I Like Ike?

No, not really. What gets me is why they called it Ike. Which is not even a real name, but rather a nickname (thank you, Mr. Eisenhower, for publicizing that). And a nickname generally makes a person/thing sound pretty friendly, unless the nickname happens to be “Spike” or “Killer” or something like that. I wouldn’t say Ike was all that friendly.

Rant aside, Ike was definitely an experience. The real deal, one might say, compared to Rita three years ago, which turned aside at the last moment while giving us a sprinkle in passing. We hung out in the commons for six or seven hours and then went to bed, while other evacuating students took eighteen hours to get to Katy, normally half an hour away. The term “contraflow” was suddenly coined, popping up on all the networks within five minutes of conception.

This time was a little more businesslike, although Ike took its sweet time in getting here. Between meeting with my senior design professor (!!! yeah, I know), bagging my electronics and taking my posters off the walls, prepping my room for possible hurricane damage, packing for a night in the servery/shelter, playing a pickup game of Ultimate, and witnessing the birth of a terribly profound mockumentary (yes, that is tongue in cheek), it was a full Friday. Since we were sheltering in the servery (the actual kitchen part where they had boarded up the two windows), dinner was moved forward so the area could be turned over to us at 7pm, when we were expected to need it.

At around 6.30pm we started moving in our sleeping bags and supplies and staking out territories. Strategically advantageous spots included the salad bar (less noise due to the U shape), a food preparation island (the commanding view), and the ice cream freezer (do I really need to explain this?). I ended up in the vicinity of the dessert counter.

After which we watched Casino Royale on the big screen in the commons until seven … when we continued watching because Ike was busy introducing itself to Galveston. By the time we finished, the clouds had gone into another sporadic drizzle, and the winds had picked up a bit.

I decided to forego the next movie in favor of writing my lab report. Lame, yes, but somewhat necessary.

I think it was nine or nine thirty by the time we actually got word from the dean to go into Bunker Mode. People started breaking out the laptops, board games, and movies. Seeing a hundred and fifty students or more crowded into a kitchen is quite a sight, to say the least. It wasn’t as tight as I’d envisioned it being, fortunately – there was plenty of room for traffic – but neither was it a Shangri-La. There were a lot of cards, a lot of movies, a lot of talking, and a lot of checking the Internet radar images and glancing out the glass double doors at the wind starting to blow in earnest.

We still had power, mobile service, and wireless internet, which was unexpected. I’d thought that power would definitely be the first thing to go, even though the university has its own generators.

I went to bed around two in the morning, which mainly involved turning on my Shuffle, wrapping myself up in my comforter, and dozing. I don’t think anybody slept terribly well, unless they dragged in mattresses from first-floor rooms.

At around four-thirty I woke up to hear the storm lashing at the building. It actually sounded like a giant dishwasher outside, what with the gusts of wind and liberal doses of rain. On my way to the restroom, I paused in the commons to look outside at the water drops swirling in the streetlights. Not too smart, I know, considering that a broken tree branch could have blasted in through the windows and shattered our lovely glass commons, Cat-5 rated as they are.

We knew, at that point, that the eye of the storm wouldn’t pass over us; we were seeing the west side of the Ike as it curved toward the northeast. It was good, in the sense that the buildings and trees wouldn’t have to deal with extreme stress in one direction and then the other, but bad in the sense that we wouldn’t see a break in the wind. Ike was taking its time working Houston over, and we were getting word that one of the north colleges was losing bricks.

There was really nothing to do but go back to bed and pray that nothing worse would happen, and that the cranes in the med center directly across from us would stay vertical. If they fell, they were falling in our direction.

I called home at nine in the morning. There really wasn’t much to say – yes, I’m alive; yes, I assume my sister is alive but I’m not going to get out of my sleeping bag to check; we’ve got power; it’s still windy outside.

By ten it was safe enough to bring our gear back to our rooms and check that the power was still on there. My room got off with a smallish puddle from under the door; other rooms weren’t so lucky, especially those on the east side, where water came through and soaked into the carpet. We helped the staff clean up the kitchen and restock. Honestly, I think the staff that stuck around are amazing. The university put them up at a hotel and took care of their families, but the fact that they were here so that the only hot meal we had to miss was breakfast, is just incredible.

It seems like that should have been that, but there are always complications … such as the pump that broke. The university has its own well, but it’s not very useful when you can’t pump the water. Low water pressure means that showers won’t run and toilets won’t flush, so for the next day we tried not to sweat, stunk, and roamed in tribal groups about the campus, searching for buildings whose toilets still flushed. There weren’t many.

But that only lasted a day, because the City of Houston got its pumps working again, so life on campus is almost normal. Some of us from around campus got together on Sunday morning to worship and pray for the staff and city and Galveston, none of which are faring as well as we are. It’s odd, being in this little bubble. Some of the staff have trees down in their yards, and some even have a few inches of standing water in their homes. Power is out for much of Houston, and Galveston and the coast just got blasted, although it wasn’t as bad as had been predicted. FEMA is taking the Senior Design Kitchen, still under construction, as a temporary field hospital. There were a couple of Coast Guard choppers patroling overhead yesterday, and of course there’s the Houston curfew. We don’t get much noise from the street, but now there’s none at all at night. Slightly eerie, I think, but completely reasonable. At the same time, the weather is absolutely gorgeous.

Campus itself looks like it’s sprouted a crop of new bushes. Most of the hurricane damage is in branches and leaves ripped off trees, although there are roof tiles lying about, mixed in with nails and standing water, which may or may not have backed up from the sewer system. A group from my college spent yesterday morning taking our waterlogged sandbags back to the volleyball court and hauling branches off the big lawn behind the library pavilion.

Classes are resuming in about an hour, even though we have nothing written due this week, out of consideration for the faculty that are still without power or utilities at home. Please be in prayer for them, as well as the staff, the coast evacuees, and the FEMA workers. Having volunteered in New Orleans for two spring breaks, I can say that Houston is nowhere as bad as NOLA, but Ike has definitely left its mark.

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