Hurricane Relief

To Our Readers,

Hurricane Ike has come and gone and left us with an aftermath of gnarly life extending far beyond what I would say most of us ever imagined. We steeled ourselves for possible death and massive destruction. We got very little of the first in the Houston area and a lot of the second along the coast and in Galveston. But we were prepared, we were way smarter than with Rita, and Houston Mayor Bill White had our backs. And one thing we knew with a surety: FEMA didn't want to look like an ass again.

Days later, it's clear so many things went right. No gridlock on the freeways or too many people trying to flee town beforehand. No people were evacuated who shouldn't have been. In fact, perhaps more should have gone. But all in all, the postscript to devastation has been one of calm, order and resolve.


Hurricane Ike

But then the outages lasted far longer than expected, and life got a lot more uncomfortable and irritable without power, drinkable water, ice or gas. Houston is known as a can-do city, one of the best in the United States at public-private partnerships. But while Mayor White was urging us not to wait for government but to seize the day as private citizens and help our neighbors, folks over in Galveston who were more than ready to pitch in were being ordered to leave, to let the government take over. Meanwhile, food was rotting away in our refrigerators and freezers.

For an energy capital of the world, we were incredibly powerless.

Schools kept lengthening how long they would take to reopen, citing power outages and lack of gas for transportation. To quote a friend who is also a parent: "No electricity and no school — a lethal ­combination."

At our own building on Milam, Houston Press Publisher Stuart Folb had to organize a massive effort to keep us going by generators for days. The nature of our business does not allow us a leisurely shutdown. As I write this, we still don't have power. It's like going to summer computer camp in tents.

FEMA, well, it's getting mixed reviews.

On behalf of all the employees at the Press, I want to say that we mourn the loss of life and sympathize about the devastation. We applaud the efforts of so many to clean up, to get everything going again.

Last Monday, the point at which survival euphoria had faded and the search for food and ice took on more desperate tones, I was walking in downtown Houston when a young man with a backpack stopped me.

Between gestures and a few words in broken English such as "picture," he got it across to me that he wanted me to take his photograph. Of course, and where are you from? "Taiwan." When did you get here? "Wednesday." Did you know the hurricane was coming? "Hai, but plane has schedule." And he shrugged with an apologetic smile. Where did you stay? "Hostel."

He lined up carefully for the shot, and what caught my eye was that he wasn't standing next to rubble or devastation. No hurricane memorabilia. He wanted a photo of himself in front of the First United Methodist Church at Clay and Main.

Pictures of Houston's devastation went around the world, and should have. But we should remember that people also come here to meet us and to see the fine things we've built, and will build again thanks to the resilient people who live here. In all our tinky-winky (for now) glory.

Margaret Downing


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