Hurricane Ike raises fears for Gulf cities

By Karl Terry, Freedom New Mexico

“Isaac was alone in the water. His family was gone. He flailed his arms and reached deep under water and kicked his legs to feel for soft things, clothing, someone alive. He felt only square shapes, planks, serrated edges.”
— Excerpt from “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larsen

For years every spring, safe and dry in eastern New Mexico, I saw the faxes from the Houston corporate offices of my newspaper.

They warned for everyone to be diligent in reviewing their hurricane plans, update them and make sure we knew how to best protect our employees, property and our communities. It was easy to ignore them. I was exempt from preparing one myself.

That all changed when I took a position as publisher in Bay City, Texas. We carefully reviewed and updated the plan. Shortly before I arrived, Andrew had barreled across the Florida peninsula and fortunately made its second U.S. landfall well before reaching the city southwest of Houston and some 17 miles inland from Matagorda Bay.

The worst tropical weather the county went through in the two years I was there was a tropical depression. We went down to the beach and watched the surf, which impressed a land-lubber like myself. I couldn’t imagine the strength of a major hurricane.

Last week, Hurricane Ike’s track had Matagorda Bay squarely in its sights and it appeared ready to strengthen. My thoughts went to the people of the Texas Gulf Coast.

While our residents in Matagorda County always feared a direct hit from a major hurricane, nearly everyone in that area of Texas knew that a major storm just to the northeast of us would be a worst-case scenario for millions of people.

That storm arrived in the early morning hours Saturday on the Texas coast.

Storm surge, from a hurricane making landfall on or near Galveston Island would back up in Galveston Bay and run up the Houston shipping channel with catastrophic result. Galveston could, like it did during the 1900 Galveston hurricane, go completely underwater.

It appeared late Friday that was what was going to happen. If so, the action of all that water will demolish a lot of Galveston.

I’ve walked the Strand in Galveston as well as its seawall and it would be hard to fathom the destruction except there are high water marks on the buildings on the Strand that survived the 1900 storm. When you see the marks, see the photos taken after that storm and read Erik Larsen’s book about weatherman Issaac Cline’s experiences it comes into focus.

That storm killed more than 6,000 and stands as the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. I pray that history doesn’t repeat itself.

By the time you read this column, we will know a lot more about the damage. I fear it won’t be pretty.

Karl Terry writes for Freedom New Mexico. Contact him at:
karlterry@yucca.net