On #Harvey: Mundane hurricane stories

“You’re a hurricane virgin,” a friend of mine texted…and it’s true. This was my first hurricane. I was lucky enough to be experiencing Hurricane Harvey from relative safety: on a second-floor apartment in Austin, well away from the dangers more evident on the coast and in Houston.

So, we watched, like everyone, our weather apps, the weather channel, and we kept each other informed.

The rain’s in South Austin.

It’s up to UT.

It’s here.

And Texas rain isn’t like NE England rain. It comes down harder…it wants to transfer a tremendous amount of water from the sky to your clothing in as short a time as possible.

Except, for us, this was now likely to go on for three or four days. But in Austin we were the lucky ones. Our homes had almost zero chance of being destroyed. We would not be flooded, our belongings ruined. People in high-risk areas were advised to write their names and social security numbers on their arms “for when they’re rescued” …but that’s not really what it’s for. It’s to make identifying bodies easier.

We are not in one of those areas.

We would just get very very wet because our pugs cannot master the basics of indoor plumbing. Little poopers.

Well-wishes came in from abroad. My mam checked in on us; my son instructed me, with typical irony, to stay alive. I told him it was on my weekend to-do list.

But mostly, we watched TV, listened to KUT until they mysteriously went silent, and prayed that HBO would stay strong so we could watch the GoT finale on Sunday. This is the minutiae of life, just outside the danger zone.

My days were spent watching the news, keeping up with events online, and dragging the fur balls around the apartment complex four times a day. I had to change clothes after every walk as the persistent, sometimes torrential, rain made each venture out into the world unpleasant.


We go slightly further afield once. We do an errand run: clear up a query at the Sprint store, buy booze and snacks at the booze and snack place in the same location, then head off for 30 quiet minutes at a Starbucks. Inside, it’s mostly calm. People sitting around working their laptops or reading newspapers. A slow stream of cars at the drive-thru. A homeless couple, he drinking coffee, she mostly invisible stretched out under a thick, warm-looking blanket, are the only sign that something may be out of the norm. Austin, like most large US cities, has a significant homeless population. Where do they go at times like this? How do they keep up with what’s happening? So much about other people’s live that I just don’t know, or think to ask, until times like this…

We come home, dry off, check in again on what’s happening to the south and to the east, knowing that, although the winds have died down, it’s the rain that’s going to be the real disaster for most. And, as Saturday moves into Sunday, the death toll slowly rises, but the devastation of daily lives destroyed as houses, especially mobile homes, are reduced to their constituent parts by the storm, will go on long after our focus as a nation has moved on to the next shiny object.

We do a lot of hugging over the weekend.

The power stays on until Sunday morning, just as we gather to watch the Liverpool game. It stays off for exactly 5 minutes, coming back to life just as Firmino scores the first of four magnificent goals. I start to feel like a tragedy tourist, sampling the events of the storm without ever really suffering for them. In truth, Sunday was pretty much as Sunday should be: football, lazing around, too much chocolate. We had to cancel a plan to attend a Game of Thrones final-episode party, but we comforted ourselves with amaretto and peanut-butter cookies. When the episode froze just as [REDACTED] calmly walked up and slit [REDACTED]’s [REDACTED], it didn’t seem so terrible, because we were warm, safe, and dry.

And I got the damn thing working again in less than five minutes.

In truth, the extent of our broad discomfort was having to persuade The Rev and Miss Jordan that they really do need to head out into a tropical storm four times a day for exercise and biological relief of one form or another.

On TV, an older Houston guy described the storm going over his house as sounding like “a freight train with square wheels” going by. Great phrase, and yet just horrifying enough if you can imagine it.

The weather forecast for the next few days was: 20% chance of rain. For us, at least, it looked like it was over. The rain was heading east. And all we had to show for it was a door with a lock that now refused to turn. We googled how to fix it, looked around for carbon-based lubricant, and got on with our day. I don’t know how long we’ll continue to live our lives in the knowledge of how blessed we are, but it’s good while it lasts.




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