Waiting for Gustav … But Don’t Wait Too Long

It’s a choice I made, living in a home less than a mile from the western shoreline of Upper Galveston Bay. I’m really happy here, and why not? Seabrook, Texas is a great little community, a quaintly-tropical locale just far enough away from the “big city” of Houston to retain its identity as a small town, a place where every time you go to Kroger for groceries or Lyna’s Dry Cleaners you run into someone you know.
The town mascot is the pelican, and for good reason. The birds are everywhere, soaring above the Seabrook Lagoon and not too far away delighting visitors to the Kemah Boardwalk. Galveston Seawall Rock Groin
There are many other birds here as well … green herons, roseate spoonbills, black-crested night herons, blue herons, snowy egrets, ospreys, and of course, along with many other species, a burgeoning population of seagulls.
As a wildlife photographer, I couldn’t have chosen a better place.
The Clear Lake Channel is five minutes away … less than that if you miss the red light on Hwy. 146 at Nasa Road One. My boat is always ready to go, and there are always good places to go. For years I have been catching redfish, speckled trout and flounder from some of the most unlikely-looking locales imaginable. Those fish care about the presence of baitfish, not what is on the shore. If there happens to be a million-dollar home within casting distance of a quality fishing spot, so be it.
Our police department, our fire department, you name it … everyone who works with the city is an integral component of our community, a place where we all rely upon each other when situations make it necessary.
Such situations include the possible appearance of a tropical storm or hurricane.
I knew that when I chose to buy a house here in 1995.
Right now, with Hurricane Gustav loosely targeted for a massive “cone of uncertainty,” we are all on edge. We have been here before. Ever since Hurricane Alicia, we have been immeasurably lucky. Tropical Storm Allison dumped a torrential deluge on the Houston area, with subsequent flooding that wreaked havoc on our residents, our businesses and our lives.
My son was three months old when Alicia passed through 25 years ago. I still remember cradling him in my arms as the howls of the storm’s surging wind shrieked and moaned for hours. I was, at the time, living in Southwest Houston off of the West Loop.
Now, here in Seabrook, it’s a wholly different picture. If we have to evacuate we will, but I pray that the evacuation will be nothing like the traumatic debacle that preceded Hurricane Rita three years ago.
They called it “The Disaster Within the Disaster,” and aptly so. Liz and I were in separate vehicles, on occasion handing out cold bottled water to less-fortunate road warriors whose engines had overheated on Beltway 8 and the Westpark Tollway.
People died that day. One of them was an elderly woman inside a car in front of us who succumbed to heatstroke. We did what we could to help get the traffic stream to move over to accommodate the ambulance driver desperately trying to reach her. One guy in particular, driving a pickup, refused to move over to let the ambulance past. I’ll skip the details, but suffice it to say I resorted to threatening him with terminal injury in order to get him to move over, which he finally did.
Sadly. it was too late.
The lady was in the rear seat of an ancient Chevrolet four-door, one whose rear windows would only roll halfway down. The EMTs did all they could to get IV lines through the window space, trying to hydrate the stricken victim, but they lost her.
The temperature on the Explorer dash gauge showed 123 degrees. Vehicles had been sitting on the asphalt, motors running, long enough to make the black road surface as hot as a griddle.
Why, I wondered, was the guy in the truck so resolute in his determination not to let that ambulance past. Another mile down the highway (which translated to an hour behind the wheel) the reason became obvious. There was a gas station at the next exit, and the driver did not want to lose his place in line.
That day was a nightmare, one I hope we will never witness the likes of again. I understand TXDOT is already taking measures to facilitate the one-way lane conversion that will expedite evacuation, and hopefully, make us far better prepared to cope with the ramifications if the storm ultimately heads this direction.
That is as good as it gets right now.
We are watching Gustav’s path, like everyone else. If we are told to evacuate, we will.
What worries me is that many others will not. The ghastly memory of the Rita evacuation is still fresh to them. They vowed after that day to never again be sucked into a fiasco of that sort, and understandably.
What’s frightening, though, is the contingency of coastal citizens already resolutely stating they will “ride it out” this time. If Gustav, even as a Category Three hurricane, hits the Galveston area, they may well end up riding it out atop a piece of floating debris on Galveston Bay.
No matter how horrible the memories of the collective Rita escape, those of us who live close to the water need to understand that Rita was Rita and Gustav is Gustav … two different hurricanes, each with its own potentially-catastrophic predilection to unpredictability and its own lethal potential to flatten the low-lying areas of the Upper Texas Coast.
Todville Road, just down the street here in Seabrook, goes underwater with an unusually high tide pushed by a southerly wind. With any kind of storm, it becomes a reef.
Please, if you are thinking of staying at home in the event that Gustav center-punches the Freeport-to-Gilchrist area, perish that thought. Calamitous as the Rita getaway turned out to be … and again, officials are already taking preemptive measures to avoid another such tragedy … it still beat the dickens out of staying at the house and learning too late that the house might not still be standing once the storm has passed.
So, we pray, and we wait.
I just pray that some of us don’t choose to wait too long.

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