Monday, September 14, 2009

hurricane ike

Our neighbor’s house behind us.  1 of 2 trees (both oaks) that fell on their house.

Yesterday, one year ago, Hurricane Ike, one of the 10 largest storms, measured by the span of it’s hurricane strength winds, blasted through just east of Houston wiping the small town of Crystal Beach on the coast off the face of the earth.  

I was keeping concerned friends on a bulletin board apprised of it's progress.  This account is rather long (I started to cut some of it out but changed my mind) but I decided to go ahead and post the whole thing rather than break it up into several posts.  You can click on the pictures to enlarge.

Across the street...large cedar fell on their porch roof.

Tues Sept 9 2008, 6:20 PM - We're keeping an eye on it especially since we are supposed to fly out on Monday for our workshop at Vitrum. And we have to take the cat to my sister out in the country over the weekend, right when it is supposed to hit. So far they are predicting landfall for southwest of us but several of the models show it landing closer to Galveston. They are predicting pretty heavy rains and wind starting Friday. We'll be on the dirty side no matter where though. Let's hope it doesn't get too big number-wise although it is a huge storm, will fill the gulf.

Wed Sept 10 2008, 5:14 PM - Well, now it's headed right for Wharton where the country house is. We were going down on Friday to take the cat to my sister's while we are gone. I guess we'll go down tomorrow instead and buckle everything down, turn off the gas and water.

Wed Sept 10 2008, 5:54 PM - It's a cat 2 now. Wharton is about 50 miles inland. There is a voluntary evacuation order for Wharton county and the schools are closed there tomorrow and Friday. It's moving slow, always bad because it gives it time to strengthen, but it also gives it time to change direction. It may still go more southwest or even make a hard turn north and hit Houston. The weather forecasters talk a lot and project a lot but they really don't know until the last day or so. Should know by Friday. 

When Rita blew through here three years ago it came ashore about 100 miles NE. It was a cat 4 I think when it hit and we got gusts of 60 mph here in our neighborhood. Not much rain either as we were on the easy side. But this one, we are much closer (we'll ride it out here in Houston) and on the 'dirty' side (that means heavy rain).

Thurs Sept 11 2008, 7:41 AM - This morning they are projecting it to come ashore a little further north at Freeport which is about 65 miles straight south of Houston. It'll hit moving NW which will put the path right between Wharton and Houston. Wharton is about 55 miles SW of us. They also have several computer models that put it hitting Galveston which is about 50 miles SSE of Houston. If it comes in at Galveston, the eye will probably pass over us. All the coastal communities are under evacuation orders. They are expecting it to land before dawn Saturday. 

Damn, this sure puts a kink in my plans for the rest of the week. I was planning on getting a lot of work done before we leave for Maryland. No working in the shop on Saturday.

Thurs Sept 11 2008, 1:44 PM - Gad, it's a madhouse out there. Long ass lines at the grocery stores (lots of shelves already empty) and gas stations. Traffic on the surface roads is a nightmare. I got all my business done out there by 1:30. Well, we're housebound now til it's over.

Thurs Sept 11 2008, 3:28 PM - The projection is inching towards Galveston Island. It may get a direct hit and so us right after. Landfall is usually the worst and it's got 50 miles to temper it before it gets here. Pictures on the TV show that Galveston has already lost all it beaches to the beginnings of the storm surge and on the west end where there is no seawall, houses already have water under them. 

The glimmer of good news is that it is still only a 2 and with other factors, there's a chance that it might not get any bigger, a small chance now but they did mention it. Still want everyone to prepare for a 3 at the minimum. 

Well, this is a strong old house. It's been through storms for 100 years. Falling trees and limbs are what I worry about. I wonder about the new construction that's been going on around here for the last 10 years. Not exactly built to last, if you know what I mean.

Thurs Sept 11 2008, 5:35 PM - I just came in from the shop (finally getting a little work done today) and so haven't seen the latest but Marc says it's weakening, perhaps barely a 2 and moving a little faster but I could be wrong about that. 

There was a slight chance when it was way out in the gulf that it 'could' become a 4 under the right conditions and some of those forecasters just scream like they are in a horror movie. 

It's been a beautiful day. Still have large patches of blue but you can see the nature of the clouds has changed, becoming storm clouds.

Down the block...1 of 3 large trunks of their maple fell.  they lost all the trees in their back yard.

Fri Sept 12 2008, 7:13 AM - Morning update...It's still a 2 but they are still saying it could strengthen to a 3 right before landfall. Still coming in at Galveston but now they say it will make landfall about 1 AM. 

The water is up to the top of the seawall in Galveston already and the only road out to the west end is under water. There is a fishing pier off the seawall and the T-bar at the end is already gone. 

Ironically, we still have a mostly clear sky and a light breeze.

Fri Sept 12 2008, 12:13 PM - Overcast now and the wind is picking up.

