I’m usually prosaic about hurricanes; it’s a product of having grown up on Florida’s coast. A summer without at least one tropical storm hitting Tampa Bay was rare, and even in the face of predicted Category 2 and 3 storms you weren’t likely to see mass panic. It wasn’t that we didn’t take the storms seriously, it was simply that storms were a fact of life. Only crazy people would live in earthquake zones, but storms–you saw them coming, you made your call, and most of the time you just battened down the hatches. If you left every time it looked risky, you’d be gone a month or two every year.
Since I’ve left Florida, though, hurricane weather has turned much nastier–stronger storms and more of them. This is the first time in my life there’s been 17 named storms in one season, and also the first time in my life there’s been two Category 5 storms. People will keep arguing about whether this is an effect of global warming or just the upswing of a natural cycle; while I’ll take no sides, I’ll note the two positions aren’t mutually exclusive.
But what’s worst about this season is that the hurricanes have been bearing down on places that aren’t prepared to handle them, even to the degree that one can prepare for such a storm. An unpleasant truth about Americans is that we don’t like to be proactive. We don’t like being compelled to give up money to protect against that which might never happen, and which if it does, might not affect us anyway.
The response to Rita will be better than the response to Katrina for much the same reason that Jack in the Box was the cleanest fast food chain in the country after its adventures with e. coli. We’ll wait for the sky to fall rather than listen to Chicken Little every single time, but then we’ll scramble to get the skyhooks in place, at least for a few years until memory fades, complacency returns, and citizens demand to know why their hard-earned taxes are being spent providing for the general welfare. There will be no talk of permanently abandoning Galveston, let alone Houston.
I know a few people directly affected by Katrina and I know a few others directly affected by Rita. One was being asked to leave the place he’s been staying at with a friend before the hurricane, and is now being told–with a local job but no savings, no car, and no place to go–to get out before the storm hits. I’m trying not to be judgmental, but unless my friend is an actual risk rather than merely a stress for the people he’s staying with, it’s hard to put a very charitable spin on this.
I’m not a praying person; I talk to God and occasionally rail at him fairly often, but as an agnostic I don’t expect answers. I wish there was more that I could do. Charter a bus and get people I know out of the area. (I’m told the commercial buses are, not surprisingly, already all booked.) Drive myself? Not too realistic. I don’t have much money to offer, I don’t really have crash space, I certainly don’t have employment.
So, for now, I can only do what I used to do in Florida–watch the radar, and hope this time others are battening down their hatches. And in some cases, being given hatches to batten down.