S eptember has historically been the height of hurricane season, in the Atlantic Ocean. We continue to watch the heroic efforts of many in Texas as they continue to operate in the rescue or life safety mode of the operation. Tropical systems are wind events, rain events, or both. Hurricane Harvey was both, with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts as high as 155 mph, but now we are seeing the devastating effects of a system that has dumped over 50 inches of rain. The emergent aspect of this storm will continue as long as people are in harm’s way and require rescue. There will then be the issues caused by people living in places, for long periods of time, where there is no infrastructure, who power or water. On a side note, I would like to clarify something that a prominent national reporter said last night. She talked about water rescue teams that were being brought in, who were trained in swift water rescue. She defined that as teams that could swiftly get to people, but the actual definition is a team that has been trained to work in swift moving water. I saw one rescue on the news yesterday that would truly qualify as a swift water rescue.
Back to my opening sentence, are we prepared for a land-falling hurricane on the east coast of the United States? A reporter said that models show Irma will reach Category 3 status on Monday and could affect the United States. I stand amazed at how far we have come with technology and the ability to predict what these storms will do. Ross Runner said last night that Irma could possibly affect the United States, with it possibly hitting the Bahamas on September 9. This storm may or may not turn, but we should be preparing for what could occur. Most people will not give this storm a thought until it is an imminent threat to them personally. Fewer lives were lost in Texas because people reacted quickly to the evacuation orders given. In the warnings given, people have been told not to drive through water that is crossing a roadway, whatever the depth. I have several stories related to this, but the one closest to home was the vehicle that was swept away in rushing water at Falling Creek during tropical storm Gaston, which claimed the life of the driver while firefighters worked frantically to save her.
You may ask, what can we do when a storm is so far away? The first thing to do is to develop a plan of what you will do, depending on the issues caused by any storm. If you have emergency power, then test it and make sure that you have plenty of fuel to operate it in the height of a storm, when there may not be power, especially at gas stations. Also, be sure to fill your vehicles with fuel prior to the storm’s arrival. As the storm is approaching, you will want to stock up on certain things, especially bottled water. Make sure that the propane tank on your grill is full, as this may be the only means of cooking for a while. If you live on oxygen, make sure that you have plenty of full, portable oxygen cylinders in case the power goes off. I cannot tell you the number of times that we trained in the fire service for major natural disasters when the sky was clear and the wind was not blowing. We trained as though it was real and happening. When we have forewarning, the “no plan” plan is not acceptable. If given the order to evacuate, then evacuate! When you are ordered to evacuate, where will you go? How will you get there? Will you be prepared to be stuck in traffic for a long period of time?
It will take a long time for things to go back to some semblance of normal in Texas. Disaster relief teams have mobilized and will provide basic needs for weeks to come. Damaged homes will have to be bulldozed, or at least all the drywall removed above the level that the water came in. I heard that this storm could cost upwards of $100 billion. Recovery will be ongoing for years. Can we ever mentally prepare to lose everything? Harvey may leave, but the effects will remain. I even heard that this storm will dissipate as it moves north. My definition of a hurricane is a storm engine that is fueled by warm water. My prayer is that one day someone will figure out a way to dissipate these storms at sea, or at least figure out how to keep them at sea. Since that may never happen, we must always be prepared for the “what ifs.”