Friday, September 12, 2008

Liveblogging Hurricane Ike

Update: Satellite images showing post-Ike Houston and beaches, which, not surprisingly, seem to have pushed back a bit in areas. Once you get to a full-size pic, click on it again to zoom in. Hat tip to Cary.

Update Sat 9/20 7:30pm - Austin:
Wife went home to work. Power came back Thurs night (yeah!), but still no phone, cable, or, most importantly, internet. Comcast speculates Tues, but that's after they said Fri and didn't deliver. I'm not holding my breath. Since all I need to work is the internet, I'm staying with the cats and internet in Austin. Ate at Hula Hut on the water today with beautiful weather. Yum. This displacement's not all bad...

The NY Times has a nice piece on Houston's neighborly and charitable spirit after the hurricane: "Power Is Scarce, but Houston’s Spirit Isn’t Lacking"

Update Thurs 9/18 4pm - Austin:
Still without power, and still enjoying Austin's charms. Our zip code is listed as one of the more problematic ones, and the earliest we might see power is "after Tuesday." Sigh. One of my Austin-based step-daughters is going on a week-long trip Friday, so I volunteered to apartment-sit her cats while she's gone - all the electricity and internet I want included. So I may not get back to Houston until the 27th or 28th. We'll have to have power and internet by then, right?...

Not sure if I'll do any normal blog posts before then, given that most of my readers can't get to the site or receive post emails.

FYI, if you're thinking about bailing out of town while the power's out (or bringing in friends or family to help clean up), Continental is running some great fares for travel to/from Houston the rest of the month.

Updated Centerpoint outage and restoration maps. Hat tip to Alex.

Update Sunday 4:50pm - Austin: So we lost power about 1:30am Saturday morning. Got no sleep. The winds were ferocious. Heard a very scary crash about 5am. Worried about roof holes or maybe the chimney falling away from the house. Once the sun came up we could see, to our relief, we just had a fence fall over. But our yards look like somebody tossed multiple hand grenades in the canopy of our oak trees - as well as among our potted plants and flower beds. Spent most of the day cleaning up both yards, finishing with piles of leaves and limbs so big we could have filled a couple large pickup trucks. What a mess. But we were lucky compared to many others with trees on - and in - their houses.

Our hopes were raised when neighbors across the street got their power back Sat afternoon (although no phone, internet, or cable). But none for us, and the night was horrendously hot and humid. Very little sleep. It's been a while since our dog got his last summer hair cut, and with his thick coat, he was continuously panting. Before sunrise, we decided we were heading to Austin to stay with my step-daughters until power comes back. The wife preferred to stay, and we would have if it were just the husband suffering, but the dog tipped the balance. Listening to the mayor's press conference on the radio as we drove, we realized we made the right choice - one I expect many others to make soon too. It's becoming clear it may be many days - if not weeks - before power comes back to the 2 million households without it (99% of Centerpoint's customers): no computers, no internet, no TV, no fridge, no cooking, no light, no fans, and, most critically, no air conditioning. Not to mention the unsafe drinking water at low pressure. And now waves of mosquitoes are appearing too. Utterly miserable.

One of the news items that most surprised me was that both airports are still closed today. I know Continental was planning to resume operations Sunday morning, and every day that hub is closed (since Fri afternoon) has to cost them tens of millions of dollars. It's probably close to half their business. So I assume they pushed as hard as possible and just couldn't make it happen. A very bad sign.

For some positive spin, on both the damage and the city, check out this AP story.

Update Friday 10:25 pm
: Although we still don't have any rain, the gusts have started whipping up pretty fast outside. We have clear plastic insulating panels on the inside of our windows (like a double pane window), and I can see my reflection flexing in them as they bow in and out with the wind and pressure changes. Lots of small branches down already. We walked the dog again earlier in the evening and there was a major oak tree branch down blocking a street around the corner from us - maybe a foot diameter at the base and 15 feet long or so. Looked weak and partially rotted, so it was ready to fall. Our cats are driving us nuts whining to get outside, which they usually do at night, but there's no way they're going out tonight. The power blinked, but has stayed on (obviously, or I wouldn't be able to write this). The news footage from the coastal areas is both scary and sad. The flood surge is getting into a lot of buildings all along Galveston and the bay, and the projections get worse and worse. The losses will be large.

The zip code wind maps say we will hit peak sustained winds around 80mph tonight in my area. I don't think we've broken 40mph or so yet, so it's going to get a lot worse. The projections indicate the worst winds should be past us by around noon or so tomorrow, but it's going to be a nasty 14 hours. I don't anticipate a lot of sleep.

