Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katie-did-it, didn't she?

We're still all right. Brighteyes is finally over her stomach virus, and while she's somewhat dehydrated she's going about 3/4 throttle. We finally got long-distance phone service back. We're trying to get in touch with friends and family who live south of us, but we haven't reached most of them. The biggest problem is our nerves, so I apologize if this is disjointed.

This was our fourth hurricane. Also, I grew up in Alabama's "Tornado Alley", and I've been through more tornado watches than I can remember. I have great respect for NOAA and the National Weather Service, and I always take them seriously.

We spent our first married year in Mobile. They had two hurricanes that year, and we left. One afternoon, while a hurricane was heading towards us and I was away from home, my husband looked out the window and watched a tornado form in the middle of the crossroads in front of our house. But living there was sorta like household Boot Camp. I learned there's nothing at all wrong with having canned goods under the bed, extra batteries and an Escape Plan.

That experience served as a spur to my husband, who is both a craftsman and a flaming paranoid. The buildings we've put up are all AT LEAST 50% over US Marine Code, and the workshop was over-built to the point that it should survive anything short of a direct hit from a tornado. Most of the area shelters aren't as well built as where we are now.

We don't watch TV. The weekend before we listened to Mississippi Public Radio carry the official weather announcements. I showed the girls the weather radar over the internet, and explained what was coming. Brighteyes started to understand that Something Bad was going to happen, and asked if we could listen to the radio some more. I told her we would turn it on as soon as she got up and listen to it all day long.

She was up at dawn, but soon went back to sleep. When the girls got up again at midmorning I turned on MPR and got out our state map. The scale was 30 miles/inch. We had to use a ponytail elastic for the eye of the storm and make a huge yarn circle for the body. I didn't even try to simulate the arm that started whacking us before the thing even cleared the coast.

By then we knew we were in the hurricane's path, but far enough inland not to bear the brunt of the storm.

When the wind first began Brighteyes asked to go outside. Sunshine was too timid. I let Brighteyes out, went back to what I was doing, and several minutes later checked up on her. She had climbed the highest tree in our backyard to get a good view. I ordered her out of all trees until the storm was over. She confessed that the wind was stronger than she expected.

Mississippi Public Radio is incredible. They provide public radio for the entire state and into the neighboring states. They broadcast live all day Monday. Here's some of the blunter advice they threw in with the official warnings:

"This is not your Mama's hurricane."

"If the rain is moving horizontally and the debris is moving horizontally, your car should NOT be moving horizontally."

"Do not wade into the water. Remember where it came from. The rain moved horizontally through the Gulf swamps. There may be some alligators that got moved horizontally too."

"Part of the roof is off the Superdome."

"We would love to tell you what's going on in our Biloxi office, but the Biloxi office is down. So are the automatic data collectors."

One of the two Biloxi hospitals has lost its generator, the other has had its generator damaged.

In the midst of a list of shelter openings and closings: "..and so-and-so has opened 40 acres of pasture for people looking for a place to shelter their horses."

"ALL highways to the Coast are closed. The wind is too strong for anything taller than a Corvette, and anybody with a Corvette shouldn't risk it in this weather."

"Everything on the coast has it's first floor flooded."

"Jackson (the capital city in the middle of the state) will close in half an hour."

I did catch MPR in one mistake. They said, "We're not announcing school closures any more because ALL schools are closed." But if all the schools were closed, why hadn't my husband come home? It turned out the Superintendent didn't close the schools even with a hurricane headed straight at us. The Department of Education had WORDS with him that afternoon when they called to check up and found school still in session. They were closed Tuesday, but that still left inexperienced teenage drivers trying to make their way home in driving wind and rain Monday.

Shortly after noon we lost the radio, the telephone and the internet. The power blinked occasionally but never went out. Katrina was nothing more than an overgrown thunderstorm (sans thunder and lightning) by the time she passed over our heads, but she still scared the girls. At 2pm I started reading Pratchet's _Wee Free Men_ drowning out the storm with my voice until 10pm when they passed out, pausing for meals and other interruptions.

One such interruption came when my husband finally got home that afternoon. During a lull in the wind he decided to take the girls on their regular weekly trip to the library, just a few minutes away. I pulled out my "Mary Poppins" umbrella. The girls got soaked, but it did them good to get out of the house briefly.

The next morning everything except long distance phone service was working again, but the mild stomach virus that was troubling Sunshine and I hit Brighteyes with both feet. She got real clingy, so I turned most of my attention to her. After all if there's one thing this country does right, it's our emergency response teams. They are always on the scene within 36 hours of a disaster. That's one of the reasons I'm proud to be an American. Our people always come through in a crisis.

Except this time.

When I got back to checking the news two days later, I couldn't believe it. It's as if we took the finest emergency response teams the world has ever seen and put them under the control of the Keystone Kops.

Katrina hitting the Coast was not preventable. Part of the damage and death that happened after Katrina hit the Coast was preventable by simple measures which were not carried out. For these failures there will be reckonings, both in this world and the next. I'm not sure by what means justice is served in the Afterlife. I am sure that it is served, and that it would be better for those culpable to attend to their karma in this life rather than let the god(s) attend to their karma later.

In the meantime I've got bags of clothes to drop off tommorow and people to try to reach on the telephone. In a while though it's going to be time to ask some very pointed questions, including, "How is this country going to regain both it's sturdy infrastructure and its rapid response to crisis situations? If you don't have a good answer to that, get out of the way for those who do."

UPDATE: Brendan manages to sum up the thoughts and feelings of many of us who live on the Gulf Coast and live with hurricanes.



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JC from NC said...

How nice that someone left a spam ad for you in your comments.

Glad to hear ya'll came thru it all okay. Hope everyone's feeling better soon.