The Human Condition (concise version)
Sunday Night Journal — August 19, 2007

Hurricane Watch

As we nervously watch the projected path of the season's first hurricane, memories of Katrina return. I wrote about our brush with Katrina here, but never posted any pictures. Here are a couple.

Keep these facts in mind as you look at the pictures: Our house is a bit over 100 yards (90-100m) from Mobile Bay, about ten miles or so up the bay from the open Gulf. We're on the eastern shore of the bay, so probably about 100 miles (160km) in a straight line from the point where the eye of the storm came ashore. The land rises gently from the bay, so that our actual elevation is something like 14 ft (4m) above sea level. There is an unpaved street running east-west directly in front of our house. It ends at a patch of trees which go down to the water's edge, maybe 100-150 ft (30-45m).

This first picture, the only one I have handy, was taken a few days after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The person who took it was standing in the street directly in front of our house, looking toward the bay, which is beyond the trees at the end of the road. The two logs are the trunk of a pine tree that had fallen across the street and has been cut in two and moved aside. That's a downed power line on the left side of the street, and the splintered stump of the pine.

Now here is a similar view, taken during Katrina, when the storm itself had mostly passed but the flooding had not receded much. It's not exactly the same view--the person was standing another fifty feet or so further east (away from the bay) than in the first one. See that clump of broad-leaved plants (elephant ears) on the right? They're directly in front of the house. The person who took the first picture was probably standing right beside them.

That's only a foot or so (.5m?) of water. The person taking the picture was probably standing at the very edge of the flooded area, or at most in a few inches of water. Because the ground rises a couple of feet to the north, the water wasn't in our house. The scary thing about the picture, though: see that light-colored horizontal band at the end of the road? That's the face of a breaking wave. I don't want to see that again; there is something scary about seeing not just water but waves where there is supposed to be land. The monstrousness of Katrina is evident in the fact that we have had direct or almost-direct hits from hurricanes that did not push this much water up the bay.



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