17 September, 2008

the path of ike

we finally heard that our houston show had indeed been cancelled, so we ambled out of the bywater and headed west on RT.10, heading through houston towards austin. all reports had warned us about driving that route, but looking at the map, we didnt see any better way. we made sure we had a full tank of gas and took our chances.

what we saw on the way was quite incredible. as we approached the louisiana-texas border, we began to see caravans of electrical maintenance trucks, cars with gallons of gas strapped to the back, billboards in tatters and other smaller signs of the hurricane. yet, as soon as we crossed the border into texas, the damage was even more striking and immediately visible. no billboard was intact, and more and more buildings were missing roofs, walls, or were partially collapsed.

we stopped at the first rest-stop in texas, which, as we pulled in, we could see was closed. everything was covered in a cracked layer of smelly mud. clearly water had reached here. the whole place stank, though it took us a moment to realize why. as we walked back to the van, we noticed something odd. the parking lot was covered with dead fish and shrimp of all different sizes. the biggest pile of them was centered around a big drainage grate. literally hundreds of fish had come pouring UP through the grate into the parking lot as the drainage system was overwhelmed. as the water receded, the fish were left to suffocate on the pavement. it was an eerie site, an ominous version of the phrase "fish out of water".

as we approached the beaumont/port arthur area, the devastation was clear. the side of a hotel ripped off. whole swathes of urban sprawl without a single light on. we passed an arena whose parking lot, plus the highway approaching, was bumper to bumper full of tractor trailers carrying relief supplies. scanning the radio, we found that most stations had pre-empted their usual programming in favor of public-bulletins and call-ins. we listened in awe as listener after listener phoned in with information on FEMA, hotel-vouchers, food-stamps and relief kitchens.

it was growing dark as we came into houston. the downtown looked lit, but we passed through short stretches of highway without any streetlights and many many gas stations with no power. the scale of what we saw was overwhelming, something i dont think you can get an accurate representation of from the TV or internet. we drove 4 hours at highway speed through affected areas. miles of damage.

it reminded me of visiting new orleans after katrina. you stand in the wreckage, at whatever stage, but you dont touch it. you experience it, but you dont physically engage in it. it's a hollow feeling. i couldnt shake the suspicion that we were trespassing through these towns' post-apocalypse clean-up.

we arrived in austin late night, quiet and somber from our visions. austin would be our home base for the next 5 days.

SUGGESTED READING: ISSAC's STORM by Erik Larson (who wrote "devil in the white city")

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