Thursday, July 24, 2008

DOLL-E Has Left The Building . . . Mostly

Wow, what a night last night. We lost power in my neighborhood in McAllen at around 4 p.m. and did not get it back until 5:50 p.m. today--Thurs., July 24--which exlpains, I hope, the lack of updates in the interim.

Dolly's remnants are still out there heading west, but she's not making a graceful exit as she storms into the sunset.

Initial reports are that there's been an estimated $750 million in damages; about 250,000 (at least 240,000) people were left without electricity.

As of 10 p.m. local t.v. news channels were reporting 30,000 people in Harlingen without power. Last night KURV reported 36,000 people without electricity in Haringen, so there seems to have been little progress made in 24 hours in that city.

My own neighborhood fared quite well: some downed wooden fences, some shingles, some roof leakage across the street; just about everyone across the Valley--certainly from first-hand accounts I can tell you every neighborhood in McAllen and Mission--lost some branches, limbs or whole trees--uprooted, not just broken off.

But there is a tremendous amount of flooding in places in Brownsville, Harlingen, Rio Hondo, San Benito and even in Weslaco, Mercedes and La Blanca--which is due east of Edinburg on State Hwy. 107.

National news--FOX, CNN, etc., are too soon, in my opinion, jumping the gun and declaring that the levees held. The verdict is not in, though. We won't know until water from the watershed starts drifting into the Rio Grande from all its tributaries north and south of the river whether the levees will hold. Two weeks ago, the Rio Grande Valley received a five-day non-stop drenching, so the reservoirs were full.

In Mercedes, the floodway is already filled; that is, overflow from the Rio Grande is already to capacity; drainage ditches in places like Santa Rosa, Weslaco, La Blanca, etc., are overflowing. Some are so filled to capacity that there are "lakes" connecting irrigation canals--with water from the Rio Grande--to drainage ditches--which look like canals, but are made to carry water, often effluent (treated wastewater) toward the Arroyo Colorado, which eventually flows into the Laguna Madre/the bay (west of South Padre Island.

Well, in Harlingen, where the Arroyo finally gets deep and wide (due to the barges going to and from the Port of Harlingen) the Arroyo was near to overflowing. There's no doubt in my mind that it'll spill over its banks once more water is released. In McAllen they're asking us not to shower or flush toilets because they're trying to keep us from contributing to drainage problems downriver (well, down-Arroyo).

Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. John Cornyn took a plane ride with Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos to assess damage; Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas also took a chopper ride and the county released photos of the flooded areas. Scary stuff. In some cases, there was water up to the waist. The worst shown on TV was four-feet of water in neighborhoods, with two feet of water inside people's homes.

Rescues by the National Guard and local sherrif's offices were conductedy by deuce-and-a-half trucks; later, even those could not navigate roads, and yielded to flat-bottom boats/pontoons.

Into Thursday evening several businesses and sections lost power in McAllen, despite crews working overtime; KURV 710 AM radio reported that work crews came in from other states and upstate to help electric coops and AEP Texas repair damaged power lines, etc. Nevertheless, several businesses, again, remained closed, or opened then had to shut down due to power failures. North of Robin, there was no light, so several restaurants closed down after having opened.

H-E-B and other grocers reported having to throw out fresh produce and meat; some H-E-B stores in McAllen did not open until 6 p.m. So in that sense, financial damage (and damage to fresh foods) will likely add to the blow to the economy, strong as it is locally. That having been said, shopping was furious before the storm at grocers and home improvement places and hardwares stores before the hurricane hit and shoppers will likely flock to grocers to replace frozen foods and refrigerated stuff gone bad.

Even fancy, semi-high end or high-end resorts and hotels at South Padre Island and Port Isabel took some bad hits, including the Raddison Hotel. KRGV-TV showed major damage to vehicles still parked there at 6 p.m.--dented, windows broken, some half-crushed by debris; the buildings suffered gaping holes, broken rooftops to smaller establishments or resort entrances, downed hotel signs, etc. Damage at S.P.I. is major.

Calls throughout the day--yesterday and today--have been difficult due to downed power lines and perhaps--this is strictly speculation on my part--damage to the cell phone infrastructures/cell towers, etc. Lost signals and lost calls were the order of the day yesterday and today. Phone calls to friends at Valley Morning Star Newspaper in Harlingen were not getting through as I tried to reach former colleagues there.

Dolly was not the most powerful storm ever, but she lingered and lingered, pummeling the same spots incessantly.

We had 40 PMH winds and light rain starting at 2:08 p.m. in McAllen; then higher winds and heavy rain 70 MPH winds from about 4 p.m. At about 8 p.m. it started getting scary. The heavy stuff lasted until 4 a.m. almost not-stop, diminishing by 5:30 a.m. Wind speeds jumped from 22 MPH to 33 to 40 within minutes of my previous post and then hovered at 50--70 MPH. I've never been in a tornado, but it sure sounded frightening too many times last night.

At 11:30 p.m. the meteorologist at KURV radio said the eye was just getting over McAllen--meanwhile we'd been getting pummeled all that time, thinking the eye was already upon us. The eye went NW over Red Gate (north of Edinburg on U.S. 281) on the northern end at around that time. We slept with a few windows cracked open to allow for ventilation, as despite the wind and rain, the heat--coupled, of course by the humidity--was quite thick. The rain and wind essentially power-washed everyone's roofs around here--and then some; from my vantage point the wind came from the West or NorthWest the entire night.

Whatever frozen meat had thawed out I barbecued for lunch today; the rest of the stuff in the fridge we put on ice and later took it to a relative's house, where they had power. The morning started with drizzle and soft rain in McAllen while the eye was winking at Rio Grande City and Roma from about 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. or so, according to a friend who works at Customs at the international bridge in Rio Grande City and news reports, mainly from KURV radio. I barbecued in the near 96 degree weather (though it was slightly cooler yet) after the rain subsided.

Again, Dolly essentiall hugged the Rio Grande, moving parallel to its banks, albeit north of the river, up towards Laredo and Eagle Pass and beyond, so the likelihood of more flooding and levee breaks is yet a probability, not just a possibility.

The national news media, almost as if waving goodbye to the "bigger" story of a levee break, has opined that all is well with the levees--without even so much as an interview with anyone to substantiate their theory. I am by no means hoping for a flood or a break in the levee system, but realistically, judging from Dolly's path and lasting rainfall--with outer bands affecting Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Louisianna, it would be premature to say the Valley's levees will hold.

The average amount of rainfall from Dolly for the four-county region is 7", according to KRGV-TV. Most parts of the Valley got 8.5"; several areas got 12" to 15".

The Texas National Guard started distributing food, ice, and water today. The Salvation Army is expted on S.P.I. and perhaps other areas on Friday.

I know this is much to take in, but I know that there are several of you from out of town and wish to stay abreast of what's up. So I hope this helps.

Overall, we're okay; no reports of death yet; severed fingers, broken arms (and egos)--some dude fell of a balcony in S.P.I.--but otherwise, we're okay. Now tell that to the folks with "water" beds in their colonias. So flooding--diesel, and pesticides, and cemeteries, and toxic chemicals, and wastewater--is still an issue for many folks. Not so in Mission and McAllen, but in other parts it's scary.

So by no means is this hurricane's damage completely known or completely gone. Dolly came to dance with a full dance card, then went ahead and danced some more. And she was a horrible dancer who stepped on lots of toes.

Thanks to all for your warm and well wishes and prayers. Let's keep the folks in the flooded and no-power areas in our prayers still. Thanks.

1 comment:

carol said...

Thanks for the detailed and descriptive update, Daniel.