Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Friday, September 23, 2005
Bracing for Impact...

Contrary to my last post, we decided not to evacuate.

The reason is that we think we will be much safer in our house than on the open highway 50 miles north without gas, riding it out in a Ford Explorer (probably getting rolled around, considering the history of that type of car...).

So we are preparing as good as we can. I think we are in pretty good shape considering a few facts:

  1. We are now on the "clean" side of the storm and should not nearly get as much rain as the dirty (north-easterly) side of the storm.
  2. We have everything boarded up as good as we can. We have the second most fancy boarding job in the neighborhood (or neighbor two houses down did much better... he even cut out round plywood pieces to make sure every nook and cranny is covered...). Considering that I am borderline retarded when it comes to handywork, I am pretty happy with our results though.
  3. Our biggest problem is likely rain. We do not get any serious flooding where we live (normally) except for little annoyances. We did buy a few pumps though, just in case. We are also partially draining the pool to have an extra reservior. (We can not completely drain it, because the soil around here is so wet, it would make the pool pop right out of the ground...)
  4. We even bought a power generator. It is to small to power everything, so in a worst-case scenario, we will have to do with a fan rather than AC, but it will be nice to have things like the fridge going. We invited our neighbors to put critical things (like one women is bringing over medication that needs to be refridgerated) into our fridge.
  5. Our house is a one-story house. Since it is still relatively large, this means it runs very wide, and as a result, inside rooms are really far inside with several walls separating us from the outside walls.
  6. We have plenty of food and water.
  7. Almost all our windows have wooden blinds. So that should be some added protection in addition to the boards we put up.
  8. We have done a very thorough job cleaning up all the things that could go flying in the yard.
  9. We have no tall trees that could hit us (unless the whole thing flys for 100 yards or more).

That is all I can think of right now, but I am sure I am missing a few things.

Anyway: Here is a photo of a partially completed boarding job:

A friend of mine always keeps telling me that one can get great satisfaction from putting a nail into a board. I must say that I did not feel that particular effect so far.

Yesterday, we stopped at Home Depot to see if they had anything that could be useful for us. To my surprise, they had completely cleaned up their act and everything was well organized and orderly. Check-out went quickly. Loading went quickly. They had lots of stuff. We bought a 6800 watt power generator for just over 500 bucks, which I thought was a good deal. And we also got plywood, which we had previously thought was not available anymore.

There was one thing though that I thought sucked: If you wanted plywood, you could get it for $16 a sheet, but you had to buy a 10-sheet minimum. What the hell is up with that?!? There are people running out of plywood and we were probably lucky enough to find just about the only place that had any left, and then we have to buy 10 sheets even though we just need 4 or 5, so we throw the rest away, while other people do not have any?!?

While we were loading ours, we met some other people who said "10 sheets?!? We can't afford that!". So we gave them 5 of ours. They ended up paying us for it (for the same price we bought it). I would have just given it to them, but they insisted. So now we both have plywood. But Home Depot kicked us out because we did that. If you ask me, that just plain sucks!

As far as the whole situation goes, I gotta say that I am less than impressed with how the whole situation is being handled. Right now, all the officials seem to pull all-nighters and one certainly could not complain, but what seems to be lacking is preparedness. Just a few days ago they all stated how Houston had such a great evacuation plan. What we currently have instead is a lot of people who are doing their best, but the plan seems to be either not working or just plain rubbish in the first place. Here are a few things I noticed that need improvement:

