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Harvey, danger

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A view of Hurricane Harvey, as viewed from space.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – This November, it will be 12 years since I made the move to Oklahoma, taking a job as a crime reporter for The Lawton Constitution, after finally “leaving Louisiana in the broad daylight” after realizing that, after both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, that it was time to find a new town and a new state to call home.

And I listened to that little voice that urged me to come to Oklahoma.

And I’m so glad I did! I got married, started a family and launched Red Dirt Report, a website designed to cover news and events taking place in the Sooner State, and modeled – initially – on Louisiana’s The Dead Pelican website.

So, here comes Hurricane Harvey, exactly a dozen years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast, inundating New Orleans – changing it forever, and the lives of those living there – and causing severe damage in Louisiana and neighboring Mississippi and Alabama.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece titled “Katrina at 10,” an article about my memories of going to New Orleans a few weeks after Katrina to help a friend clean out her storm-damaged home …

As I wrote in 2010 of my autumn 2005 visit to New Orleans: “I would finally make my way into the heart of New Orleans by early October, some five weeks after Katrina hit. The devastation was heart wrenching. This was a city I had grown to know and love. I spent a lot of time there and to it looking dead … it was hard to describe. The water had receded by that point but the damage was done – and extensive. The infamous ‘water line’ marks were everywhere, indicating just how high the water had risen. Abandoned, flooded-out cars littered the streets. Stray animals searched for food. It was one of the most eerie experiences of my life.”

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE …

It’s an eerie feeling, as I look outside my office window here in Mesta Park. Eerie in that a heavy, tropical-styled rain is falling on the city, more rain in what has been a remarkably wet August for Oklahoma City.

And I get a sense of déjà vu.

Ever since coming to Oklahoma, the experiences I had in Louisiana in that late summer and early fall of 2005 have always been in the back of my mind. And living here, I am already quite familiar with the weather issues we face here, particularly involving tornadoes.

But having family links to the Corpus Christi, Texas, and friends fleeing that coastal city for higher ground, in places like Austin, I think back to all the chaos and destruction left in the wake of both Katrina and Rita, which caused more damage in more rural areas of Louisiana, and was the final straw for me. 

And, amazingly, very few hurricanes have developed in the Gulf of Mexico and struck the Gulf coast in the past dozen years. We have been very lucky. But as I type this, Harvey is beginning to make landfall between Corpus Christi and Houston, with the bulls-eye being the Port Lavaca area – and the South Texas Project, a massive nuclear power plant near the town of Bay City.

I’m listening to KEYS 1440 AM streaming online, the Corpus Christi talk-radio station and it seems like another day in that city. There is no sense of panic or serious concern, beyond telling people to take shelter or get out of the area and evacuate. And yet The Weather Channel is saying that Corpus Christi could be uninhabitable "for days or weeks."

And being aware of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant near Bay City, I was concerned that it is in the bulls-eye of Harvey as well. I had images of the tsunami that struck Fukushima, Japan in my mind. And while scouring news websites on Thursday, seeking information about what preparations were taking place in advance of Harvey, there was nothing, except old stories from 2008 when Hurricane Ike struck that region.

With a serious storm surge, and 35-plus inches of rain expected to submerge the Texas coast, could the South Texas Project survive unscathed?

Finally, on Friday, Austin American-Statesman reporter Nolan Hicks wrote a story headlined: “Nuke plant to close: South Texas Project braces for strengthening Hurricane Harvey.

Yes, the plant “sits 29 feet above sea level” and is “10 miles inland from Matagorda Bay, and two miles from the Colorado River,” but what of its design, there on the hurricane-prone Gulf coast? A tsunami is more immediately damaging that hurricane storm surge, but still ... 

Hicks writes: “The plant was designed to withstand a storm stronger than Category 5, which would produce sustained winds of at least 157 mph.

Engineers also designed the plant to survive the sort of catastrophic flooding that would be unleashed if all of the Highland Lake dams upstream on the Colorado River burst simultaneously …”

Those who remember Tropical Storm Allison, back in June 2001, remember what that storm did as floodwaters engulfed the Houston area, killing 22 people, and ruining 45,000 homes and 70,000 vehicles - many of the deaths were linked to driving in floodwaters. A similar situation is developing now, with Harvey, except it is becoming a hurricane, where as Allison remained a tropical storm.

HOW WILL TRUMP RESPOND?

In the meantime, President Trump faces his first big natural disaster test, according to The Washington Post. Recall what happened to President George W. Bush following his tepid reaction to what happened to New Orleans following Katrina?

Fortune magazine reminds us:  "President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed almost 2,000 people and from which New Orleans is still recovering, pushed his approval ratings to the lowest level in his presidency. "Can I quit now?" Bush's FEMA director, Michael D. Brown, (a native of Edmond, Okla.) wrote in an email to his spokeswoman on the morning Katrina struck. Three weeks later, he did."

Back to the Trump question, Post reporters Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve wrote today: “The National Hurricane Center described Harvey’s sudden strengthening as ‘astounding.’ The storm is expected to strike as a Category 3 hurricane — meaning with winds greater than 111 miles per hour — making it the most powerful storm to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Despite the increasingly alarming forecasts, officials in Corpus Christi as of Thursday evening had held off on ordering mandatory evacuations of the city …

The hurricane center projected that the hurricane will stall on the Texas coast for several days, which could dump historic quantities of rain, with some places seeing as much as 35 inches: “The storm is forecast to meander to the east, deluging Houston and possibly New Orleans next week.”

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a preemptive state of disaster in 30 counties, including Harris County, home to Houston, the fourth most-populated city in the country."

And now we watch Hurricane Harvey preparing to make landfall today. Houston will be hard hit, the nation's fourth-largest city and home to the largest petrochemical and refining complex in the country, where billions of gallons of oil and chemicals are stored. How could Harvey affect this complex and the city of Houston? What about the economic impact? Well, Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune say the state is not ready for a storm like Harvey.

We pray and hope for the best outcome. But Harvey is shaping up to be a monster of a storm with tons and tons of rain accompanying it. We here in Oklahoma need to be ready for Texans who will come here, seeking shelter, just as Texas embraced my fellow Louisianans back in 2005, following Katrina and Rita. 

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About the Author

Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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