Fri Sept 12 2008, 1:59 PM - Boliver peninsula (across from the east end of Galveston Island) is underwater now and at the west end, it's 4' deep. On the other side of San Luis Pass, in Freeport, they've already had two houses get washed away. 

And the storm isn't even here yet. Galveston is going to be washed clean. They're predicting a 20’ - 25' storm surge. 

I'm glad I'm in the Heights and a high spot in the Heights as well.

Fri Sept 12 2008, 3:06 PM - We thought we might scoot down to Wharton today, but the low pressure to the west seems to be drawing the storm that way so we are sitting tight here in Houston.

Fri Sept 12 2008, 4:32 PM - We're starting to get gusts 30 - 40 mph. The trees were thrashing around out there pretty good. Still no rain yet.

Fri Sept 12 2008, 5:45 PM - We're gonna get hit hard by the back end, no way out of that. The rain just hasn't gotten here yet. They're saying we should expect up to 10" of rain over two days. 

I was standing out in the front watching the sycamore thrash in the wind. Already getting kinda scary. It's still gusty but they are more frequent now. 

I just wish it wasn't coming in in the middle of the night.

Down the block, this large oak lifted up their concrete apron and porch.  It fell the rest of the way about two weeks later.

about 4 weeks later:

The city is starting to look normal again although there are still some piles of tree debris and now and then you see a fallen tree that hasn't been dealt with yet  Also, almost every tree left has small dead branches still up in the canopy.  There are still blue tarps on roofs nearly everywhere you look.  We fared well.  The storm blew in Friday night in the wee hours.  It started waking us up about 1:00 AM with the sound of the wind like a freight train, the trees thrashing and the occasional thump as something hit the ground or someone's house.  All through the night, whenever I would hear that sound, I would get up and look out all the windows to see what I could see.  Not much though.  We finally got up about 2:30 AM and turned on the news.  The lights started flickering about 3:30 and we finally lost power.  There was a little lull as the center passed over and then the thrashing started up again just as bad or worse than before.  We have a pecan on the other side of the driveway across from the bedroom window and I watched those limbs sway through an impossible arc of degrees.  It made it through without the loss of any major limbs though.  We were mostly worried about the 70 foot tall sycamore across the street from us but couldn't see what was happening to it because of the other trees in the yard.  By 6:00 AM, the worst was over.  Didn't get much rain but it was still raining lightly with some pretty good gusts until about 10 AM.  I walked around the block with our grandkids to see the damage.  The sweet gum on the corner of the shop lost about a third of it's branches with one fairly big one landing on the roof of the shop and the roof of our neighbor's garage.  No damage to the shop though.  Several medium size branches were down in the space between the back of the shop and the fence.  One small branch was leaning against a window of the house but nothing fell on the car or the truck.  The driveway and yard was completely littered with small branches of all kinds.  The neighbor behind us had a tree that broke in half with the crown landing on the roof of his next door neighbor.  That same house had a big oak in their back yard that fell on top of their house as well doing considerable damage to their roof.  Across the street, the sycamore was still standing but had lost two 40 foot branches.  The cedar tree between them and the house next door fell on their neighbor's porch roof but didn't really damage much.  Further down the block, a large limb from a pear fell on their jeep and several houses down from that, a major trunk fell on the roof of the house and they later told me they also lost all the trees in their backyard, but those mostly fell into their neighbor's yard.  A tree across the street was leaning at a 45 degree angle which also lifted up their front porch.  The park at the end of the block lost two oaks, one of which fell on the baseball diamond backstop.  This was repeated all over the city.  We lost tens of thousands of trees.  95% of the city was without power and water.  Several of the pumping stations for water were down.  The next night there was a heavy rainstorm not associated with the hurricane that flooded the city because there was so much debris down that the storm drains couldn't drain.  The water went into people's houses and the roadways.  The bayous were all the way up and even breaching their banks in some cases.  We got about two inches in the shop.  The city got the pumping stations on line within a day or two but it took over three weeks for most of the electricity to be restored.  For two weeks, most of the traffic lights were down and traffic was horrendous.  We were fortunate in that our neighborhood got the power back on after 6 days.  

We did actually make our flight out the following Monday and so were gone during the worst days after the storm with no water and no electricity.  The airport had been closed all weekend and I think ours was the first flight out.  Our daughter and her family stayed out at the country house until services were restored and gas and groceries were available again.


The park at the end of the block...large oak cratered the back fence of the baseball diamond.

