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Hurricane Ike was a bit of a nightmare, though compared to Katrina and New Orleans’ ordeal a mere tempest in a teapot.  I was raised on Grande Isle, Louisiana (Louisiana’s lower case Galveston island) and spent the next 30 years or so dodging hurricanes; they are nothing new.  As I said in my last post, the hurricane was predicted to hit West of Port Arthur.  The question was always how far  West.  Needless to say, it wasn’t far enough.

Port Arthur is surrounded by a 14 foot high levee that is mostly dirt but of which in some areas looks exactly like the ones that failed in New Orleans during Katrina.  The guy I have dated for the past year came over on Thursday night as Baytown, where he lives, was put under a mandatory evacuation mid morning.  Of course Port Arthur was under the same order.  However, though I did not want to leave…the storm surge was estimated to be 15-20 feet and that  scared me…addition and subtraction has never been my weak point.  On Friday morning, about 9:30 AM, we went down to the seawall to check out the tide, barely a breeze…later that afternoon, around 3:30 PM, we went back…still not much rise but the wind was fierce…and every television station imaginable was checking out the place, including the CNN bunch.  With two laptops and a desktop working every weather and storm site on the net, my friend found a NOAA page that gave the current tides, both predicted and observed, updated every 30 minutes for both Port Arthur and Sabine Pass.  So, as engineers tend to do, we developed a plan.  I packed up all of the irreplaceable things into my car, along with a bit of wine and beer, all of the food from the freezer, clothes for a week or so, etc…and then loaded his truck with pillows and everything else required for a hasty retreat from my home.  The plan was to watch the tides and weather sites until the electricity went out and then split to a motel parking lot that gave us an unobstructed jump up onto a major overpass if our levee breached…the parking lot was our staging area, so to speak…we were less than 50 yards from it.  At almost exactly 8:00 that evening, the power went out…we loaded up the computers and by 8:15 we were out of the house and in the motel parking lot.  The motel lot, as well as the town, was deserted…by 10:00 the truck was rocking…the local AM radio station said the winds were gusting to almost hurricane strength.  In the meantime, on the balcony of an adjacent Motel 8 , we noticed a group of people.  After about 30 minutes, a girl came down, said she was an employee of the motel and her manager was up on the balcony…she said her manager saw no reason for my friend and I to sit in the truck waiting for the flood and to come on up…they had a clean room for us…no charge.  Things have a way of working out.  Except for them, the entire area was deserted.  So, with our vantage point of Port Arthur actually improved from the second floor balcony, we took them up on it.  It was way nice of the people.  We sat on the leeward side of the motel from the wind and watched one transformer after the another explode in a green glow as section after section of the city went black.  Around 11:30 PM, the entire area went dark as the transmission lines shorted…by 12 midnight, two 10 mg Valiums and a bottle of wine later, I told my friend to continue listening to the radio and wake me up if the levee breached…and went to sleep.  At around 5:00 AM, I woke up to the wind howling from the other direction, my friend said the reports were the levee held, the storm surge crested at 12.5 feet and was going down.  Water had splashed over the seawalls with almost a foot of water in some of the very low places but the pumping stations had generally  kept up until the surge retreated…we had made it.  By dawn, and still in tropical force winds, I was in front of my house…no damage at all, other than a ton of limbs, etc all over the yard.  However, Port Arthur and the surrounding area was demolished.

The plan all along was to ride out the storm in Port Arthur and then, as soon as the storm passed (around 10:00 or so Saturday morning) and it was assured that my place had not flooded to go to Baytown.  My friend owns several houses in the area and had a small one bedroom, stand alone apartment right behind his main home…on very high ground…with a generator.  So, by noon or so on Saturday we were in Baytown and camping out in the little apartment.  The drive to Baytown down I-10 was a sight to see.  Debris was strewn everywhere with dead horses, cattle, and wild hogs littering the side of the Interstate…in some places, TXDOT simply bulldozed the damage and dead animals to the side of the road for later removal.   The route we normally take out of Port Arthur was blocked by two barges that had broken from their mooring in Sabine Pass, 12 miles to the South, and lay broadside across the highway.

See the aeriel photos of the area just South of where I live…in the Sabine Pass/High Island vicinity HERE…two days after  the water had receded…scary.  When I mention we go to the beach…HERE is where we used to go, Holly Beach (click on the photos for a closer look)…again, taken several days after  the storm surge had “receded”…again, quite scary.  

Baytown is just across the Houston ship channel from Kemah, which is just up Hwy 146 from Galveston, both are adjacent to Galveston Bay…and the Kemah-Clear Lake area has a gillion sail and pleasure boats in numerous marinas.  The entire area was destroyed, for all practical purposes.  I’m sure you saw some of the news on Galveston and that area…the whole place went under…2.1 million  people without power in the Houston metroplex…curfews, etc.  On day two we waited almost four hours to tank up our vehicles and generator gas cans…by day four, the gas situation eased…we always had plenty of food.  The generator powered the AC, fridge, lights, etc…but it ate six gallons of gas every 10 hours.  We could wash clothes but had to hang them to dry.

Though I came back to Port Arthur twice in the past two weeks to check on things, I have great neighbors and we all kept in touch via cell phones, all the while looking after each other’s places.  Finally the electricity came on last Wednesday, September 24, and that morning I drove back…was good to be back home.  I spent all day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday cleaning up the limbs and trash from my yard…and counting my blessings. 

Not all in the area were so lucky.  The Port Arthur levee ends at the Neches River, surrounding the city and a couple of smaller suburbs.  But just outside the levee is the Rainbow Bridge which crosses the river (which empties within eye sight into Sabine Lake/Gulf of Mexico…in other words, sea level.  When you cross the bridge you are immediately in a small town called Bridge City…it went under about 5 feet of water…they have no levee.  And, about 10 miles further east is Orange…it has levee’s…but they breached…parts of Orange were under 6-9 feet of water…not good. 

As for my friend?  Baytown’s electricity is still not on…he is still in the dark and using his generator after over two weeks.  Friday was my birthday and he came over.  My present?  A new Dell Inspiron 1721  laptop.  My old laptop, a six year old Inspiron 8200 , was literally being held together by duct tape.  A custom built Maserati in its day, it still worked, but to say it was just about on its last reboot would be understatement.  I was thrilled. 

Life’s an adventure…no doubt about it. 



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