"Lord, I guess it is my time to hurt," she said. [source]Hurricane Ike blew through the Gulf Coast early Saturday morning. I hail from Southwest Houston Texas and as far as I've heard everyone is still alive and kicking. My family and friends have had some property damage from wind and flooding which minimal when you consider many people lost their lives, their houses, or all of their earthly possessions. I have followed the hurricane and its fallout obsessively since Friday morning and I could probably be a meteorologist or natural disaster recovery organizer with all of my new knowledge and observations. I'm fearful about what the full extent of the damage will be - the places that have been hit the worst along the coast are so devastated that no one may ever know the degree to which structures and lives were lost. Quotes are thrown out like "four rows of houses along the coast on the Bolivar Peninsula are completely leveled to the concrete slabs." Excuse me? How are you supposed to assess the residents of an area to see who is alive and who evacuated when houses and boats are all thrown around like toys (click on that link for astonishing aerial pictures of the Houston/Galveston/Kemah areas) hundreds of yards from where they used to stand? ["Some of Ike's missing may have just washed away"] I had the pleasure of entertaining some very kind evacuees this past weekend *cough*refugees*cough* and most have now returned to Houston. My people still don't have power - in Houston or in East Texas - and the areas are ripped apart both physically and socially. Thank the heavens for a brief cool front - September heat in Houston for millions of people with no air conditioning, limited running water, and FEMA supplies that run out within hours would complicate the suffering that is already extremely widespread exponentially. I think it's so discouraging that Haiti has been literally battered by multiple hurricanes this season to the point where Haitians are living on their roofs, resigned to suffering, and very few Americans have taken notice. My family loses electricity for a week and we don't know what to do with ourselves. We are too dependent. On everything. Electronic transactions, oil, the internet, cell phones.... it can all come crashing down in an instant. We spend our lives building up our plans and our demands and our dreams -- but when the side of your house gets blown off or the roof caves in and you can't get in contact with your family, what does any of that matter?
The silver lining of the hurricane was definitely getting to experience first hand the power of Twitter and straight from the scene blogging. Some of it was from people in Galveston during the storm - which got really scary during the eye and as water crept up in their evacuation locations. On the right hand of my page you can see my Twitter status which is basically "a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing? " It seems completely pointless at first, especially when you discover very few of the people who actually care what you're doing are signed up or even willing to listen to the concept.
Friday morning I started following trackingike, hurricaneike, chronhurricane, and a few other new Twitter accounts set up to follow the hurricane's developments. I got the updates sent to my phone so even at work and school I was able to keep up with the latest path of the hurricane, the different forecasts, and any news about city announcements. The dedicated fellows at TrackingIke were on Galveston Island and in Houston during the storm and kept tweets going out of what they were seeing, how strong the storm was, and relevant advice throughout ("DO NOT GO OUTSIDE DURING THE EYE"). Since then these accounts have become hubs for information about recovery efforts - where to go for FEMA assistance, what Mayor Bill White just said that I missed because somebody was talking, who has power, who has gas, who can go back to their cities and who can't, etc., etc. It was incredible how informative these people were - cutting the fluff and putting their crucial messages within the space of 140 characters. That's my kind of efficiency. Anyway... I believe in the power of Twitter. TrackingIke was the first source I heard of going back into the streets of Houston, getting into Galveston, and going up towards Beaumont. Their account of going into Galveston was absolutely riveting and had me on the edge of my chair the 5 hours or so they lost cell service. You can read the archived messages on their Twitter page at trackingike.
Okay so you already know we're looking towards the future -- the time has come to rebuild. How can YOU help?
--donate money to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by logging on to www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or writing a check to your local chapter. Also use your cell phone to donate $5 to the fund by texting "GIVE" to 2HELP (24357). [source]
--Visit www.redcross.org to find out where you can volunteer. Evacuees are all over the state, I've been talking to some on the city bus in Austin who are staying in places like a gym floor (which they're so thankful for because it's clean.) and there is DEFINITELY a need for more volunteers. This blog by a Galveston reporter was giving updates on the conditions in an Austin area shelter until they kicked her out for reporting on it. There is a need wherever you are. Once Galveston and the other coastal areas are deemed safe there will be a tremendous demand for volunteers to help rebuild.
--The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center needs blood donations to supplement the increase in demand from patients in need.
--If you're in Austin (like me) and want to volunteer at a shelter you have to fill out a background check, a volunteer form, and go get trained. All of the information is here and I think it was less than 24 hours before I got the results of my background check back. I know school and work and everything is crazy right now but if you can find the time keep in mind people are literally living on floors in Austin with no idea what their future holds. I asked one man what was next and he said, "Well, they said we can stay in this shelter for 14 more days. That was about 4 days ago. Then we're getting on the bus. We'll probably go to San Antonio." He didn't know what was the status of his house in Galveston and I didn't press the issue.
--The Capitol Area Food Bank (again, in Austin) is collecting "bottled water, granola bars, peanut butter, diapers and canned meats with pop-top lids" -- 8201 S. Congress Ave.
I know there are a million more ways to help and as more developments come to light I'm sure there will be a million more. If you donate make sure it's to your reputable charity of choice (Red Cross, etc.)- the fraud that ran rampant after Katrina was shameful. Google [your city] + volunteer + Hurrican Ike and I'm sure you'll find a'plenty.
If you're in Houston and need any info regarding what's open, who's got gas, how much that gas is, where the power company is (because they're clearly not working in your neighborhood), etc. etc. http://blogs.chron.com/weatheringike/ is an excellent resource.
For more sobering pictures of Orange, TX (one of my favorite cities!) go t0 http://tinyurl.com/orangepd and http://tinyurl.com/kogtpics.
For Houston/Galveston pics from throughout the storm: click here.