The collective sigh of relief was almost audible in the streets as Galveston County woke up to sunshine, blue skies and white clouds Thursday morning. Across most of the mainland, there was hardly a twig out of place and not a single drop of rain had fallen. The island got some high water, and there was some flooding there and on Bolivar Peninsula.
Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall under cover of darkness on Thursday morning, mercifully passed us by, for the most part.
But the media images we awoke to that same morning weren’t all so cheery. Laura rushed ashore near Cameron, Louisiana, wreaking havoc in places such as Orange and Port Arthur, which were brutalized by the flooding rain of the painfully slow-moving Harvey in 2017 and Imelda last year, and pummeling Lake Charles, Louisiana.
We’re thankful for whatever force of nature or supernature was responsible for tilting Laura to the east. And at the same time, we’re deeply saddened that the storm didn’t lose steam sooner, before causing the damage that it did on the Texas-Louisiana border and beyond. We can’t be alone in swallowing back a sick feeling of dread on hearing the words “unsurvivable storm surge,” which is how the projected landfall effects were described late Wednesday night.
But other images emerged, as well. Images of hope. Among the most notable and moving was one showcasing a caravan of dozens of emergency vehicles on the road from towns across Southeast Texas into Louisiana to help wherever it was needed. Benevolent payback for the times our Louisiana neighbors came to our rescue. Like the Cajun Navy that motored through the night rescuing Southeast Texans stranded by Harvey’s fast-rising waters.
The images called to mind the famous quote by Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Indeed, a message to be taken from any disaster.
But there’s another message to come out of Hurricane Laura, albeit a less lofty, more pragmatic one: When it comes to hurricanes, don’t get cocky. Yes, we were spared this time around. But each storm has to be taken on its own merit.
The most dangerous thing any of us can do is take an attitude like northerners take when it comes to snowstorm warnings, which is more or less “meh.”
Hurricanes are different beasts, incredibly dangerous different beasts. We are still fairly early in a hurricane season that already seems overly active and downright ornery. It did, after all, produce a history-making event where two distinct storms were sloshing across the Caribbean at the same time.
So don’t let down your guard. It’s too soon to put the hurricane provisions away. It’s always too soon to shrug off reports of hurricanes heading our way and the precautions that should be taken.
Sitting uneasily beneath a weight of dread and uncertainty and of the kind of stillness that only happens when disaster looms, Wednesday night felt prickly and surreal. Thursday morning was surreal in a whole different kind of way. The stillness gave way as our cities yawned and stretched and woke up to a day sparkling with a sense of gratitude and even wonder that Laura passed us by.
Yes, the sun was shining and the sky was blue and we were all safe, if somewhat inconvenienced. But that was this time. The picture might look much different next time. And there will be a next time… and a next time… and a next time. This is the Gulf Coast, after all.
Stay safe. Stay smart. And never count on the mysterious, unpredictable benevolence of nature to spare us. Hoping for the best is not a viable plan for hurricane season.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner