The relatively tame tail end of Ike
Updates dropped off the night during the worst part of the storm as we dealt with the worst Ike had to dish out. I’ve spent the remaining time dealing with recovery efforts for myself, friends, and family. I’ll try to recap the highlights.
As the eye neared we moved to the fourth floor. There was a hallway with a sheltered balcony that faced I-10 and we moved there, with a few others, to watch the central portion of Ike pass.
Initially the winds were probably 50-60 mph sustained. It was enough to blow some leaves around but damage was minimal. However, we soon moved into the more intense part of the storm near the eye wall. Sustained winds moved up into the 80 mph range and we were surprised to see extreme gusts that easily exceeded 100 mph. Transformers were cooking off throughout the city and filled the sky with intense blue-green flashes of light. It looked like shock and awe over Baghdad for a while.
Tree limbs, and sometimes entire trees, were snapping with explosive pops during this period. It wasn’t too frightening until a huge gust moved the large exterior wall I was leaning against about a foot. That got my attention and ushered in a period of increasingly intense wind gusts. We could hear aluminum siding and other building materials being ripped free from the structures around us. Some small trees were completely uprooted.
By this point we’d had hours and hours of wind and intense rain. The complex we were in sits about 40 feet above White Oak Bayou so we decided to move to the other side of the complex and check the water level. Our view was severely restricted by the wind and sheets of rain even though the bayou was only 30 yards away but it didn’t look good. In fact, it looked like the bayou was about to top its banks. This left us pretty worried since hours of rain and wind remained. We decided that we’d rather risk a short walk to the bayou and determine the severity of the flooding than risk being taken by surprise.
We donned wind breakers (better than nothing) and flashlights and started to head out. We made it perhaps 30 feet when a huge explosion to our right forced me to grab my friend by the arm and pull him behind a nearby wall. We were shocked by the noise, bright explosion, and sparks. We ducked and took cover behind the wall – stunned. A transformer across the street had finally given in.
We made our way down the feeder to the bridge over the bayou and were shocked by the volume of water flowing by. The bayou was over 100 feet across, perhaps 40 feet deep, and flowing at an incredible speed. With hours of Ike still ahead of us we thought flooding of our apartment complex was inevitable.
It was then that the weirdest event of the long night occurred. We noticed a lone figure walking headfirst into 90 mph winds directly up the centerline of the feeder road. He was leaning into the wind and trying to cover his face with his shirt to ward off the painful sting of wind-driven rain. Amazingly, he was also barefoot.
I assumed that the guy walking towards us was a homeless man who had been chased from his underpass by the rising waters – who else would walk down an interstate feeder road shoeless in a hurricane? As he approached I screamed “Are you ok?” He walked up to me and told me that his car was flooded. He’d been trapped and was running back home. “Did you leave your shoes in the car?” I screamed. We were a foot from each other but had to scream over 90 mph winds. “Nah, I was just running out for smokes.” I was stunned. “You went driving in a hurricane without your fucking shoes?” I asked. He laughed. He seemed to realize the stupidity of this but was still stupid enough to find it amusing. He closed with “Dude, I have to go to 16th street!” We wished him luck and he leaned back into the wind and trudged forward.
We watched the bayou for a minute to see how fast it was rising and decided to head back. Walking into the wind and rain was incredibly painful. It felt like we were being stung by a swarm of bees. Looking forward was impossible. We walked, leaning into the wind, with our heads down and our arms and hands held in front of us to block the pain. To make maters worse we were constantly pummeled by branches from the small trees nearby. Had those trees been larger the trip would have been impossibly dangerous but they were only about ten feet high. It still seemed to take forever. At one point I took some bad hits from the wind and went to the ground next to a concrete wall to take cover. I briefly considered rolling into the fetal position and riding out the storm there but jumped up and nearly ran the rest of the way back.
The bayou was moving so quickly that structural damage would have almost surely resulted and it’s unlikely that even the upper floors would have been safe. We spent the rest of the night and early morning watching it nervously. The bayou finally reached its peak a few feet above flood stage but stopped just short of our property. The relief was immense. For a few hours we faced the possibility of having to quickly abandon our shelter – in the middle of hurricane Ike.