The worst natural disaster in American history is unfolding right now, and will continue to for days. The coast of Texas, particularly Houston, is being slowly drowned in what may wind up being 48 inches (120cm) of rain. It will continue for days more and will not recede completely for weeks.
The only thing most of us can do is pray. There will be opportunities to donate and volunteer and I urge everyone to do so. This is going to cause a lot of suffering for a long time. But even through the pain there is something valuable which I hope we can learn – we are indeed all in this together and our world is, defiantly, what we make of it together.
There has never been a category 4 hurricane which stalled over land like Harvey. Just a few miles inland from the bathtub warmth of the Gulf of Mexico he sat down, as if he was an invited guest of some kind. The storm is bringing in water in continuous waves as the steamy fuel of the Gulf bubbles up and washes over Texas.
Houston, as a city, is located in a terrible place. It is a big swamp which is naturally wet to start with. It has flooded many times before, most notably tropical storm Allison in 2001 and last year’s Tax Day Flood. The latter was the result of eight inches of rain in three hours, a deluge for sure but not a catastrophe to a place which is not very flat and wet. In Houston, it was a terrible disaster.
With six times as much water coming down, Harvey is beyond epic.
The problem is three-fold. First, there is the water coming down on Houston itself, a serious problem for any location. Then, there is water which has to make its way through the bayous of Houston on its way back to the Gulf. Nearly as much landed inland and will rush down the Trinity River into Houston before it can go anywhere. Lastly, there is a lingering tidal surge of about three feet which limits where the water can go.
But go it must, and the problem is not just a lot of water. The currents are running strong and are certain to erode new gouges into the landscape which will sweep away neighborhoods and infrastructure. As nasty as this water is standing, it’s far worse on its way out.
Lastly, the sand and silt upon which Houston is built is likely to liquify after days of saturation. It will definitely move as well, pushed by the pressure upstream that goes underground and propelled by the landscape carved deeper around it. With houses built on slabs, the shifting soil underneath them may well put every home in the metro area at risk for serious damage which may not show up for months.
The potential loss? The entire value of Houston real estate. It’s that bad.
There is criticism of the authorities for not ordering an evacuation. The problem here is a simple one – with ten million people affected there was no place for them to go. It was deemed safer for them to ride this out in their houses than to be stuck on a flooding road in a puny car. That calculation with human life had to be made, and the right decision was probably called. It just feels horrible.
It may well be that more staging of supplies should have been performed, especially shallow bottomed boats needed for rescue. Helicopters can’t fly in this, so it’s up to people on the ground to take care of each other. So far the brave people of Houston, Victoria, Galveston, and other places affected are doing an admirable job. We can only hope that this keeps up.
For all of this, however, a disaster of this scale goes against one of the basic principles of Barataria. We have said many times that our world is largely made by people for people whether we acknowledge it or not. Harvey is calling BS on that argument.
Still, what we see here is how we respond to the worst possible scenario and how we band together. There will be time for investigation as to what might have been done better, but not now. Even though many people will lose everything and some will indeed die, the story here isn’t about Harvey. The story is about how we unite as a people and demonstrate that we are civilized, decent humans.
Things can be replaced. Decency is much more important.
All of the things we value will be on display. Charity, unity, hospitality, empathy, and just plain being a good person will come out of this. Harvey is teaching us all something we may have forgotten.
Our world is still indeed made by us, for us. A little water can’t change that and an awful lot of water shouldn’t either. Pray for Texas but most importantly act for Texas. They need us.