Houston Hurricanes et al

I lived in Houston during hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike. I’ve volunteered to help with refugees of Katrina. No words. Drove north during Rita and went horseback riding. I only stayed in town during Ike. Hurricane Harvey is a whole new level of bad.

I grew up in Mustang, Oklahoma, where the green bruised sky, vacant breeze, and void of any living creature informs a tornado is imminent. Yet I’ve stood on my yard to see a tornado rip Union City to shreds. I’ve stood on that same yard with my sister and jumped up to grab at the swirling rosettes of cloud formations hovering over my roofline. Driving down I-40, you know, you can time your intersection of a dust devil as it whips the car. Great fun.

Being IN a tornado is another story altogether. I swear tornadoes are sentient beings. I’ve had friends tell me that a tornado picked them up five feet off the ground as they ran for the storm shelter. Wha?

Even yet, a tornado has no where the devastation of a hurricane. Hurricanes have wide devastation and unpredictability and seem indiscriminately destructive.

At least, Oklahoma has Gary England, weatherman guru, to inform citizens where the tornado is and where’s it’s going. Oklahomans will not let Gary die. Once you know where the tornado is going, you know where it’s not going. Prediction. That’s why Oklahomans will stand on their porch and watch them. No problem…unless you’re in one. And when you don’t know where it is as the case was in 2013 when my friends on Facebook informed that tornadoes where popping up everywhere in Oklahoma City and Moore and…and everywhere! That unnerved even the most tenured Okie and even me when I couldn’t get a hold of my family. They apparently drove (yup they drove) to a restaurant in Norman with the dog to have dinner away from the “one” tornado and ended up taking refuge in the women’s bathroom at Chili’s with everyone else and their dogs. When did this i.e. driving and dinners, become the thing to do? Oh well.

With a hurricane, you got wind, rain, dirty side and clean side and the vastness of wonton whim of that monster. You gotta know what to do and what not to do. The Great Galveston hurricane of 1900 was legendary in destruction and furthered by the story of some teachers having tied the kids together with rope so they wouldn’t be lost. The debris trapped them in the flood, and they all drowned.

When Hurricane Ike of 2008, came through Houston at 70 mph winds, my first thought was I think I’ve walked to the school bus stop in 70 mph wind, back in Oklahoma. So I stayed and hunkered down. I saw the trees whip around the likes I had never seen. Power went out. I expected it. What I didn’t expect was three days of no power. I didn’t like it. Oh, and by the way, while we were in Armageddon the whole stock market crashed. That week was surreal.

No showers, eventually your smart phone dies as well as your ebook reader. My car was hostage in the detachable garage. What does everyone do? Meet the neighbors, have a barbeque, take a walk. Actual relation occurs. So when I see news reports of hurricane Harvey and people in Houston walking in floodwaters and their only worry (they say) is snakes, hats off. I get it. What a story to tell, at least for themselves. Harvey has worse in store.

I had a taxi driver in Houston once tell about tropical storm Allison in 2003 that sat on the city and flooded the highways. She claimed that she told the other taxi drivers to not rip people off or they’d get into trouble. She said, “It’s like selling pot on credit. They rat you out every time.” That was weird. But I suppose everyone has a story to tell from their own perspective.

My personal story in all of this was during hurricane Ike. In the aftermath, I went outside and saw leaves plastered into the sides of buildings. I walked further and saw something move in a pile of tree debris.

A little hummingbird hopped from the fallen pine needles and then proceeded to hop right up to me. Honestly, I’ve never been so dumbstruck in all my life. The bird slowly blinked its eyes at me, peering into my very soul. Its feathers had been ripped from its little body, leaving pinpricks of blood dotted over his bare skin. I was afraid to touch it, let alone bring it back home with my two cats inside. I didn’t want to give it a heart attack or worse. So I just helplessly stared at it in acknowledgment. Eventually, I raced inside and mixed up some sugar water, not knowing what else to do. I brought it back to the bird, but he was gone. Did he give up on me? I hope not. I think so. I think I let him down.

Tragedy as experience is no longer just a story. Imagine that a combination of Katrina and Allison has just befallen them in the form of hurricane Harvey. I have friends, great people, who are helping the Red Cross in southeast Texas. Real lives have been altered. Real help is needed. This hurricane is getting personal.

My Houston Facebook friends are all but silent now. That’s not good. They’ve transitioned from jokes about getting out the kayak (Bayou City after all, ya’ll) to showing their houses flooded and now talk of their friends being rescued. Rescued? As in…rescue?

I wish everyone safety and comfort at this time. Help is on the way.

HUMMINGBIRD OF HURRICANE IKE

Hop, hop, hop you come.
With skin pricks of blood and feathers as spiked
as the pine needles from which you bound.
What manner of horror did you meet
that grants you the authority to look me in the eye?

By Melodee Elliott

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