Lessons Learned From Hurricane Ike, Underground Utilities

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | October 2008 Vol. 63 No. 10

In October 2005, I wrote about our experience with Hurricane Rita. Unfortunately, it’s time to discuss another hurricane.

We first moved to the Gulf Coast area more than 21 years ago, to St. Tammany Parish, located 24 miles north of New Orleans across Lake Ponchartrain. Within a year, we experienced our first hurricane.

It was only a Category 1, but the eye passed directly over our home and we were rocked by winds of 75 miles per hour and heavy rain. We considered evacuating but local residents guffawed at that notion. “Son, ya don’t lose no sleep over a weak Category 1 and you sure don’t need to run from it,” explained an elderly co-worker. My family and I were still pretty impressed by the storm’s destructive power but local residents took it in stride.

To my dismay, I also learned that, statistically speaking, New Orleans and Houston were long overdue for a direct hit by a major storm. Nothing happened while we were in south Louisiana and even when we moved to Houston in 1992, major storms continued to miss both cities for several years.

Statistics finally caught up with New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region while Houston dodged a bullet when Hurricane Rita veered 100 miles east a few days later. In 2008, statistics caught up with the Houston/Galveston area as well.

While Hurricane Ike was classified as a strong Category 2, experts related that the destructive power of Ike was more akin to a Category 4. Ike was massive – the size of Texas itself. Combine that with the bowl-shaped topography of the Texas coast which concentrated the storm surge, and you had an incredibly dangerous storm.

But we still didn’t evacuate. Lessons learned from Katrina and Rita included recommending people who are not in storm surge areas to stay put and off the highways so those that legitimately need to evacuate can do so.

Underground utilities to the rescue