September 12, 2009

A Reflection On The First Anniversary Of Hurricane Ike

This is an experiment on my part. I've had guest bloggers before, but they have been like-minded individuals filling in for me. This time I've invited a special guest from the other side of the political aisle -- my wife, Paula AKA the Darling Democrat and the Loyal Opposition.

For those wanting to know the genesis of the post, it comes from a recent conversation we had in which she gave voice to sentiments I found particularly striking and important -- sentiments that I felt ought to be shared with more than me and a few friends. I invited her to write for the blog, and after some hesitation the invitation was accepted. This is her work, and her words, not mine.

* * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, I watched and listened to the coverage of the fourth anniversary of the natural disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. I've waited for our turn, for the retrospectives on the events of September 12 & 13, 2008 -- the natural disaster that we call Hurricane Ike.

I'm still waiting.

I'd like to think that maybe we, the victims of Hurricane Ike, got lost in the tributes and memorials to September 11, 2001. And lest any reader think I am an unfeeling hard-ass, please understand that I sat crying on Thursday night as the surviving family members of the passengers of Flight 93 were honored at the Steelers/Titans game. And yes, on Friday I watched the memorials on cable and cried some more, too.

And while I may be one of those "support the troops, not the wars" liberals that my husband so often complains about, I feel those things in the most sincere way possible -- I lost a loved one in Desert Shield/Storm -- and as I prepare to say good-bye as a friend I love dearly leaves for Iraq or Afghanistan with his reserve unit in January, I cry every time I speak with him, his wife and their two little girls.

So, by now I will guess that you faithful readers of this blog know that the usual blogger around here isn't writing this -- it's me, Paula, the Darling Democrat, Loyal Opposition or whatever else he calls me. I quit reading a long time ago in order to save my sanity and marriage. :)

But as I was starting to say, we victims or survivors of Ike are waiting for the time late Saturday night or early Sunday morning to mark the first anniversary of when Ike hit our homes and changed our lives forever -- those of us who sat up for long hours through the night watching the coverage from far away from home, hoping for some word about our neighborhoods and towns. I write as someone that loves/loved my stuff -- just ask any one that helped with the clean out of our home . In fact, as we watched the coverage from our evacuation hotel in Austin, I told "The Warden" (my dear pet name for Greg, AKA Rhymes With Right) as much as I love Anderson Cooper, if he had put a microphone in my face and expected me to say that "it was only stuff," he would sure have gotten a rude awakening. I lost mementos from all the periods of my life, and saved so little. We packed up our little car with the wheelchair, the Apolitical Pooch (who really is a liberal, no matter what my husband says), our wedding album, my wedding tiara (which I intend on wearing every day when I get to the nursing home - if not before), a few other precious things, his clothes (he'll have to write about that) and the three of us. As we pulled out of the driveway on the morning of September 11, 2008 after the mandatory evacuation was declared, I looked at my home and knew that it and I would never be the same again.

I'll fast forward to today, otherwise I'll be typing all night and none of us wants that to happen. :) I feel that our communities were failed by every level of government. FEMA gave help to 17% of those that asked for it -- 17% of the residents of communities that were devastated by the third most destructive hurricane in American history, people who were left living in hotels, church youth rooms, and finally (if they were lucky) other small living spaces. Those that could afford it were paying for two households for much of the last year and those who couldn't ended up bunking with friends and relatives, pitching up tents and or living in campers. We here in the Houston/Galveston area didn't get the $2000 debit cards given to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, either. State and local governments didn't do much better.

In our own neighborhood, we returned in April to a house that was repaired by a contractor that didn't seem to be interested in anything more than money, or know anything more than how to cash his checks. Problems persist in our home, and our insurance company is sending someone out to see why our tile floor is cracking. And we are one of the lucky ones that was well-cared for by our insurance company -- I haven't forgotten those who are still fighting to get their insurance companies to give them full payment for the damages they suffered. Every day I say a blessing that I am back in the space that used to be home (and hopefully will be again someday); and I pray hard for those that who are still waiting, that they get back home as well.

I look to the north and see one of our next door neighbors still living in a FEMA trailer -- one of the few in the neighborhood (it arrived in December but she wasn't given the keys until January) -- as she waits for repairs to her home to finish a year after the storm that threw our lives into turmoil. On the other side of our house the family just walked away after getting some help from FEMA (guess they comprised the 17% in our town) -- they left their home to rot and mildew and mold before it finally was sold at auction in May. That home is one of a number that still stands vacant in our town, drywall torn out and studs standing naked. Our community is still filled with too many of those in campers and in tents, having lived this way through the hot Texas summer, and into a fall where the temperatures are expected to remain in the 90s this next week and beyond.

And having seen four years of coverage about that earlier storm, I compare our situation to that of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. I realize parts of New Orleans , the 9th ward in particular, still stand much as the day it hit. I think that is a sin and I think that they are still are entitled to getting back home to the neighborhoods and homes that they loved as well. Houston opened its arms to thousands of the victims and is still "home" to many of them. I wept as I watched the "cattle call" into the Superdome and remembered how fast we got supplies to the tsunami victims in Thailand even as we saw massive shortcomings in the response to Katrina. However, when President Obama gave them another 6 months of rental assistance and hotels rooms this summer, my head nearly began spinning around like Linda Blair's in the Exorcist.

I think that part of the problem was that our coverage focused on those beautiful beach homes on Galveston Island and the nation thought that if people can build those they can go right ahead and take care of themselves. But many of those were weekend and vacation homes --I challenge you to read the stats on the full-time residents of Galveston, many of whom are quite poor. In the end, those folks got one, yes ONE, Red Cross shelter that closed down a few weeks later with the suggestion that they look to family and friends for shelter or find some other living arrangements. But there were no other arrangements that most could make, for God sake, and large parts of Galveston are still struggling a year later.

I wondered where our Goob of a President was after our Hurricane Ike. No doubt the proud resident of Texas was consulting with his designer about the color scheme of his million dollar mansion in the toniest part of Dallas and working on his presidential library even though he doesn't read. Where were Senators Cornyn and Hutchinson? She was working on plans for seeking the seat of governor of the then blighted Texas. What he was doing, well, obviously, not much. Congressman Lampson was getting ready to leave DC because the polls showed he was about to be voted out of office. Galveston Island did get a "special visit" from Bush 41 and Clinton. Yee-Haw good buddies! But no telethons, no national fundraising campaigns, and precious little help compared to how another devastated city was treated three years before.

Let's fast forward to 2009. Our new Congressman, Pete Olsen, must be too busy meeting up with his buddies in DC, and President Obama still seems to just think that the only hurricane that devastated lives was that girl called Katrina. Hey Barack, there was a guy called Ike that still has victims and survivors that your "Yes We Can" administration ought to help, but so far we've seen little more than "No We Can't". This woman who voted for you and believed in your message is still waiting to see you recognize the Gulf Coast region in a place called Texas in a way comparable to the recognition accorded the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana.

* * * * *

And thus ends the first installment of spousal guest blogging. I've opened comments on this one, and hope that folks will exhibit class and tact if they choose to comment. You can email as well, and I'll pass the messages on to her. There are currently no plans for posts from the Apolitical Pooch.

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NAME: Greg
AGE: 50-ish
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OCCUPATION: Social Studies Teacher
LOCATION: Seabrook, TX
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