Talula’s Barefoot Books Blog

A running commentary on life as an online bookstore owner after 25 years in Early Childhood Education.

Posts Tagged ‘disaster recovery’

Update on Progress after Hurricane Ike – Nov. 2008

Posted by Talula on November 13, 2008


I noticed that quite a few folks have searched for progress reports on our recovery from the hurricane Ike damage around here. So in the interest of my readers requests; here is a short recap of recent news.

FEMA: Weeeelllll— even with all the official gov. folks saying how much the Office of Homeland Security has improved the administration of this ‘Disaster Recovery’ agency — approximately 2 months after the disaster — and contrary to their own estimates of ‘greatness’ — only about 10% of their promised aid has arrived in the area to help actual victim’s of the storm.    Examples: contractor’s aren’t being paid for work done to remove debri, hotels are beng told to shut off rental aid to folks who are still eligible and who have no place else to go, almost daily announcements are made in the local press about changes to deadlines from FEMA, confusion reigns at every step, and many people are still without homes/ transportation/ schools/ daycare/ jobs/ and regular public services like utilities & medical care.  

San Leon: While most buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed in this tiny blue-collar town; there is some good news in their struggle to re-build their community. A wonderfully generous town in upstate New York has donated a working firetruck to the San Leon Volunteer Fire Department to help them out, since all the equipment was lost when about six foot of seawater flooded the San Leon trucks. Then the miracle was increased when a generous benefactor paid to ship the donated Fire truck from New York & paid for the trucker’s salary to boot.

Galveston Island: Some schools have re-opened, but not the majority. Many apartment houses are still not in habitable condition, and FEMA has brought in only a handful of the trailers/mobile homes which were promised to be placed in survivor’s driveways – so they could stay onsite to re-build their homes themselves or at least oversee the contractors doing the work. The older downtown area of boutiques & tourist shops & small businesses called “The Strand” are having a very tough time trying to recover, some say they will not be able to re-build – while others vow to wash off and reopen intime for the holiday tourist extravaganza “Dickens On The Strand”. The University of Texas Medical School has re-opened the hospital in a very limited basis and re-opened the medical school classes; with an operating room & intensive care unit located on a medical ship floating in the Gulf of Mexico, accessed by helocopter. However the ghost of the  devastated economy is lurking in the battle going on over the complete shutdown or at least drastic down-sizing of the UTMB presence on the island ( they support the local economy with about 4,000 jobs) due to the enormous damage to its facilities. Very little re-building has begun yet on the annialated Crystal Beach community. Folks are still missing from some of the 90% of those homes that were washed away. Returning family members still search daily for  buried pieces of their former beach life there. 

Bolivar Peninsula:  Red Oak, Bolivar, High Island, and more — Completely devastated towns, communities and people. While some “only” lost 47% of their physical structures/buidings, many were hardworking ‘sea-towns’ and have multi-generations of individual families have lost their livelihoods & homes at the same time. I cried last Sunday while reading the story of 2 of those families; one sleeping in a tugboat (used as an office during the day) loaned to them by his boss and trying to support the company with only one boat going out for work each day. The wife sits on the concrete slab of their former rented home without protection from the weather during the day (while caring for an infant grandchild). The other family stayed in a borrowed RV for a month; but has now had to give it back to his boss. They sleep in a tent on the slab of their former home, also caring for a toddler grandchild, while constantly calling for info to FEMA, HUD, Red Cross, Texas organizations and other non-profit organizations to try to speed up the inspection and electrical hook-ups for a mobile home that FEMA delivered but locked up to keep them out until it is “officially inspected”.  Look people – the fall weather is getting colder and nastier — these survivors will soon catch flu, pnuemonia or other illnesses from living out in the open and they will have no place to go for medical care/no transportation to get there/ no maney to pay for it/ and no home to recover in once (and IF they get medicine)! All because of “official” Red Tape!!!!!

I can’t recall all the asinine behavior that has been reported to have been done by our government officials at the moment; but let this list serve to give you a snap-shot of our recovery. Yes there has been a Herculean effort by some in our area to support some victims, return the 5 million population to the electrical grid and clean the debri from the millions of downed trees, etc.