The general aftermath was pretty devastating.  It made landfall east of Houston and landed square on Crystal Beach, Boliver Peninsula.  Pretty much wiped Crystal Beach off the face of the earth.  The other coastal communities suffered badly as well.  It was barely a 3, maybe still classified as a 2, it was borderline.  The wind was pretty impressive, awesome even in the literal sense of the word, but most the damage came from the wind surge, the amount of water that this tremendous storm blew in.  It was so large that the satellite photo showed it filling the entire gulf of Mexico.  It caused floods as far north as Ohio and Illinois.  Galveston Island was pretty much under water, not completely but a good part.  The west end suffered damage but mostly to anything built on the ground.  Washed all that away but the main houses on stilts survived.  

Murdocks Souvenir Pier...gone.  The Balinese Room  pier...gone.  The Flagship pier still there but some damage.  The beach...gone, water up to the rocks and seawall.

The causeway was completely impassable, filled with parts of people’s houses, debris and boats.  Whole boats, big boats, sitting on the causeway.

Every service in Galveston was power, no water, no medical help, no stores open, fire dept out because the trucks couldn’t get anywhere even if there had been water.  And parts of Galveston burned unrestrained during the storm and after.  No one was let back in for a week or more.  It took longer than that to get to some areas so that they could assess the damage.  People were sneaking into closed off areas in their boats so word would trickle out.

My brother-in-law Ed lives in Kemah.  He woke up about 2 AM and stepped into about 1 foot of water.  He went out and got in his boat to ride the storm out and after the eye passed over and the worse, second half came through, he climbed into the anchor locker til it was over.

In the days right after the storm, everyone was sort of going about in a daze.  Animals, too were in distress.  There was a report about 3 days after the storm that there was a tiger loose on Boliver from some sort of nature center, and he’s hungry.  What a way to go...I survived Hurricane Ike to get eaten by a hungry tiger.

All the cattle in the affected area had no food since all the fields had been poisoned with salt water.  So about four or five days later, they had a cattle drive, with cowboys on horses and everything says Sarah, and they drove them down the highway.

The coastal marshes, feeding and breeding grounds, are also poisoned with salt water and the birds are having to move inland looking for food.  I saw a flock of ibises flying around on the south side of town yesterday.  Never seen them in Houston before.


  1. Wow, what an amazing description of the storm and devastation.

    No hurricanes up here, but I have a friend in Mississippi who lost everything in Katrina a few years back.

    The power of nature can be quite humbling, and reminds us in this way that there are still some things we can't control in our modern technological world.

  2. I was just listening to a piece on Ike on NPR and remembering the damage all the way up here in Ohio. We were only without power for 24 hours, but for many here, it was weeks.

  3. Without these descriptions we would not know. No movie has ever given us these details. These events rip up a lot of lives.

  4. Out here in California we have earthquakes, no warning whatsoever. Back in 1987 my brother's house fell off it's foundation and he spent five long years recovering and rebuilding after that quake. I have many relatives in Florida, and they have been impacted greatly, my cousin's roof flew off! My heart goes out to everyone that has or will live through the ravages of a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake. Great description. So harrowing.

  5. Hi Ellen

    quite a few years ago at this time of the year we were holidaying on Kauai. A few days after flying out Iniki hit creating huge damage and ruining the economy of the island for quite a few years...

    We are on the southern extreme of the cyclone belt in Queensland which means we can get hit but usually we receive the high seas and lashing rains and winds on the tail end as the cyclone crosses the coast a little further north.

    Happy days

  6. In Cincinnati we had a lot of folks without power for quite a while - we were fortunate & were only without for about 36 hours. Dr. M is remarkably well equipped to live without power. We had lovely meals made on the coleman stove (grits, eggs & livermush!) & watched the news on grainy tv on a battery powered tv (couldn't do that now). It was an adventure for us, but for so many other people it was deadly serious...

  7. wow. what a description. i have worked the aftermath of a couple hurricanes...natures deadly forces...crazy all the damage...

  8. My husband's sister lives in Houston and they made it through Ike relatively unscathed.Luckier than most, I hear. Some missing shingles, a fence down, etc. Nature is both amazing and frightening isn't it? Your descriptions are wonderful, Ellen. the picture of the tree coming uprooted in the yard is really something.

  9. Wow! Thanks so much for keeping the whole post together. It really works, really conveys the experience.

    Before the hurricane, with the light breeze and blue skies - yes. I can't remember which hurricane came through DC a few years ago, but it was bizarre to hear it was headed our way when the weather was completely normal.

    Once it got kicking, though, it was terrifying, and the one that passed through here wasn't half as bad as Ike.

    Wow. We're really just so tiny and ephemeeral compared to the weather and other natural forces. It's good to remember. Thank you!

  10. Unbelivable. Complete with a hungry tiger. Mother Nature is not something to take lightly. We are in the mountains so hurricanes are not something we worry about. Now forest fires and earthquates are another matter.

  11. Fascinating. I always want to see a hurricane or tornado, but this is a sobering reminder of the reality of the experience for many people.

  12. Wow.. what a horrible experience. You sure brought it to life with your words. Very scary.


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