes, people do everything they can to persuade these hunky storms to venture elsewhere besides their home turf. Your happy when your home is safe and dry but then there is the stark realization that your house is still standing because someone else lost everything they will spend months in the grueling process of picking up the pieces, fighting insurance companies, cleaning and rebuilding, only to wait for the next one.

At the beginning of the weekend Ike was forecasted to swing up the center of Florida. We are hoping that Ike's core get ripped apart as it crosses Cuba and his track changes. We'll be watching closely as it hits the Gulf and starts his journey state side.

My thought is when we get hit (its not a matter of if, but when, which is why I just dropped a check for $1600+ for windstorm insurance this year) it better be a storm with a good name. Now Gustav, I think was the name of the season, exotic, sexy, something you would name your baby after. Ike is something that would see on a political button.

On the bright side, we have seen our first sign of fall. The last few days have been beautiful. we are seeing temperatures in the mid 70's for the overnight hours. I never through I would call 80 degrees jean weather :)