  1. Why does it take so long to open the inbound lanes on our highways for outbound traffic? For 36+ hours they were talking about this before they could make it happen. Apparently, there wasn't enough staff on hand to block off on-ramps to make sure nobody got on the regular way. How hard can it be to estimate how many people one would need? Another statement I heard was that while they could have done earlier in Harris county, it was not possible further north because of jurestiction issues. This is not time for beaurocratic BS!!!
  2. All the side-roads heading out of town are blocked too. However, right where we are, all the east-west roads have very little traffic. Nevertheless, all the traffic lights are still switched the normal way. So people end up waiting at red lights trying to go north, while there are few cars going east-west. Green-light-phases going north should probably be 10 times as long as those for east-west traffic.
  3. It seems it could not be that hard to figure out that when millions of people are driving north, traffic will slow down a lot. It also seems quite logical that people will need gas on the way. But nobody seems to have thought about that. So now, people are running out of gas on the way since there aren't adequate emergency supplies of gas available between here and Dallas (and other places people are trying to go to).
  4. The TV constantly provides updates, mainly from people that call in and say "I left from Baytown at 2am, and now it is noon and I only made it to the Xxx exit so far", and the announcer would then say "well, dear viewer, you can clearly see how slow traffic is going...". But you know what: I can not! How am I going to know how far it is from Baytown to whatever exist they quoted. If someone evacuates from way south, I would not expect them to know each and every exit by name between Galveston and Dallas.
  5. I have heard people calling in that said they were in their car, had children with them, needed to go to the bathroom, or wanted to get off the highway temporarily for some reason. However, did couldn't because they said they wouldn't be allowed back on. That just seems odd. You get off the highway and you would not be allowed back on? That doesn't seem right to me, but if it is true, this kinda sucks. Not sure what the reason would be. Maybe they do not want people further north to add to the traffic jam, so they do not let them onto the highway? I would be surprised if a lot of people who didn't need to would choose to go on a highway where the average speed is between 2 and 5 miles per hour...
  6. A lot of the maps currently showing the path of the hurricane do not have names on them. I have a pretty good idea where in Texas I live if I see a map without cities or borders. But if a friend tells me "come here to my house in Xxx", then I do not have as good an idea and do not have adequate information to figure out whether I should go there or not.
  7. Right now they are showing two very similar maps on the TV: The cone-of-probability for the hurricane impact (showing where it might go), and the cone-of-impact (showing the area that will feel the effect). I would not be surprised if a lot of folks (especially older folks) get confused.
  8. The whole evacuation thing is not nearly as organized as I would like it to be. If I lived in Galveston, things are pretty clear cut. You get the hell out of there! But where we are, things are not as obvious. We are not near a mandatory evacuation zone. Some of Harris county (where we live) is a mandatory evacuation zone, but it is the 3rd largest county in the country. So where we are, they just say "def. evacuate if you live in a mobile home or a place that floods easily". OK, so far so good. But would it be prudent for me to evacuate too? Would we be in more danger on the road? (Now they are starting to say that, but it is too late now anyway). Would we hinder the evacuation efforts for people that really need to evacuate? What is a smart choice to make? There is very little information available and one has to dig pretty hard to find anything. What I would like is a map that has the following zones: "red - mandatory evacuation, orange - really should get out, yellow - leave, because why risk it, and finally, a zone that could say something like "probably safe, but make your own choice".
  9. Personally, I have very little idea of what it means to have 100 miles an hour winds. I have been in 70-80 mile an hour winds before. Let me know what is going to happen in 100 mile an hour winds (with 120 mile gusts) and tell me how strong tornadoes usually are. I have seen some of that information yesterday, but at that time it was already too late to leave anyway. I would have wished to have access to this sort of information much earlier.

So I really think there are a lof of things that could have been handled better in terms of planning and preparation. However, my hat's off to the people currently working on this, because they are working their butts off! So my thanks go out to all these guys

I am also curious to see what is going to happen once this is over. People seem to expect all the evacuees to return gradually over a number of days. Personally, I would be surprised if that would happen. If my house was about to get blown away, I would try to return to my home as soon as I could (probably on Sunday) and not 5 days later. So I would not be surprised at all if we had even worse traffic problems after the storm. And who knows: We tend to have somewhat circular weather patterns here (which apparently is part of the pollution problem we have here...) and previous hurricanes have been known to circle back in on Houston. This could mean pretty bad rain that I certainly would not want to be surprised by on a highway.

Anyway: I hope we are able to keep our server down-time to a minimum. This way, I can let you know how things turn out. Right now, BTW, it is a very nice, calm, and sunny Friday here. By now I really expected things to be a lot worse...

Posted @ 12:39 PM by Egger, Markus (EPS Software Corp.) (








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