There is no good day to wake up and see your home city perched in the path of a massive hurricane. It’s a surreal moment. Disasters always happen somewhere else is how folks usually look at these events, until one comes knocking on your door. Harvey is a storm that made news for several days leading up to Friday evening’s landfall, but was buried beneath Trump’s bungled handling of the Charlottesville tragedy and his unhinged rhetoric at a Tuesday rally in Phoenix.
For many along the Texas shoreline and down the Gulf Coast, it wasn’t until Friday morning that the immediacy of Hurricane Harvey became a reality. Residents in the impacted areas awoke Friday morning to find meteorologists on every television channel showing Harvey increasing to a Category 2 hurricane and on a deliberate path to crashing into the area just east of Corpus Christi, Texas.
I experienced that same morning some 12 years ago when I woke up in New Orleans to see Hurricane Katrina had grown into a Cat-5 hurricane and was heading straight for me. It’s an odd moment to flip on CNN and see your town is the lead story, with a big red bull’s-eye on it, and all the talking heads issuing dire warnings to leave.
Those of us in New Orleans were under a mandatory evacuation order, which many in Texas found themselves under yesterday as well. But that’s not as easy to comply with as one might think. The weather tends to not appear threatening earlier in a day before a hurricane hits, which plays into everyone’s decision making. Offices may be open for business. Liberal leave policies are generally in effect, but for hourly employees they don’t get paid if they’re not at work.
It’s an expensive and disruptive endeavor to evacuate. There’s loss of income from being away from work or offices being closed, the travel, gas, hotels and food, especially when entire families are bugging out. What about the pets, are they going in the car too? Then there is the question of where to go. One of the trade-offs for living along the Gulf Coast is knowing storms do happen, and folks will have to evacuate from time-to-time. During active hurricane seasons it’s not uncommon to have evacuation orders issued on multiple occasions. Sometimes those calls are pre-emptive and nothing serious happens, but heeding those calls to reach a safe distance from a possible storm gets price prohibitive.
Families that live in these areas for generations often have standing hurricane reservations at the same hotels for decades. For those that do not, it can be a problem finding a temporary home, and often they must travel some hours to reach areas with vacancies.
Hurricane Harvey looks to be a unique storm from the beginning as it’s predicted to be a multi-day weather event. Usually a hurricane makes a fuss as it reaches landfall, then dissipates as the storm loses access to water on its path inland. Harvey is hovering over SE Texas, where it continues drawing moisture from the Gulf and is dumping historic levels of rainfall.
The intensification of Harvey came quickly Friday as it grew from a Cat-2 to a Cat-4. Hurricane experts describe the difference between a Cat-3, where the roof of a house may blow off, to a Cat-4 that simply takes the house.
Some 8 million people were under hurricane warnings from Harvey’s 145 mph sustained winds, 12-foot storm surge, and up to 40 inches of rain. As it got dark Friday residents could hear the wind, but not see the debris being whipped around or the encroaching water.
A mandatory evacuation was issued for Victoria, but an estimated 60 to 65 percent elected to stay. In the wake of evacuation orders, fire and rescue in Fulton stopped responding to calls to protect the safety of its first responders, as that area was expected to be submerged by morning.
Hurricane Harvey is the first real test for the Trump administration and its disaster relief apparatus. As Harvey approached landfall, and bands of wind and rain lashed Texas coastal communities, Trump chose to utilize the inclement weather as a distraction to release a trio of polarizing decisions that could not get the full critiquing they deserved from the news services due to weather coverage.
Friday again was a hatchet day for Trump, as the fringe alt-right military and intelligence analyst Sebastian Gorka was fired. Gorka served as a deputy assistant to Trump, but many observers questioned what Gorka did other than run his mouth in a conspiratorial fashion. The intention was for Gorka to work on matters of national security, but he was never able to receive the necessary security clearance.
Trump also signed a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. Now we wait to see if the service branches actually adopt the changed policy.
Most controversial of the three items from Friday was Trump’s pardoning of former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe is known for his tough stance on illegal immigrants and his curious methods of detaining persons under his incarceration, such as placing them in tent cities, forcing prisoners to wear pink underwear, and compelling men and women to work on chain gangs.
The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, and subsequently filed suit against him for unlawful discriminatory police conduct. A federal court found that Arpaio’s office continued to detain persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime had been or was being committed. Arpaio was convicted for contempt of court for this. Sheriff Joe is also known for pushing the flawed idea that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery to support the birther movement Trump advocated.
It’s nice to see Trump exercised the questionable judgement to waste some of his administration’s time and attention away from disaster preparations to handle these three impertinent issues. I suppose from a purely strategic standpoint Trump was smart enough to bury these controversial moves under the wall-to-wall storm coverage. Still, in the wake of Charlottesville, the Arpaio pardon reeks of appeasement to the white power crowd.
As of this evening Hurricane Harvey has claimed one death in Rockport, Texas, with another 12-14 injured. An estimated 300,000 are without power in the impacted areas.
Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm, in terms of decreased wind speed, but its true destruction may just be beginning. With it stationary over SE Texas, flood warnings are issued for cities including Corpus Christi, Rockport, Victoria, Port Lavaca, Bay City, Houston, Galveston, and on into Lake Charles, LA.
Harvey may only be a tropical storm at this point, but these folks along the Gulf Coast have a long way to go before they can get back to a normal life. Mandatory curfews are in place in several cities, and hundreds of reports are coming in of people price gouging those in need, such as trying to charge $99 for a case of water.
Meteorologists are advising this weather event could last well into next week, if not into the following weekend. Let us all hope the damage is less than anticipated, and people remain safe and sane.