Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricane Ike's Lingering Effects: Day 6

Things are finally getting back to some semblance of normalcy. More stores are open now and stocking some of their shelves. Dairy is beginning to show up, some bread. There are still empty shelves of canned goods, crackers and cleaning products. But the usual day-to-day is an osmosis that's gradually filling in all those exposed gaps.

More gas stations are opening around the Houston area: no more reports of the lines and the tempers. The media only note the newly discovered price hikes.

It was just today that I began taking stock of what's damaged here. There's the obvious roof leaks between my dining room and living room, but other odd little leaks in the living room and inexplicably in my wash room (which is under my bedroom!)

My biggest fear after losing power was losing my computer. The power surge on that initial outage made my 24-inch flat screen monitor audibly pop and flash! I scrambled in the dark and unplugged both it and the computer, but truly feared I had likely lost both of those. I also did likewise with my refrigerator. Amazingly there appears to be no problems!

However, other things didn't fare as well. My overhead fluorescent kitchen lights (which I'd left on), are out permanently. One of the sets of bulbs are brand new, so I know it can't be the light tubes. Another thing I didn't think of: my gas oven. The temperature gauge and timer runs off of an electric digital display. The gas probably works, but the computer display is fried -- nothing. Even though my ceiling fan on the back patio survived the wind and the power surges, the master bedroom ceiling fan didn't! As best as I can tell, those are the only electrical things that fried.

I'm just glad I've still got my computer, and truly dodged a bullet there!

I've got fences on two sides gone, a front gate that's trashed. My back deck oddly lost a number of boards. At daybreak, I saw one of them peel up, get caught by the wind and immediately disappear down the block somewhere. There were branches needing pruning from my trees. There were other trees' branches that had broken off and lodged in my trees! Apparently I lost screens, a loose one in my bedroom and a couple small ones in front of the house, and a cracked window on the back corner of my house. Lots of nagging little problems, but nothing major!

As FEMA is busy themselves with other priority issues, Cong. Nick Lampson (D-TX) from Tom DeLay's old district opened up a location on his own to begin the process of getting residents with damage a chance to log in and receive disaster help from the agency.

It actually brings up another issue: political campaigns. We're in the midst of key national campaign season. In gridiron terms, this is the "red zone." Yet, in the midst of this, Texas politicos have had to put campaigns on back burners. Lampson should be out campaigning hard to keep his seat. Instead, he's put it on hold and is in process of helping the region recover.

Our State Senate candidate, and likely my next State Senator, Chris Bell, has also suspended all fundraisers and campaign work for the next few weeks due to the hurricane's devastation to his senate district -- which took the brunt of Ike's impact.

President Bush, likewise, suspended the fundraisers he was to attend for Republican Party fundraisers yesterday, sending his wife Laura in his stead.

Even U.S. Senate candidate, Rick Noriega (D-TX), has been indefinitely impacted. In the midst of a tight race, as Lt. Col. in the National Guard, our State Rep. Noriega has been called back to duty and is directing recovery operations. It's not surprising – he had to go to active duty in Afghanistan in 2003. It's the downside of being a member of the Guard – you are duty-bound to serve when the call goes out. Needless to say, Sen. John Cornyn, the GOP incumbent, has no such restrictions or responsibilities.

Doubtless, Hurricane Ike is blowing holes in a number of our local political campaigns. Especially in a situation such as Noriega's it's sad, and really unfortunate timing. But another way to look at it, Noriega faithfully fulfills his obligations to the country. You can't criticize that!

Indeed, our political schedules are officially FUBAR. It brings up other issues as well: what happens to displaced residents' ability to vote? We've already heard of the caging issue in Ohio again this year, and 300,000 New Jersey residents suddenly discovering they're not registered. What would prevent local GOP authorities from sending out similar "do not forward" notices to registered voters, receiving them back, and disallowing and suspending their registrations? Galveston, Bolivar and the Golden Triangle (Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange area) are all heavily democratic areas with largely blue collar residents. That could effectively kill a lot of very close races right now.

It's no doubt Karl Rove and his McCain campaign acolytes have already noted this and are licking their lips in anticipation. It would not surprise me at all to see a serious spike in southeast Texas voters finding sudden problems and refusals from voting.

Hurricanes don't know politics, and the local folks lose it quickly. But the carpetbagging folks on the outside looking in aren't affected by Ike. They only see opportunity for victory.

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