THE DEN – Being a current affairs junkie, my TV is tuned to the news channels most of my waking hours. This time of year the shows are all about hurricanes, which is only proper when your house is underwater, and not in the mortgage sense. Officially, the hurricane season starts on June 1 when the Red Cross tosses out the first doughnut, and runs until the end of November to make way for Andy Williams’ Christmas Special.
I don’t want to sound shallow – OK, bad choice of words — and uncaring, but isn’t this all getting a bit repetitious? First we have the breathless announcement of a low pressure area just west of Africa. We follow it until Hurricane Aarika slams into Scotland at which point we take up with Hurricane Baczkowski heading for Cape Town.
By the time a storm hits the U.S. it has been two and a half months in the news. Warnings on radio and TV plus the guy driving down the street with a bullhorn, all tell citizens to leave. But there are always, always, those who prefer to stay so that, while dangling below a rescue helicopter, they can shout, “I didn’t know it was coming.” Coast Guard and National Guard troops risk their lives, and our tax dollars are blown, in order to rescue the Neanderthals who are suddenly surprised that their house is flooding. I don’t say let them drown, but at least send them a bill. (To be fair, the BP oil spill was a disaster of a totally different type.)
There are several points we need to remember: The deadliest storm to hit Texas in recent years wasn’t a hurricane at all but the lesser version, a tropical storm. In 2001, Allison did $7.1 billion in damages (in today’s dollars) and left 23 people dead. Another matter: What if the GOPers had been partying on Bourbon Street this year as they have in the past? Pat O’Brien’s famous Hurricanes would have been more than a drink. And it will be a long time before the New Orleans tourism bureau makes its pitch to hold national political party conventions in the Crescent City at the height of hurricane season.
New Orleans, the Haiti of Dixie, is still recovering from Katrina. We can’t blame the New Orelansers (New Orelanseans? New Orley? Cajuns?) for being unprepared for the Big K. The dike broke, 80 percent of the city flooded, some places up to 15 feet deep. It was unexpected, especially by the Army Corps of Engineers, so we can’t get too upset with those particular evacuees. About 250,000 Louisianans came to Texas, and a lot stayed. Houston and other southeast Texas cities were praised for taking in the refugees. Not again. With the threat of another massive evacuation from the swamps, Houston and Harris County officials said they didn’t want another crime spree – a lot of crime was blamed on the Katrinians, along with school disorders. The welcome mat was pulled away. I, personally, think that’s a bit harsh, since New Orleans has helped Texans since Sam Houston went there for treatment on his wounded leg after San Jacinto.
It isn’t just non-Texans who race from storms. Fleeing both Rita and Ike, each time 2.5 million Texans headed inland — all on the same roads at the same time. I was in both. You never saw such chaos in your life, with the state government showing almost criminal inefficiency and ineptitude. Gov. Rick Perry still beat Kay Bailey Hutchison by 20 percentage points. Go figure. When the next storm heads towards Texas, the DPS and TxDOT work crews will be out in force. Then again, maybe not. The way our governor and state legislature have cut the budgets on everything (except their own salaries), we might see signs tacked on trees alongside I-10 and US 59 outbound: “Evacuation route – flee for your lives!” “No lifeguard on duty,” or perhaps, “Please line up two by two.” But no matter where you live in the state, it’s your tax dollars at work.
Guaranteed: Because of the hurricane, the price of oil, and the fill-up at your participating dealer, goes up. Another guarantee: Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, will be on TV more than Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Now a word about words. In 1953, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) decided that issuing press statements reading, “Hurricane 129 longitude and 67 latitude (or whatever) is gaining…” was too clumsy. Besides, TV weatherpersons have trouble differentiating between longitude and attitude. So the WMO switched to female names for Atlantic tropical storms taken from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. But feminist groups including NOW protested that this sexist list suggested only women were tempestuous. (Stop laughing.) So in 1979 men’s names were added. Then in July of 2003, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Dem-Texas) protested that no African-American names were listed.
Wait. On TV some guy is moaning, “This is the sixth time we’ve been flooded out.” Again, not to be callus but year after year these same areas seem to be hit by flooding. How many times are our insurance rates going up and our taxes being spent to bail out, literally, the same places and people? Stop depending on the kindness of strangers, Blanche.
On the other hand, with these annual disasters, someone from, say, New York City, might ask the musical question: “Why would anyone live in such a dangerous place?” To which Jean-Pierre Thibedeaux would reply, “Why would anyone live in a place where you can walk alongside the Empire State Building at 9 in the morning and be one of nine pedestrians shot by two cops who fire 16 bullets at an alleged perpetrator 10 feet away?”
Final guarantee: Because of the end of the hurricane season, the price of oil, and the fill-up at your participating dealer, will go up. The need for heating oil is given as the reason, plus the advent of Andy Williams’ Christmas Special.
Ashby is drowning at firstname.lastname@example.org