And to think -- I left Jamaica for this!
I live in Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in America. It is a cosmopolitan and wealthy city and is famous for its energy resources. This is a little blog about what happens when the energy dies.
It is a few minutes before midnight on the 12th of September, 2008 and it is my birthday.
However, there has been no time for cake and other celebratory delights. My family and I have been busy readying ourselves for Hurricane Ike to come roaring into to town since the day before. We huddle close together as trees begin to snap under the force of the first round of howling winds.
This scenario is all too familiar to me as 20 years ago on September 12th, 1988 in my hometown Kingston, a similar giant named Gilbert waylaid the island with a ferocity that stays imprinted on my mind forever. I am still waiting for those birthday presents too.
It is now the morning of the 13th of September and Ike has tired of Texas and gone on to bully Kentucky. We have no light and no water. We walk around with our neighbors stepping gingerly over broken branches and other debris, all of us looking a little disoriented from very little sleep and a whole lot of fright. I hear quiet conversations revealing that some believe that Ike sounded like a plane flying way too close to the ground. I think that Ike sounded like a train pulling up way too fast in a New York subway.
Alright, so we can live without water and light for a day. The news we hear on our little portable radio is scanty. The authorities say there is a curfew until 3 pm but no news of across the board damage as of yet.
It is now the 15th of September and we are running out of food. There are 3 million people without electricity and announcements have been made that power cannot be guaranteed until October 6th.
Tensions are running high and there are 145 looting incidents with many arrests over the course of the 2 days after the hurricane. A curfew has been placed on the city demanding that all citizens be inside their homes at 8 pm. Thank goodness our water has returned so we are semi glad to bathe in cold water.
We drive up the street cautiously as not one traffic light is functioning. The streets have already begun to stink with backed up sewage. We are hoping to find a supermarket open and we are relieved to see that one is letting in customers. We join the long line where a security guard is letting in 10 people every 10 minutes or so. I stand up beside a large sign that says NO MEAT, NO ICE, NO PERISHABLES. I overhear someone say that they have no water and no way to bathe their young baby. Thousands still have no water and I count my blessings for the cold shower that I just took.
FEMA trucks are beginning to arrive with ice and food. These are no help to us as the trucks are way out on the edge of the city and we cannot risk running out of gas as most gas stations are closed or have a very short supply. Price gouging is also increasing gas prices so it is clear the city is in big trouble.
We have a blessing in the radio DJs in this city. They are the ones that have been keeping the city informed of where a fast food place is, or where a Supermarket may be open. They invite folks to call in with helpful information. A caller might tell you that a Supermarket that was just re- opened yesterday is not open today due to a generator malfunction so don’t waste your gas going there. Or someone might call in with a number where you might get an emergency supply of oxygen.
Thank the Lord that my family and I are suffering no health crisis. The ones that are sick are catching hell.
It is now the 19th of September and still no light. Schools have been shut for a week and children are going stir crazy. Many people have not been able to return to work and are wondering how they will manage.
God is always merciful and has sent us a silver lining. There has been a cold front from the North that has eased up the scorching Houston weather and has saved many of us from certain death. Saying that Texas is hot is an understatement. I sit outside and enjoy a tepid breeze stroke my already perspiring face.
I think about Gilbert and his effect on Jamaica, and the spirit of camaraderie that was present during his aftermath. The helping hands that reached out to my Mother and I as we reached out our helping hands to someone else, with no thoughts of compensation. There is an aloneness here in America that is palpable, even in a time of disaster one feels that it is every man for himself. There is a suspicion that someone will make an opportunity out of your crisis.
I say to myself that I am a tough third world mama. I can handle a little darkness…right? Yet without family, friends, and the sweetness of your fellow Jamaicans surrounding you, darkness is very hard to bear. Should ah gone ‘ome from long time.
NB: As of today October 7th, 2008 there are hundreds left without electricity and water in and around the Houston area. Over 400 people are missing from Galveston which is about an hour away from where I live in Houston.
Susan Andrea Warmington