Monday, September 15, 2008

Life After Hurricane Ike: For Birders the News Isn't Good

Looks like Ike tore things up pretty good. I've been reading online reports from local news sources because for those of us who live in the so-called "Golden Triangle" the national news channels are worthless. The only places on the Gulf Coast that receive decent coverage from them are New Orleans, Houston, and Galveston. Even when a storm doesn't directly impact those cities they still get the lion's share of the coverage. We saw this during Hurricane Rita, when the big news channels focused their attention on the evacuation of Houston and additional damage to the New Orleans levees. The areas that were totally devastated by the storm - Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas - were barely mentioned.

Hurricane Rita was more destructive to Southeast Texas and neighboring Louisiana, but its path was narrower. Hurricane Ike, on the other hand, was the bowling ball that took down all the pins. Galveston took a direct hit, and from the reports that I've seen it looks like the city is a mess. The entire region is largely without power, and services are only slowly being restored, mostly to the less impacted areas. Financial losses from this storm will be staggering - Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and it has practically been shut down.

In a disaster like this birding may be the furthest thing from most people's minds, but it's worth noting that birders will be dealing with the ramifications of this storm for a long time to come.

The Bolivar Peninsula took an awful beating. In Crystal Beach whole subdivisions are gone. Gilchrist is gone. An officer said that he didn't even recognize Rollover Pass. One woman described Highway 87 as "a sandbar with a stripe down the middle." High Island, a favorite birding destination, is located at the start of the peninsula. Poor High Island! First Rita, then Humberto, and now Ike. More storms like this and there won't be any woods left at the Boy Scout Woods. Smith Oaks will have to have it's name shortened to just "Smith." Recent reports have Sabine Pass still under flood waters, so it's safe to assume that the TOS Sabine Woods Sanctuary was also flooded. Because of its exposed location it's also sure to have suffered heavy wind damage.

The sanctuaries could all use donations, and, more importantly, volunteers to help with the cleanup. Soon as I get the debris cleared from our own yard that's what I'll be doing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricanes are Boring

Hurricanes are boring because they lead to evacuations, and being an evacuee is extremely tedious, particularly if you don't have a good book with you. Take my word for it. I've had to evacuate twice in less than a month, so I should know.

The news: the babies and I are at Michelle's brother's home in Bossier City, LA, safe except for the looming threat of tornadoes as the remnants of Hurricane Ike bear down on us. Other than that everything is just ducky. Michelle stayed in Silsbee to help take care of her patients at the nursing home (which did not evacuate this time, apparently because transportation was unavailable). Michelle is safe and the nursing home has generator power.

Our property: Michelle reports that she was able to enter our neighborhood and check on our home today. There are trees down, but not as bad as after Hurricane Rita (which stands to reason, since in the aftermath of Rita we have fewer trees to lose). Our yard is full of debris, but our home was again spared. No windows broken and the roof is still on the top of the house. We only lost one large tree, and it just clipped a corner of the garage. Whew! Could have been much worse.

Friends and neighbors: from the brief report I received it appears that our neighbors were also fortunate to escape major property damage, with one notable exception which is only notable for being an exception (and if that sounds strangely ambivalent, it's because I am). My friend Troy describes a similar situation at his home in Spring, located just north of Houston. His home also survived without serious damage, which is quite lucky, considering that his place has large pines all around it. Pines do about as well as mobile homes in a hurricane, which is to say they don't do very well at all. They tend to snap in half - after Hurricane Rita there were toppled pines everywhere. In fact it was not unusual to see whole rows of them snapped like matchsticks.

The bigger picture: at this point it looks like nobody in Southeast Texas has electricity except where provided by personal generators. The consensus of the local news reports that I've read is that the wind damage was less severe than that caused by Hurricane Rita, but the flooding has been much worse. Sabine Pass flooded...again. There is flooding in Orange and Bridge City. In Beaumont the Elegante Hotel, Red Roof Inn, Rio Rita's, and the Fire Museum all suffered wind damage. The Jefferson County Courthouse lost part of its roof. Powerlines were down along 11th Street and Lucas, and presumeably in other places.

Don't know when the babies and I will be going home. For now we are comfy and enjoying the benefits of electricity - AC, TV, internet, etc.