Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Flood of 1994

I was 26 years old in October of 1994. My son had just turned 2 and I was engaged to my current husband. My ex- and I shared visitation every other weekend. It was his weekend when it started to rain. We had little food in the condo I owned in Crosby but I spent most weekends with my fiancé, who lived in Woodforest. We heard the weekend was to be a rainy one so we went to the store for food for several days and rented movies. This was the days when VHS and VCR’s were king. The movies were always 1st come, 1st serve so you had to be there early on Friday afternoon (before 6pm) to get the new releases. It not only rained that weekend but for days and everything started to flood. It came within inches of flooding my fiancé’s house and it was on a hill. We were so crazy in love with each other we didn’t even notice much. His aunt told us about “the San Jacinto River blowing up.” The truth was that a gas pipeline was moved by the flooding and the leak erupted into flames. It was on the news and you could see the smoke billowing for miles. The news also said we received over inches of rain in our area in 4 days. All the rain caused the flooding since it rained faster than it could drain off. The rain was not a tropical disturbance. The insurance companies had to pay tons of claims and after that they called the places that flooded the 100-year flood plain meaning that these areas only flood once or twice every 100 years. They sent surveyors to decide who lived in flood areas. Those in flood areas insurance doubled. Some areas had FEMA buy out their houses. This had a lot of people fuming mad. FEMA only pays 40 cents (if that) on the dollar. So if you paid $100 thousand for your house FEMA gives you a check for $40 thousand and tells you to start packing. The insurance companies wouldn’t pay claims on FEMA buy-outs and the houses were condemned as uninhabitable. Today, over 15 years later you can find among the weeds and overgrowth concrete foundations where houses once stood at McClelland Sorters Road off of Highway 59. The subdivision was built too close to the San Jacinto River. The developers and the permit folks didn’t care. The victims were the people with mortgages to pay in a house that you couldn’t live in and couldn’t sell. The mortgage companies came after those people for the difference they owed. I’ve never heard of anyone’s mortgage being “forgiven.” It could have happened but I never heard about it. In Houston it’s not a matter of where you live if it will flood. It will flood eventually. The city was built up to sea level in the late 1800’s to provide drainage but rumor has it that time has eroded all of that. City Hall and the Harris County Emergency Management (HCEM) are always trying to figure out solutions to the drainage and flooding problems. Most solutions are too expensive or just won’t work so for years there have been tons of ideas. There are also tons of groups protesting them no matter what they do.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hurricane Andrew, 1992

I was 24 years old in August of 1992. I lived in Pasadena, Texas at the time and was 8 months pregnant with my son. I was so busy preparing to be a new mother with my first child. I went to lunch with an old co-worker and she told me about a storm brewing that they thought might “turn into something.” I shrugged it off and continued discussing the baby. I just learned that my son would not “turn” as the doctor’s thought that he would and that my son’s father and grandfather had also been breech births. I was trying to prepare for the fact of a c-section instead of having a natural childbirth as I had planned for most of the year (found out I was pregnant in January). My friend had had 2 c-sections and 1 child naturally. I had taken her to lunch to try to find out what I could expect. I never expected the storm to turn into Hurricane Andrew. I was very shocked when I learned that it had hit Florida as a Cat 5 storm and that crossing land weakened it to a Cat 3 and it was back out in the Gulf. I watched footage of the flattened houses in Florida where Andrew was growing into a Cat 4 storm. I went to the hospital for pre-check-in and talked to them about Andrew. They said it was nothing. The eye for Andrew was very developed while it was in the Gulf. A developed eye is always a bad sign. I had a great aunt that said it was Mother Nature looking to see where she needed to clean up. She hated large cities and thought that Mother Nature saw to it that the population never gathered in one place too many or too long. The eye made me nervous and a few days later I went back to the hospital and stayed there. They asked if I was waiting on someone and I told them that I was waiting for my baby to be born and there was a hurricane out in the Gulf. They had a nurse check me out, told me everything was fine, the hospital was not a hotel and to GO HOME. Hurricane Andrew finally laid waste to Louisiana. I still have newspaper clippings where the storm destroyed the sugar cane crops in New Iberia. This, ironically, was the town that I’d moved FROM before coming to Texas. Andrew became another retired name in the list of storms.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hurricane Gilbert, 1988

I don’t even count Gilbert in the major hurricanes I experienced (Carmen, Alicia, Rita & Ike). Gilbert was a great storm that made many promises but didn’t deliver to be the tyrant that was predicted.

