There Is Work To Be Done
I’m relieved (and lucky) to be where I am to report on Hurricane Laura.
My biggest fear, it seems, is to be forcibly separated from my family.
I say “forcibly” not because I won’t have any choice at all, but because it would likely feel as though I wouldn’t. With Hurricane Laura raging in the Gulf of Mexico, my job is even more essential now than ever.
Our editor and publisher made that clear yesterday. This is when our community needs us.
And there is work to be done.
To be clear, though, Laura will not be Harvey. Multiple sources have said so, and the meteorologist I spoke to on the phone for a storm update yesterday afternoon said exactly that: “Laura will not be a Harvey.” Laura is fast moving and is projected to be in and out in about a day.
I’m probably not the only person who was relieved to hear that we’re not facing another Harvey.
The truth is, from my point of view I’m not even sure whether to refer to Harvey as “Hurricane” or as “Tropical Storm.”
It did intensify into a hurricane, but we escaped the worst of it, which was unexpected. I still remember spending an evening after my classes at the University of Houston in a frantic, agitated panic. I commuted from my home about an hour each day; my parents were living in Saudi Arabia at the time for my dad to work, but at the time I think they were at their property some 160 miles north which was planned to be their retirement home and where they often stayed when they did return to the States. They wanted my boyfriend and me to pack up and drive up to stay with them. I had no idea what to do.
As we drove away, I hoped for the best.
My boyfriend’s parents live 12 miles closer to the coast than my house was — 12 miles closer to the storm that was looming. While there had been times in the past they would evacuate north, too, for Harvey they planned to hunker down and shelter in place. That’s what we decided to do.
A driving factor behind the decision was probably Penny. My parents aren’t pet people, and taking her there, only to have to force her to stay outside there, was not an option. (Unfortunately for my parents, it will never be an option. We’d sooner pitch a tent in the yard to sleep in so that we could keep her close.)
So I packed a bag, turned off all the lights in the house and closed my car in the garage. My boyfriend picked me up, and as we drove away, I hoped for the best.
UH shut down for several days, and I remember constantly checking their emergency page on both social media and their website to find out what they would do. Initially they would decide to close for a day or two before making the decision to extend any closure, and it was important to me to know whether I was expected to drive to campus or not, even as I had no intention of doing so. I was thrilled to find out that all classes would be canceled for several days.
It was pleasant to be hunkered down in that house with five other people and five (I think it was five at the time) dogs. We never lost power. There was more than enough food and water, and I passed a lot of time curled up in the recliner in his bedroom. I also spent a lot of time on the screened-in back patio, watching the rain come down in sheets.
It didn’t flood, not where we were. It didn’t flood where my house was, either. But parts of our county did, and a huge reason for that was not that Harvey stalled over us, but that it stalled over Houston for days, drawing up the same water it rained, only to dump it back down again. At least one of my friends there had to be rescued in a boat, not once but twice.
When our area flooded, it did so because the water from Houston and the water in our rivers simply had no place else to go.
I’d never seen so much water in our fields as I drove home several days after hunkering down just to check on the house, grab a few more clothes to stay longer. It rained as I drove, but the highway was not covered over — though I think it had been at one point, not long before — and when I arrived home everything was just as I’d left it. It would all be fine, as I left it again.
I had little to worry about during Harvey because I was not yet at that period when I was fully an adult. I didn’t have bills to pay, and the house I had to worry about wasn’t my worry so much as it was my parents’. I was taken care of, and I was safe — and enjoying my break from the fall semester that had only just started.
With Laura, everything is different.
The house I have to worry about is ours. Our flood and windstorm insurance. Our problem if something happens. Our mess to sort out if we ever have to file any sort of claim.
There are many experienced adults, including our parents, who could help us navigate through that, but ultimately it’s our responsibility and there’s weight to that.
I have a job that’s not only full time, but essential. Even bad news is still news, and it’s news our community needs and has every right to know. News that I’m responsible for gathering and disbursing.
Storms already give me some anxiety, but I think the anxiety of knowing that my job is always, has to be always, a priority, can easily overshadow that.
Ever seen that movie The Guardian with Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner? It’s one of my favorites. But there’s one speech, when Captain Larson welcomes the Coast Guard rescue swimmer new recruits to “A” School:
When storms shut down entire ports, we go out. When hurricanes ground the United States Navy, we go out. And when the holy Lord himself reaches down from heaven and destroys his good work with winds that rip houses off the ground — We. Go. Out.
That’s kind of what it’s like to be a reporter.
Ultimately it’s our responsibility and there’s weight to that.
Our publisher clarified yesterday that she will never ask us to put ourselves in physical danger — and in fact, she’ll be mad if we do. But it is still our priority — our job—to be on the frontlines reporting the news as it comes, no matter what the circumstances, even if those circumstances are a hurricane.
I would not have wanted to be a reporter during Harvey, though if I had been, I would’ve been thankful for that experience now. As it is now, Wednesday evening, Laura will make landfall tonight close to the Texas-Louisiana border, so we will be spared the worst.
There is still reporting to be done, and if we were going to see a more severe impact, there would be even more reporting to do. There’s no telling yet either what tomorrow will look like, regarding reports on any storm damage.
Earlier in the week, my bosses decided that, pending our managing editor’s earlier flight home from his vacation, our assistant managing editor would go to one of the local Emergency Operations Centers, and I would be in the best position of all of us to report from home, because, as she told me, I would be just as productive and my anxiety level would be lower.
She knows me so well.
It was a relief to hear, because my greatest fear since hurricane season began, and even before then, it seems, is that we might see another Harvey, and I would find myself in the same position our managing editor was in at that time: sleeping in the conference room on an air mattress for nearly two weeks, because there was work to be done.
I am home, and I am grateful.
And there is work to be done.