Monday, 5 November 2012

El Zorro Weighs in: Salient Experience from Hurricane Alicia, Texas - 1983

     We have told the OROGs that El Zorro is terribly technically competent.  It is a source of humiliation to me personally that I lacked both the native intelligence and the personal self-discipline to learn what he has learnt from arduous study and careful practise.  He has been a member of the Communication Workers of America labour union, and he was one of, if not the youngest construction crew foreman in the entire Southwestern Bell operation.  His area of service he describes in the transmission included below is roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.  At that time it was a combination of rapidly growing metropolitan areas and extensive stretches of ranches, some huge, including portions of the fabled King Ranch and Kenedy Ranch, and the various Guerra ranching interests, among others.
     In this communique, El Zorro points out certain facts about a particularly tricky and powerful, destructive hurricane, attended by clustered outbreaks of scores of tornadoes, that resulted in much more damage than had been anticipated of the storm as little as two days before.  We include this further summary:    
Category 3 hurricane (SSHS)
Hurricane Alicia before landfall.
FormedAugust 15, 1983 (1983-08-15)
August 20, 1983 (1983-08-21)
Highest winds
1-minute sustained:
115 mph (185 km/h)
Lowest pressure
962 mbar (hPa); 28.41 inHg
21 direct
$2.6 billion (1983 USD)
Areas affected
Hurricane Alicia was the costliest tropical cyclone in the Atlantic since Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Alicia was the third depression, the first tropical storm, and the only major hurricane of the 1983 Atlantic hurricane season. It struck Galveston and Houston, Texas directly, causing $2.6 billion (1983 USD; $6.07 billion 2012 USD) in damage and killing 21 people; this made it the worst Texas hurricane since Hurricane Carla in 1961.[1] In addition, Alicia was the first billion-dollar tropical cyclone in Texas history.[2]
Hurricane Alicia was the first hurricane to hit the United States mainland since Hurricane Allen in August 1980. The time between the two storms totaled three years and eight days (1,103 days).[3] Hurricane Alicia became the last major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) to strike Texas until the stronger Hurricane Bret in 1999 made landfall. Alicia was the first storm for which the National Hurricane Center issued landfall probabilities.[4]
      We include this summary about the Hurricane Alicia, due the fact that El Zorro typically tries to understate that he and his crew actually had to go into an area that was considered (and actually was) a catastrophic disaster at the time.   Later facts bore that out.  Service in that area was profoundly dangerous due to animals, undisciplined electricity, broken gas lines,  snakes, looters (rare), and falling debris of every imagineable kind.   Many died, and many hundreds were seriously injured.   To serve in the conditions as they presented was not for the weak-knee'd.

     Although he and I are clones of a sort, the OROG will note that he feels free to contradict, especially with evidence at hand, my positions and thoughts about matters.  In the case of Alicia, a particularly sneaky and devastating Hurricane, my position must, at the least be held aside, due to the fact that El Zorro...once again...really was on the edge of and deep inside of the Belly of the Beast.   
Senor Gringo,
     This is to say I had personal experience with a fairly devastating hurricane event you will remember. Hurricane Alicia hit the Texas Coast in the summer of 1983. Yours truly was, at that time, a construction crew foreman for SWBT/ATT located at McAllen. My area of responsibility was from South Texas from Brownsville to Laredo and easterly to Falfurias .
      On August 15, 1983 as the hurricane was approaching we (Telco managers and strategists) met at a makeshift war room at 1010 North Tenth St.   My crew of 8 and I had volunteered to deploy to the Houston area as we were pretty sure that is where the hurricane would strike. It was on the 18th that the hurricane made landfall just southwest of Galveston as a level 3 hurricane. On the 18th, I remember we had substantial rain and wind at McAllen; however, the storm did not require emergency services so we saddled up and headed for Edna, TX where we would be based to assist restoral. It was a strategic decision in that the larger metro areas would probably be booked, blocked off,  or otherwise inaccessible due to the potential damage. We took our construction vehicles and extra supplies of food and water in case there was a need in the area when we arrived. As it turns out there was significant damage in terms of downed telephone and power lines, trees, building debris, etc. Our first priority was to restore communications, which was generally what we did, but we were also able to assist the local population with our equipment and manpower.
We saw our Central Power and Light (the main private ower company in those days, then part of Central and Southwest Power) counterparts from the Valley and their equipment on site as well. There were other Utility companies we recognized from out of the area too. In our time there we did observe Red Cross personnel but nothing from FEMA. The following is some statistical data I found on Wikipedia:

“The Red Cross provided food and shelter to 63,000 people in the hurricane's wake, costing about $166 million (1983 USD; $387 million 2012 USD). FEMA gave out $32 million (1983 USD; $74.7 million 2012 USD) to Alicia's victims and local governments; $23 million (1983 USD; $53.7 million 2012 USD) of that was for picking up debris spread after the storm. More than 16,000 people sought help from FEMA's disaster service centers. The Small Business Administration, aided with 56 volunteers, interviewed over 16,000 victims, and it was predicted that about 7,000 loan applications would be submitted. The Federal Insurance Agency had closed over 1,318 flood insurance cases from Alicia's aftermath, however only 782 received final payment.

    My only point is that the private sector responds without federal “assistance” and at our own expense. Yes, we are responsible for our own infrastructure; however, we cooperated with the local community to help mitigate the damage. The CWA (Communication Workers of America) notwithstanding, we all worked together. The union was kind of snippy about expenses for my non-management crew but otherwise there was no problem with the union.
This is just for your interest to be used or not, at your discretion.


    It is noted also that this was during the Reagan Administration.   The entire FEMA thing is a fluffy teddy-bear, government sop to the touchy-feely, kinder and gentler, mid-night basketball crowd who think..."The government should do something for .......(enter name of victim group)",   Everything the government does for anybody always becomes a decrepit disaster to be blamed upon the Republicans and conservatives because they would not allow people who really, really cared to fund the ridiculous,dsyfunctional program or Secretariat enough to make a real difference.   There are still hundred of mobile homes rotting in various  places in Texas, grouped up after various disasters, frequently never deployed , sometimes just hooked-up and moved to places where they were found after several years of occupation and  eventual abandonment.   It never ends.   But we do remember Alicia...the surprise killer...and the incredible amount, especially of minor to moderate damage that extended so far out from the centre of the "small storm", and the incredible "Kristallnacht" effect of the flying roof gravel, so popular in those days, and the damage said gravel caused in downtown Houston and other towns around.   There were many places with slight damage that had thousands of new cars completely stripped of windows and showrooms that had been converted to open-air facilities.   It was surreal.
     We depart now, and await our next visit from El Zorro.   Salience and depth of knowledge is a comforting thing for the mind and soul.
El Gringo Veijo