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September 15, 2008

My stomach has churned all weekend, sick with worry and updates from Galveston. As a longtime former Galveston resident, married to a BOI, this storm was more personal than others.

I moved to Galveston in 1991, in order to check off “live at the beach” from my Life List. It was there I met my husband. Lived on my own. Made tons of friends. Found ‘my place’ in the world. During college, I walked on the beach every morning, went to class in the afternoon, worked at Yaga’s (then Landry’s, then Randall’s) in the evening, and drank Vodka Collins and shots of tequila at O’Malley’s and Vibes after work.

Nearly every street holds a memory, if not one of mine, one of thousands my husband has retold to me over the years. 33rd street is where we had our bookstore. Somewhere around 23rd and Post Office is where Eric proposed, on a Sunday morning during Mardi Gras. Ave S is where I bought my first house. I was flashed by a perv on 24th street. Went to my first Mardi Gras Parade on 25th and Ave L. I could go on and on.

While I know of one friend who stayed during Hurricane Ike, I know that there are many, many others who chose to test their luck this weekend. I feel as if I nursed Elaine through the hurricane. Convinced that it would not be bad, her house having made it through numerous hurricanes high and dry, she was not worried. She took my calls, early in the week and early on Friday trying to convince me that it wasn’t going to be as bad as they predicted on the news. Then when she called at around 11pm, her voice had changed. I could tell she was worried, if not scared. The water was rising up the porch stairs. It had never done this.

I pulled up NOAA while simultaneously flipping through all the news channels. (By the way, Geraldo is a horse’s ass.) They had been eating ice cream and popsicles since the electricity had gone out earlier in the evening, and the all-weather radio had indicated the possibility of Ike wobbling to the east towards Boliver. This would have been good; they would have then been on the dry side. But everything I could find reported that the eye was heading straight for them, right for the middle of town, pretty much on a direct route across 45th street.

The eye was 60, then 50, then 45 miles in diameter. This means that it was very big, and a wobble would not have changed the impact much at this point, and it also meant that it was intensifying. The reduction in diameter is comparable to the closing of a fist – a palm-open slap is much more tolerable than a fist. But, we still had communication.

Elaine began calling about every hour or so, on the land line in order to save the cell phone battery. “How high is the surge?” “Where is it now?” “How long until the eye hits?” The water was rising slowly; she lives on a historically and relatively high part of the island. All I could tell her was to hang in there. They moved their photos and pictures upstairs, but she stayed on the sofa on the first floor to monitor the water. She could see the water rising under the house, from an old furnace floor vent that they opened. It was high, but never actually came up through the old, oak flooring.

She was going to try to sleep. I dozed off with my phone on my nightstand at about 2:30. She called again at 4:00, this time in a panic. The eye had come ashore at around 1:30, and they waited for an interminable 2 hours in a complete meteorological calm. The water had started to recede. But now it was rising again, and quickly.

I reported what I could. They were smack in the middle of it. There were still 2 to 3 hours worth of outer bands in the gulf, waiting to be pulled onshore. As the eye of Ike crossed onto land, the storm slowed. A slowing storm is never good. As it churns in place, it throws more and more tidal water on shore, spurns tornados, waterspouts, and lightning. I snapped phone pictures of my computer screen showing where Ike was, and sent them to her. She hurried off the phone to call her niece. Elaine texted me later, and I spoke to her briefly the next morning – they were hot and tired. And then we lost communication.

The phone lines are down. They charged cell phones on a generator. This worked until the back-up batteries in the cell towers themselves drained. With no power, the towers can’t send any phone calls. She can still receive texts, I think, but can only place collect calls to a land line. I just got word from a small network of friends and family, that they will probably be forced to leave for at least a month. I’m waiting for more news, and possibly house guests.

That’s what Elaine is doing. We know Henry is probably o.k. He is one of the police officers in command at the San Luis Hotel; we saw him on Fox News. William left and evacuated to Houston; I assume he’s o.k. We still have many more friends who I am wondering and worrying about. I know these Galveston people. They are stubborn, and strive to be self-sufficient. They don’t want to give in to warnings or admit defeat. I hope they all came to their senses before the storm, but I doubt it. They’re probably fine, they’re a resilient lot, but I can’t help worrying.

The call of the ocean is a siren song. With the beautiful sunsets, the hypnotic waves, rolling sea birds, and the fresh ocean breeze, come the mosquitos, ubiquitous rust, incessant humidity, and the very real threat, 5 months out of the year, of storms like Ike.


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