Original: I decided this morning that as long as we have power and internet, I'd try to liveblog Ike, adding updates to this post through tonight and tomorrow - but without the usual email distribution of posts. If you're looking for current information on the storm, Drudge Report has a great collection of links - plus this interactive tracker at the Chronicle. We live in the Meyerland/Bellaire area, well inland and outside the mandatory evacuation zones, so we decided to stay put. Our main risks are wind, trees, street flooding, and power loss. As of right now (1pm), about 12 hours before landfall, it looks like it will be going directly over us and the city, with extremely serious 20ft surge risk to our friends around Galveston Bay (my wife works for NASA and knows a lot of people who live around Clear Lake). Pray it pushes just a little more to the east, which will put us and the bay on the weaker west side of the storm - while putting the more dangerous parts of the storm in far less populated areas.

Last night while walking the dog, I noticed many of the houses were dark, so I think a lot of people have left. Watching the live traffic map yesterday, it looked pretty bad, but nowhere close to as bad as the Rita evacuation in 2005. Other houses have plywood over the windows. I didn't get the impression many people bought new plywood and cut it for their windows for this hurricane. More that they already had a set of custom-cut plywood in their garage from previous hurricanes that they just pulled out and attached. We spent the morning securing our yard, moving stuff into the garage and making sure nothing will get picked up by the (up to) 100mph winds and become a projectile. Sounds easy, but you don't know how much garden schlock my wife has... ;-) We were even able to make enough space to stuff my wife's Camry in the garage, but my own old Acura will have to tough it out in the driveway - unfortunately under the limbs of an oak tree. The street is much lower and has too much water risk if the rain can't run off fast enough.

The steady, gentle breeze made the morning remarkably pleasant for a Houston summer day, and people were out everywhere biking, walking their dogs, and, yes, securing their yards. Hard to believe the weather could be that nice 12 hours before being so bad. Makes me wonder if the weather was that nice in Galveston the morning before the great 1900 hurricane that killed 8,000+, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. No warnings, no satellite tracking, no indications of any kind what was coming.

Compared to that, my biggest worry of a few days without power seems trivial.

As of right now, it's gotten cloudy and breezy, but still no rain. And we wait.



At 5:26 PM, September 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoying Austin's charms, huh? Don't let the lotus eaters suck you in, Tory! They'll brainwash you with their plentiful parks and centralized planning. Come back to Ithaca! We're not charming or pretty, but we're your home!

At 9:50 AM, September 19, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Each city makes the best of the terrain it has (hill country vs. swamp - disadvantage Houston), but I'd argue the character of "weird Austin" that people love grew organically, not planned.

At 10:41 AM, September 19, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>but I'd argue the character of "weird Austin" that people love grew organically, not planned

So planning and organic "weirdness" can co-exist or even complement each other? Wow - who'da thunk it?

At 12:17 PM, September 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't take my comment too seriously, Tory. It was mainly a reference to the fact that Austin has zoning, which I think has to be given some credit for its charm, considering that Hyde Park is not marred by convenience stores and apartment flats like The Heights/Montrose, and South Congress and Guadalupe aren't lined with parking lots.

Also, since when does Houston make the best of its terrain? We have paved bayous and in most places have relentlessly slaughtered the trees that could have made our city beautiful.

At 2:59 PM, September 19, 2008, Blogger engineering said...

Greetings Tory. When proposing the I-45 tunnel I had to consider hurricanes. My conclusion that if hurricane comes I leave so I leave Houston prior to any hurricane. I think people will think twice next time around plus Houston got lucky cause a stronger hurricane things would be worst.
Well, while out on the road was visiting friends in west Fort Worth, talking about urban sprawl, got to drive 20 miles to visit friends each way or 60 if heading to Dallas. Oh, Dallas west village where McKinney Street is located is a heaven for the TOD/mixed use. It looks very successful but there is tons of (FREE) parking and it is all full. So much for the TOD factor.
Also was in Seattle for a couple busy days, Kirkland I guess the suburbs. Very interesting area. Lots of comparisions and differences between the tree. I think if Houston would focus more on its natural assetts vs. trying to look like others the outcome could be lot more interesting.
Side note: I am told pine trees are the wrong kind of trees for hurricane prone areas. Shouldn't Houston have a law preventing the planting of shallow root trees? Just wondering.
Will head back Saturday. I hear my hood does not have electricity yet. Fun fun fun. Will try to avoide city streets cause I am also told people run the corners causing crashes.
Till next time.


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