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Ike's Aftermath: A few thoughts

Well, it's now been two days since landfall.  And what have we learned since then?

1.  People will remain stupid, no matter how much you warn them about the dangers.  It has been 25 years since the last hurricane to really hit Galveston and Houston, and you would have thought that after Katrina and Rita (not to mention Charlie, Francis, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Wilma, Gustav and I'm probably missing one or two more) that if a hurricane is coming your way, you get the hell out of it's way.  Hurricanes are Mother Nature's bulldozing and demolitions experts, and they do a much better job at it than any human crew can.  (Faith can't move mountains, only because they won't give her a demolition crew and enough dynamite.)

2.  The problem with people in Houston and Galveston is that it HAS been 25 years since the last hurricane, so the area is much larger, much more developed and has more people in it than back then.  When Alicia hit, the Houston metro area was maybe 2 million at best.  Today, that number was somewhere around 5.7-6 million, including Beaumont/Port Arthur.  Not to mention the number of businesses that are located (or re-located) to Houston because of the energy business, technology, and manufacturing.  Businesses left New Orleans because of hurricanes (among other reasons) and went to Houston because, well, they don't get hurricanes.  Or not as often as New Orleans does.

3.  Protecting a barrier island is futile.  If Mother Nature wants to drown the island, she's going to do it.  She did it to the Chandeleur Islands repeatedly over the last 10 years or so, she keeps trying to do it to Grand Isle in Louisiana, Dauphin Island in Alabama, Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach and Okaloosa Island in Florida (the only road directly between Ft. Walton and Destin was covered under the Gulf courtesy of Ike).  She damned near took all of east Biloxi after Katrina, not to mention retuning New Orleans to it's original state pre-1600's.  So with Galveston, she showed that no matter how high you build that seawall, she is going to find a way to batter it, rip at it, tear it down and get what she wants.

4.  You would have thought that after Alicia that the city of Houston would have either mandated hurricane-resistant building codes, or limit the height of buildings in downtown.  That's what New Orleans did for the longest time, only recently deciding that the glass and steel buildings were ok.  Katrina shattered that idea literally (think the Hyatt Regency Superdome) and now once again downtown Houston is covered in shards courtesy of the JP Morgan Chase building and dozens of others.  Here's a clue, folks:  Winds are higher 100 feet above ground than they are at ground level.  At 500 feet, they are up to 30% higher, so if it's 80mph at the ground, it's likely 100mph up there.

5.  If you thought it was bad getting New Orleans back up and running after Katrina, Houston is going to be twice as complex, complicated and difficult.  The interesting thing this go around is that the priorities are just a little more skewed than before.  Essential services are first on the list, such as police, fire, hospitals, etc.  But second are the refineries, then major businesses, and at the bottom of the list is the average home owner.  The only good thing is that Houston has multiple access points on the ground (I-45, I-10, US 290, US 59 and others) as opposed to New Orleans with just roads west of the city as the only way in.  (I-10 and US 61 to Baton Rouge).  Plus there's enough infrastructure close to Houston that they can get back operational faster than New Orleans could.

6.  Of course, this time the US Government might have learned from previous lessons and get things done right.  Or the cynic in me can point out that it is George Bush's home state, so of course he'll throw resources out to get things back working.

7.  But no matter what, no matter how long it takes to rebuild homes, businesses and lives, the one thing you can be sure of is this:  Even after this event, people will remain stupid.  They will rebuild right next to the water, ignore the warnings, ignore the mandatory evacuation notices and think that it can't happen again.  We've already had ample example in the last four years that it can happen again, and again, and again.  One of these days those folks will learn the ultimate lesson, and that is that Mother Nature really doesn't care, she will find a way to destroy that area and take back what belongs to her.  If you're in the way, well, so be it.  I'm sure that as the days progess, the death toll for Ike will climb, most all of them from stupidity.


Tal Greywolf

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