Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricane Ike's Lingering Effects: Day 7

Each day brings the region a little closer to recovery, and one baby step closer to the ultimate goal of the long trip to normalcy. On my part, I actually feel a little guilty. We’ve had electricity for three days now, but 1.18 million – over half – are still without. I revisited my friends, Karen and Bunny, who I walked over to visit on Saturday night when I was bored. When I drove up, I noticed everyone was outside – they’d never gotten their power restored. I felt so bad for them.

The night I was at their place, they’d decided to reserve a room in a hotel to at least enjoy a couple days of air conditioning and get a shower. It turns out the hotel they’d reserved at also had no electricity or water. They’d been homebound since the storm.

On the subject of hotels, as FEMA has already announced that displaced residents whose homes were destroyed will receive housing vouchers, FEMA and the State of Texas put out a website showing hotels that will accept FEMA vouchers. You have to be careful when going through it though. It reportedly lists Galveston hotels among those that will accept FEMA vouchers.

You can’t get into Galveston! Strict restrictions on who can come onto Galveston island … only essential personnel.

Last night, the TV news highlighted a sensational story headline: are utility crews being redirected to wealthy neighborhoods and leaving poor neighborhoods in the dark? This was the case in Cypress (northwest outskirts of Houston). Utility crews from out-of-state were in the neighborhood, reconnecting customers to electricity. Then suddenly, with five more blocks left, the crews climbed back down from the poles, packed up and left.

They were reassigned to Bellaire (a high dollar inner-city suburb of Houston). Residents in Cypress were in disbelief, one lady said she cried. Electric service is the latest field to see classism’s ugly head rear.

The intrepid news crews called Reliant Energy, confirmed the story and caught up with the utility crews that were reassigned from Cypress. They found them in River Oaks – Houston’s version of Beverly Hills! When they caught up with the electrical crew, the utility workers said they were aggravated that they couldn’t finish their assignment and upset with having to re-deploy for no good reason. Six days without power was apparently more than River Oaks could handle – even though I’d wager there were few homes there without generators. Meanwhile, many in Cypress still use water wells, and their pumps don’t work without electricity. Apparently they can wait.

All I can say is whomever made that decision better not deploy a crew in an African-American neighborhood and pull them off to go hook up West University Place or other tony districts. That would not be taken kindly. Regardless of the neighborhood’s ethnic make up, or economic power, everyone should be treated equally. The process should be continuing as stated – with no arbitrary “special consideration” doled out. If we’re all in this, we should be all in this together. It shouldn’t mean rich folks, first.

They’ve begun the early stages of recovery along the coast. Today deaths were confirmed from seven bodies in Galveston County yesterday: two from drowning, five from other causes. With the surge washing everyone in, then the outflow taking them back out to the gulf, it may be months before all bodies are recovered.

They had one story on news of a man living on Bolivar Peninsula who attempted to ride out the storm. When the surge washed away his home, he managed to grab hold of his patio table washing by, grabbed hold, and rode it like a boogie board across Galveston Bay. He had to fight debris, dodge a snake and fight off an alligator, but in the end drifted over to the east end of the bay, where the Coast Guard finally found him. He said he’s had it with living on the coast and plans to move.

On hurricane victim assistance, the state will not issue payment vouchers. Texas authorities were going to do food stamp distributions for many families who (like myself) ended up having to get rid of their refrigerated items. As a result, the first food stamp location opened up Thursday, but they processed their “allotted number of applications” and then turned the rest away. Word spread of this, and with the pressing need, today (Friday) they have opened up with a huge, blocks-long line in wait.

Texas’ Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHS) websites showed they would raise the level of income in order to assist those moderately above the official wage level cutoff receive food stamps. Folks who stood in line all night then had HHS personnel distribute spreadsheets that showed the usual wage level cutoff (about $700/mo lower). Needless to say, the contradictory information between the web and what HHS was allowing caused quite a stir. There were folks who drove there from all around the area and some waited from the night before. One interviewed lady drove down (about 25 miles each way) and waited all night only to receive $14 per month assistance.

Apparently there’s some problems with the temporary FEMA application process as well, which was set up by Cong. Lampson to expedite the process. Those who applied are not receiving assistance. I’m unclear what the problem is with these applications. However, the news also noted FEMA was setting up their own location across the street from Cong. Lampson’s stop-gap site at the American Legion location across from Ellington Field. Why FEMA finds it necessary to open what appears to be a competing site when the one across the way already exists and was created to facilitate getting residents assistance is also unknown.

My personal opinion is that FEMA feels they’re not being assisted but being “shown up” by a congressman who just happens to be of the opposite political persuasion of the President. Gee, politics showing up during a disaster recovery process? I guess someone doesn’t want another black eye a la Katrina and Rita! Maybe something politically triumphant they can stand upon, like Giuliani atop the rubble of the Twin Towers post-9/11.

Well, at least they’re trying to be Johnny-on-the-spot. A week later. No hurry. We’re patient. We’ll wait for ya…. Heckuva job!

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