By Bruce A. Smith
I’ve had some burning questions about Hurricane Harvey, particularly the flooding in Houston that no one in the media is addressing. Yes, the storm and the rescue of thousands is important and is being told well. But many questions relevant to both issues are mostly overlooked, especially surviving-in-place.
The basic question is how did all of this happen? Yes, we now know about the over-development of Greater Houston, and we have a keener sense of politics, big money, and big rains coming into conflict in Texas. But other significant questions linger, especially the lack of personal preparedness by individual residents. So this is both a rant and a questioning statement that I will enjoy hearing your response. Here are the questions:
First, I see two major disasters this week in Texas. One was the hurricane and its traditionally destructive forces, such as high winds and storm surge. The second is the massive flooding from the prolonged rains experienced in Houston, Port Arthur, and Lake Charles.
I agree that evacuating out of the hurricane’s landfall in Rockport and Corpus Christi was wise, but what were the instructions to folks who had to leave their homes in the face of 130 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge? What were officials doing to prepare them for life in an evacuation center, such as bringing spare clothes, diapers, food, water bottles, etc.? Why are thousands of folks telling TV crews that all they have are the clothes on their backs? Didn’t they have the presence of mind to make any preparations for leaving their homes? If not, why not?
As for Houston and its flooding, I agree with the mayor’s decision not to evacuate. I always think staying-put is best unless one has to absolutely leave due to life-threatening conditions. But, I haven’t heard anything about how the mayor of Houston, or FEMA or anybody in authority helped folks to prepare to survive-in-place: how much food and water to stockpile, how to pack up a “Grab and Go” bag in case one has to evacuate, nor identifying individuals that would absolutely need to evacuate – such as dialysis patents, folks of ventilators, etc. Yeah, writing your social security number on your forehead is wise when in trouble, but what was the information given to the public to avoid that fate? I never heard any specific instructions or advice on how to successfully hunker-down in place, nor any media asking those questions of officials. Did you?
In addition, were there any neighborhood-level preparations in Houston? Did the city or FEMA help neighborhoods realize how much water would likely appear? Did they help identify places locally that would have safer, higher ground, and then help equip those places to receive evacuees – such as folks in a single-wide coming down the block to a two-story apartment building, etc.
What did officialdom, ie: Houston’s mayor, FEMA, Texas Governor Abbott, the Prez, think 50 inches of rain would look like? Did officials envision that 30% of Houston would be underwater? If not, why not? If Tropical Storm Allison dumped 47 inches in a more localized manner in 2011 and still brought sections of Houston to its knees, what were the official perspectives of how a much broader deluge would impact them? What did officialdom think would manifest in Houston after Harvey dumped four-feet of rain across hundreds of miles of lowlands, rivers, and bayous? I only heard officials speak in generalities. Why didn’t they offer specifics?
How does a Houston cop die in his own squad car? Did he drown? Did he have a heart attack or some other medical emergency? If he was completely stuck in the flood water, why didn’t he escape? Sure the water shorted-out his electric windows and doors, but if that was the case why didn’t he shoot out his windows? If he did, did the concussive waves injure him and trigger medical issues that rendered him immobile? Was his radio working? Did he call for help? Was his cell phone working? Was an autopsy performed? What were its findings?
Why did what happened today, Thursday, August 31, and yesterday in Beaumont, Lake Charles, and Port Arthur, happen? After spending four days watching Houston drown, it appears these cities and their residents and officials learned little. Not only did thousands of residents still needed emergency evacuations, their refugee centers flooded. How come? How did that lack of preparedness manifest? Lousy leadership? Widespread emotional breakdown? Trauma? Exhaustion from days of preparation and rendering support to Houston?
The mayor of Beaumont said he was told by the National Weather Service that 8-10 inches would fall Tuesday night, and yet 12-20 inches fell so his city was unprepared? Really? That’s his excuse – a bad weather report? Is there really any meaningful difference between 8 inches of rain and 20? What does that mean – two feet of water in your house versus six feet? Your house is still flooded – and your town – no?
Is rational thinking about saving one’s butt just too disturbing for most people? Are they internally paralyzed by fear and incapable of making significant preparations? If so, then why aren’t religious and cultural leaders, governmental and health officials addressing this mass-level, epidemic-level contagion of fear? Why aren’t churches running workshops on how to survive in a house for a week when the water is up to your knees? Why isn’t FEMA? Does Houston have any self-reliant groups? Graham and Eatonville do, so hopefully Houston will have them soon, as well.
Are politicians too leery of warning their citizens of potential disasters since they have been accused of “crying wolf” too many times? Is it smarter politically, and physically, to let a city or state get really walloped so as to build the political capital necessary to change building codes, establish a more robust emergency system, and transform people’s behavior into a more self-reliant posture?
All the best, Houston. I have a cousin down there somewhere, but no one has heard anything. So, I trust his best angels are keeping a close watch on him. Gawd knows he’ll need it, and so will a lot of other folks.
By the way, Houston, I understand from HULU that they are experiencing epic delays in up-loading their streaming TV service due to all the folks in Texas and Louisiana who only have TV to help them cope. As a result, I don’t attempt to turn on HULU and watch any of my favorite shows until 11 pm Pacific Time. I figure it’s the least I can do to help you guys.