At this point in time; I would just like to know when?  we gave the job of rescue & recovery of tax-paying citizens after disasters to charitable organizations, and why does our BY-THE-PEOPLE / FOR THE PEOPLE U.S. government not handle the administration and functions as it was designed to do by those we elect to serve us?

Please lend your moments of prayer to add a plea for help to go out to these hard-working neighbors and their children here on the Gulf Coast shores; and if you are in a position to actually help (whether it is monetary donations or to help replace lost food, coats, or personal items) please just pick up the Houston Chronicle and find a story or phone number to help SOMEONE who is caught in this bureaucratic nightmare!

And YES!, I have seen many folks & organizations who have done many wonderful & individual things to help! I applaud all of them without reserve! Neighbors helping neighbors has been a beautiful sight; but so much more has to be done in the areas where whole towns are totally disrupted and there truly is no longer any semblance of “NORMAL” for these citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth.

Allright, I now jump down from my soapbox! Sorry -but un-necessary human suffering always gets my blood boiling! I will try to help where and when I am able; while I pray that many others will come to their rescue!


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The After-Party Clean-Up From Hurricane Ike

Posted by Talula on September 28, 2008

FYI Update: I received a comment from Patti at harvardtohardhat.com here on wordpress that showed some great advice and information relevant to our disaster recovery operations here in the Southeast Texas & Louisiana coastal areas hit by recent hurricanes. She also wrote a highly praised book “From Harvard to Hardhat: How I Hired, Managed and Survived my Contractor” on how to deal with insurance companies, and how to hire & deal with  contractors & laborers as you start to recover from this disaster. Don’t re-invent the wheel! If you need help to save money or fight the insurance company for what you are due; go to her website to read what she discovered while dealing with a flood in her own home >  HERE!  <

Wellll… I survived physically. And so did all my various relatives; though many with damage to houses from the various elements (110 mph winds, surge, flooding, tornadoes, flying debri such as trees/cows/boats/ whole houses). Highways leading to the Galveston entrance & Bolivar Peninsula were impassable due to boats and houses covering the freeway lanes, plus damaged supports from that 15 foot surge and resulting debris.

Yesterday – Saturday September 27 was two weeks after the gulf coast storm as big as Texas arrived here and slam-dunked us (literally). Many parts of 15 or so counties (called parishes in Louisiana) were directly hit here, and deaths were attributed to Ike as far away as Canada, Kentucky, & Ohio (not to mention those in Haiti & Cuba before it entered the Gulf of Mexico). Approximately 400 people are still missing here, mostly from the Bolivar Peninsula towns of Bolivar, High Island, Red Oak, Gilcrest, Crystal Beach. After listening and reading survivors stories caught in the brutal front line of the eyewall on the Galveston Island & Bolivar peninsula – I fear many of those will never be found. About ten percent of the nearly 2 million homes still lack electrical power; although many folks banded together to help each other in neighborhoods, apartment complexes, nursing homes, or even in the hardest hit areas – whole towns.  

One story I read today of a young ex-Coast Guard member that stayed with his house (after sending his family to the mainland first for safety just in case), not believing that a Category 2 level storm could do much damage: really said it best. His own house began to teeter on its 14 foot pilings so he took his pets and loaded the truck and water rushed waist deep over  the road a mile or so from his house, so he jumped out and took the pets with him to a nearby sturdy-looking rental house and broke in to stay there. That house shook violently, water pouring in through boarded up windows and began to float. He knew it might break apart so after shoving furniture against the first holes in the walls; figured his best shot at surviving would be outside the house,  and climbed out the window and on to the roof peak — but then the house began to sink in the roaring water.   Next he swam to more open water, the idea being he would be safer from the debri banging into everything around him.  Eventually finding a piece of plywood to use as a boogie board, making some progress toward what he thought was a line of houses in the distance on the shoreline. They turned out to be the roofs of houses beached against the salt marshes and mostly submerged in the still raging water of storm surge; torn from pilings 15 miles away and across a small bay inlet. As he lay exhausted & thankful to be alive, he began to realize there were land (sand rattlers) & water snakes (water moccasins) and alligators everywhere; so as dawn began to light the sky, he began to look around to see what he could find to survive. Hard to believe; but he found  a bottle of gatorade, a childs life vest and a half-submerged kayak. After drinking the liquid, he used the bottle to bail out the kayak, wrapped the life vest around him as best he could and started to kayak out to more open water. Helicopters flying looking for survivors that first morning never saw him, so when he reached a small oil rig platform, he climbed up on it – and he saw searchers on the ground along the peninsula — he screamed until he got their attention. Those forestry rangers searching for survivors called in a helicopter to pick him off the rig and he was brought to a mainland hospital, where he stayed for 10 days.