It came into the Gulf and made landfall in Mexico, south of Brownsville, Texas as a Cat 3 storm.

I was 20 years old in September of 1988. I had been married for 4 years and still living in Crosby, Texas. My marriage was not going well but we were trying to work things out but filed for divorce within the year.

My mother was getting re-married and came to visit as the rain started coming in. We never prepared for the storm and got some wind but mostly rain.

My maiden name is Gilbert so I was teased about my family’s turmoil “creating” a storm.

The name was retired so hopefully the Gilbert family turmoil will never create another storm.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hurricane Alicia, 1983 – Aftermath and other stories

According to and the Weather Center Greens Bayou reported almost 10 inches of rain. Galveston received almost 8 and Liberty 9-1/2 inches.

Crosby is 20 miles from the Greens Bayou area. At the time my future husband, Steven C., sister and brother-in-law, Mike and Kathy C. all lived in that area.

It was estimated that 750 thousand homes were without power and we were all included in that number.

Kathy and Mike tried to prepare for the storm. They were able to find food but not water so they filled every empty jug they could find. They also filled the bathtubs so they could wash dishes. “About midnight, the winds were so high that it made our house creek, we thought the house was going to separate, right down the middle. We lost power and did not get it back for about ten days.” Mike’s job in Midtown had power and supplied the family with ice.

Steven lived a few miles from Kathy and Mike. “I was living with my Aunts in their house in Woodforest Subdivision in Eastern Harris County. We chose to ride out the storm because we didn't think it would be that bad. This was a mistake. I stood outside during the height of the storm and it was awesome. Although the house escaped damage other than a few lost shingles. A tree in the front yard was ripped out of the ground and landed on one of my Aunt's car which was parked in the driveway. There was no flooding in our neighborhood but we were without Electric Power for a period of 10 days.”

We all thought Alicia was a major storm but was told it was a baby compared to Katrina and Ike. The weather casters have a tendency to say every storm is the worst and the last one was a baby.

It reminds me of that song where the news people get that dirty little gleam while telling us how we all going die because Mother Nature is more powerful than any person on the planet. Sad (and in some way sickening)………….

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hurricane Alicia, 1983

Alicia was the second hurricane I experienced. I was 15 years old in August of 1983. I was about to start my junior year in High School. I had many friends and a boyfriend. I was just your typical teenager.

We lived in Crosby, Texas at the time. Crosby at the time had less than 11 thousand people and was still very much suburbia. We learned that Hurricane Alicia had become a Cat 3 storm right after my dad’s birthday.

I remember preparing for the storm. As a teenager any task is a chore and there are always better things to do than helping your parents. Again we filled all the tubs with water. For those who are not familiar with hurricanes the water lines are not always drinkable after a storm. Also if the power goes out you can fill the tank and still be able to flush the toilet. With a family of 4 you don’t want to NOT be able to flush toilets without power. It’d be easier to bulldoze the house than to fumigate that mess!

We also started getting every plastic container and filling them with ice and putting them in the freezer. Times had changed and we had an ice maker by that time. During a storm if the power goes out it can be ages before ice is available so you make your own to last until then.

At the time we had a detached garage and we put everything that went outside inside the garage. We had to move a lot of stuff around since my family accumulated tons of stuff as all families do.

I begged my dad to let me bring my German Shepard dog inside. He refused but said she could stay in the garage during the storm. He tried to reassure me by saying most dogs cower under cars during storms. I fought with him about it but finally relented in the end.

We cooked what we could and packed ice on what we couldn’t in the freezer in the garage.

We then got out all of the flashlights and checking all of them and changing the dead batteries out for good ones. We had canned goods for 10 days. Everyone who has been through a storm before knows that supplies (flashlights, batteries, canned goods, water, etc) are gone the minute they announce a hurricane or tropical storm warning. My dad made sure we kept these supplies on hand year round. When hurricane season ends late November my dad would restock all the supplies then.

I remember the storm coming in slowly and lasting for what seemed forever. I also remember watching my dad watching the sway of the pine trees in our backyard and hoping that none of them would come crashing down on our house. Pine trees are resilient to Mother Nature as long as they are green. The sap allows the trees to bend with the wind.

