Life after Hurricane Ike
“The sun is going to shine in our lives once more”
It was approaching high noon, Sept. 12, 2008. Our little community was eerily quite, most residents had evacuated fearing an oncoming hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that was pushing a lot of water.
Son Mark and I had decided we would stay and await Hurricane Ike. We would hold up at two different locations. He and Sharon would weather the storm at their home, us across town from our place, in a two-story, brick house.
Before leaving our office, we discussed taking our computers and equipment. I argued against it, citing the difficulty of resetting and rewiring the network. “ In a couple of days the storm would be gone and we would already be set up to put out our next Penny Record and County Record newspapers.” I argued that otherwise we may lose a week, besides I added, the computers are on 32-inch high desks, if the water gets that high all of Bridge City would be under water and no reason to publish a paper so lets just leave them.
Mark pondered that then backed up his van, disassembled all the wiring and loaded up a van full of equipment. I accused him of being stubborn; water would never in a hundred years get that high. Well, it did. In fact much higher. Mark’s decision had saved our computers and the information they contained. We would get to print again. We actually published an Ike addition at a new location in Orange within a few days.
We shook hands goodbye and I told him, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Little did I know what the other side of Ike would be like. A few people besides law-enforcement were in sight. The businesses were all boarded up. The last of the convenience stores were shutting down. The wait began as I monitored the news.
The wind started to roar and all communications with the outside world was fast disappearing except for a transistor radio. I walked around the dark house flashlight in hand. Some time in the wee hours of Sept. 13, thinking the swimming pool was starting to overflow, I hurriedly began putting towels around the French doors.
Oops, too late. The water came rushing in from every direction through the walls and doors. The floating wood floor made waves like a rough day on the lake. I was knocked flat on my back a couple of times while scrambling to save items by putting them on higher levels. Efforts were to no avail.
Two generators and 60 gallons of expensive gasoline, collected before the storm, were left on the porch, on what was believed higher ground. Within minutes the entire bottom floor was saturated with gallons of gasoline. “Don’t anyone light a match,” I screamed. The smell was choking.
Amazingly, the water from the house that sits up high on a knoll receded rather quickly. The floor even snapped back into place but at daylight the outdoors showed a completely different picture.
Waist high water covered the streets and as far as the eye could see it was an ocean. Two dogs swam for hours in a fenced in yard next door until we could bring them to higher ground. The sound of barking neighborhood dogs filled the air. A lady, with only head and shoulders showing approached. She had crawled into her attic when the water was five-feet high in her home. The snakes drove her out of the attic and she sat on the roof until she could make it to our place. Thirsty and hungry she stayed for the next week.
When the water had gotten over three-feet the horns and alarms went off and lights began to blink on the automobiles in the drive until finally all cars died. No mode of transportation was an eventual problem we faced. We were well prepared to last the storm out with plenty of food, generators and good housing. The major problem now was no gasoline to run generators. We were marooned in deep do-do, without a paddle. We scrounged the neighborhood for any drop of gas that might be left behind high and dry. We fared fairly well but had no contact with the outside world.
We wondered how Mark and Sharon had fared and feared the worse when I spotted someone coming through the backyards of neighbor residents in waist high water. It was Mark. They were fine. After finding that we were all right, he trekked the 45 minutes back home even though he was only a few blocks away. Our son Allen was named chef and for several weeks he fed everyone, cooking on a barbecue pit and small butane burner. He missed his calling, what great food he provided.
Our home, on the first street into town from Lake Sabine, was bound to be another story. Phyl and I had three large oaks fall on our house during Hurricane Rita leaving $90,000 in damages. We had recently restored it to the point that the house we lived in over the last 37 years, would carry us into our nursing home days. We couldn’t take another blow we thought.
Thus began the long road to recovery and normal living that brings us to the doorstep of a year that has been anything but normal.
Twice now in the last four years we have existed in limbo. Thanks to family and friends, especially to our daughter Karen, who kept the pressure on and was hell bent to see us home where we were always the happiest, we are finally home. The house has turned out nice, the yard back in shape, even though the black, salty mud remains under the grass.
Thanks to plant donations the Outhouse Courtyard has turned out beautiful and is the best place in the world for us to relax and enjoy our latter days. Phyl feeds the many birds, the cardinals, hummers etc. and also the squirrels. I tend to all the pet raccoons. The butterflies like all the colorful flowers as well as we do. I’m an expert pepper grower and raise many varieties. The sun is going to shine in our lives once more.
Many of our friends, over a lot of years, have chosen to break camp and move on. I can’t blame them. Had we had flood insurance or been treated right by our insurance company who chose to ignore structural damage, we might have flown the coupe also rather than fight the long, hard recovery effort. It looked like we were snake bit. Ike found every place we owned and in the mean time I turned 75, not a good thing. You don’t start over you just do the best to move on. In our case that’s not bad because we have each other.
We started out with little and I was raised in a feed shed with only one bed for furniture.
The sight that will always spring up in my memory is that of all the belongings of folks stacked high on both sides of every street and of the water the day Bridge City became an ocean. Many lives were changed and many deaths of the elderly later can be attributed to that dreadful day. Many people lost everything and will never recover; others made off like gang busters and filled their coffers.
Lesser communities would not have fared as well. We are made up of a people whose lives exemplify the pioneer spirit. We dug in and dug out. We aren’t there yet but on this first anniversary we’ve come a long way. Thanks to good, local government and a school district determined to move on, we have created a new life after Ike.
Our population has dropped, yet our school enrollment has gone up, which means young couples with kids are moving in. Our school district never quit excelling and our town will grow and get better and others will want to come to the great little city that refused to die. Thus it goes Down Life’s Highway.