His comment to a reporter asking if he would stay & rebuild; was that after feeling more terror than he ever thought he was capable of – he would only come down there in a moveable recreational vehicle that he would drive out at the least sign of a storm warning in the future, if at all.

Some hardy folks have said they would stay and re-build, some will never go back -will never live near the water again; others will wait for a year to see if the state will let them keep their property. Texas has a law called the “Open Beaches Act” which lets the natural sand dunes define the border of private/state property. since the sand dunes can re-build theirself within a year – those folks must wait for Mother Nature to decide if they own the property or the state of Texas does.

Personally; I can tell you that this particular hurricane has taken a tremendous toll on the mental health of myself, my family, and millions more of hardy, coastal residents used to hard lives. This has taken our collective experienced track records of how to rate the possible dangers of forecasted storms and wrecked that general guideline for measurement. That previous measurement was based on many factors from personal experience data to National Hurricane Center projections of possible danger levels, and of course our local governments reaction to previous storms. No one really wanted to deal with the massive problems from mass evacuations of 4-5 million people again. So many folks (my family included) weighed the possibilities vs the possible dangers. Most looked at the wind speeds & millibars measurements; wondering what it meant when those 2 National Hurricane Center and weather forecasters numbers contraindicted each other as they tracked the progress of this hurricane, hour by hour. All the officials assured us that this was continuing to be a low-level and low strength storm. I actually saw many days after the storm where national hurricane expert from Channel Eleven News Neal Frank stated just before landfall that Ike was a Cat 2 in Winds; but a Cat 4 or Cat 5 in storm surge!  I have to agree with him after seeing the wide-spread devastation left behind on our beautiful historic coastal towns.

I can tell you that many family members (including me!) and  our friends & neighbors felt very uneasy, their intuition telling them that something was very different with this storm.  We listened to the experts and went against our gut feelings – “hunkered down” in our homes. I hate that totally over-used phrase now. It will always remind me of the night of terror from a storm that all the experts assured us would not hurt us, just inconvenience us for a few days. THEY WERE WRONG! AND ABOUT 400 OF MY COASTAL NEIGHBORS & FRIENDS DIED BECAUSE OF THEIR ELECTED OFFICIALS BAD DECISIONS OR JUDGEMENTS! BASED ON THEIR INFORMATION — WE KEPT OUR BABIES HERE! THINKING THEY WOULD BE SAFE!

Sorry if I sound bitter – I have had enough tragedy in my life to know you cant always be prepared for what life throws at you – but this has shaken my trust in my own ability to make decisions based on sound logic and accurate information. I am not sure if I will ever rely on rational thinking again; instead trusting to my intuition or ‘gut feeling’ from now on…perhaps i will look to building a new life far from the coast in the next chapter of my life.

I know that I am beginning to recover emotionally from the fear for the safety of my children, gandchildren, mother and various other friends and relatives.  The depression of dealing with the flooded belongings is starting to lift, we are laughing again at ridiculus little things and we have grown closer – checking on each other a little more often. Hey! I even learned a new skill (?) during the night of the hurricane – I can now text on my cell phone – albeit v-e-r-y slowly!

I do hope life treats each of you well — as my family trys to cope with the recovery of ‘normal’ –Talula

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