My allergies got bad so I took some allergy medicine around midnight and got sleepy. I curled up with a favorite blanket and slept through the screaming wind and rain. I woke up the next morning and was disappointed when my dad told me I missed the whole thing. I was teased for years as being able to sleep through a major hurricane.

I couldn’t believe what I saw when I woke up. There were branches everywhere and it was raining very hard. There was no power. The branches started to clog the storm drains and the streets began to flood. My dad and I swam out to start unclogging the drain before it got high enough to flood our house (we lived on a small hill). When I saw large piles of ants clinging to each other my dad sent me back in the house. I’m allergic to ant bites and a trip to the hospital 25 miles away would have been impossible.

Our phone was not cordless and still worked. My family in Louisiana called all day to see how we fared during the storm. My dad tried to pull the BBQ pit out of the garage and was mad when he found that my dog had tried to chew through the door to escape the garage. So much for his plans of her cowering!

My dad started calling his friends and learned that a friend in Baytown had his house flooded. He was going to leave the motel his family was staying with as soon as it was safe and return to his family in Louisiana. From another friend he learned that Downtown had lots of broken windows. There was also an article in the paper about it and Galveston area having flooding issues. Even if we didn’t have power the paper was still being delivered!

I remember not having power for 10 days. My best friend and boyfriend living further out and did not have power for 14 days. As soon as the power came on they both came to my house for showers and hot food. Boy did my dad get mad having to feed kids that weren’t his!

I’ll never forget Hurricane Alicia. I never got to experience another hurricane like it until Ike came along!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preparing for Carmen

Carmen was the first hurricane I experienced. I was 6 years old in September of 1974. I was a tomboy who spent most of my time outside dodging my mother and my 3-year-old clinging effeminate baby brother.

We lived in New Iberia, Louisiana at the time, right in the middle of town on the corner of Jefferson Street and St. Peter. Where my house stood is now the parking lot for the United Methodist church. I played with the girl next door but the house is now a private parochial school. At the time the area was homes mixed with churches and a few businesses.

At that age I did not understand about hurricanes or the danger of storms. I remember the wind picking up and enjoying the strong tropical breezes. We were located about 25 to 30 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

I don’t remember much about how we prepared for the storm but I do remember my dad telling my mother to fill all the tubs with water and to start getting the ice ready. This was the time of filling ice cube trays then dumping them into a tub in the freezer. We did not have ice makers. I don’t know if we couldn’t afford it or they didn’t exist but we didn’t have one.

With my mother busy getting the house ready my dad pulled sheets of plywood out of the storage shed. The storage shed was suppose to be a garage but it was made of wood and had lots of rot and my dad didn’t trust it enough to park in it. He used it for keeping the lawnmower and other tools. He measured and sawed (with a hand saw, we didn’t have power tools either). My dad was only 5’9” and couldn’t reach the tops of the windows to nail the plywood over the windows. So he decided to show me how to hammer nails. I couldn’t hold the large 16 pound carpenter’s hammer. He had to find my grandfather’s 12 pound framing hammer for me to use. I thought I was Big Stuff hammering nails. He would hoist me on his shoulders, hold the plywood and I would hammer all the top nails. When we were done with each side we would hammer in all the lower nails. He tried to go behind me to reach what he could to make sure they were nailed properly.

I don’t remember the storm itself but I remember my uncle and cousins coming over to BBQ what was in the freezer. What we didn’t eat we wrapped in aluminum foil so we could eat it later.

They also came back after the storm to help my dad take the plywood off. I never realized that taking plywood down was more work than getting it up. My cousins complained about how well I’d hammered in the nails. I was proud of myself for that and laughed and teased them. A girl could make male cousins complain!

According to the weather history it was a Cat 4 storm. As a child I loved weather and storms so I was awed and amazed at hurricanes. The weather bug bit me at that moment and I even considered it as a career in high school. But I decided to pursue other avenues (I’m a motorcycle painter).

Carmen showed up again in my life……. In the fall 1994 I met my future husband and we decided to go see our first movie together. I picked Forrest Gump. There is a hurricane in the film that allowed Forrest to become rich when his shrimp boat is hit by a hurricane, Hurricane Carmen, and he’s the only shrimper left. Every year on our anniversary we watch the movie again (it’s now on saved on Tivo since we’ve grown with technology) and I remember my childhood helping my father (who passed away 18 years ago) and trying to outwit Mother Nature.

Every storm that has come along brings my family closer together. We learn what’s important in the face of the ferocity of Mother Nature.