The Islamic Post Blog


Muslims in Texas Assist With Ike Relief by Khalida
October 14, 2008, 5:37 pm
Filed under: National, Sept/Oct Volume - 2008 | Tags:
Hand to Hands assisting their neighbors in a joint effort with the Muslim American Society after the devastation of Hurricane Ike.

Hand to Hands assisting their neighbors in a joint effort with the Muslim American Society after the devastation of Hurricane Ike.

By Yasmin A. Atheem,

Hurricane Ike taught residents many hearty lessons. For Houston resident, Elaine Walker, who woke up on Friday, changed her mind, and evacuated with her children, the lesson was the importance of emergency preparedness.  Weather experts are currently considering enhancing the hurricane measurement scale to provide more effective data to aid residents and local government officials in preparing and responding to evacuation requirements. For members of Hand to Hands Social Service agency,  Begum Nisreen, Hawwah Shahid, Samayah Jabari, Juwairiyah Abdullah, and Zulaika A. Karim the lesson came while partnering with the Muslim American Society to help feed residents displaced by the hurricane. Begum Nisreen recalls, “Some of the volunteers were still without power and living in shelters themselves, but there were so many less fortunate than us we had to help.”

Today, most of Houston has returned to pre-Ike status. For residents of Galveston and other coastal towns, it will take months to recover as communities are rebuilt and the city mourns the loss of possible hundreds.

“We are never evacuating again, Hurricane Rita taught us a lesson!” Elaine Walker had exclaimed when Hurricane Ike began to move towards the Gulf of Mexico the first week of September. Along with most Houstonians, Walker was not convinced the minor Hurricane would put Houston and surrounding areas in direct harm. The evacuation attempts during Hurricane Rita were disastrous due to lack of food, money and gas for evacuees. Many Houstonians vowed never to repeat the misadventure. For some, it would be the biggest and last mistake of their lives. Over 60 people are confirmed dead from Hurricane Ike, with over 300 still missing as bodies are still being found in the rubble that was once thriving communities. Galveston Island, approximately 40 milesnsouth of Houston, and other coastal towns were hit hardest where a massive storm surge leveled homes and swept them into the sea.
There is a point in the life of a hurricane where those in its path stand up and pay attention. For the gulf coast of Texas, this was September 9th when various coastal counties called for voluntary evacuation. Voluntary evacuations allow residents to make the decision to stay and seek shelter or escape to a safer part of the city or state. Mandatory evacuations all but force residents to leave as the city declares those who stay behind “on their own” with no emergency services or search and rescue available until after the hurricane completely passes. By September 11th, a mandatory evacuation was in order for all coastal counties including Galveston County and bordering Brazoria County where Begum Nisreen Azim resides. “When we saw that there was a mandatory evacuation, we did not immediately decide to leave. Our first decision was to obtain emergency supplies that would allow us to ride out the storm.” However, a trip to the local market proved unfrui tful as thousands of residents converged at once to pick up non-perishable fo od, bottled water, batteries, and other supplies. “We drove over 40 miles to gather up the appropriate supplies, which was daring considering gas was disappearing faster than food!” explained Azim.  Soon the mandatory evacuations claimed all rations, including money from ATMs, in Galveston and Brazoria counties, due to fleeing business owners.

Friday morning, September 12th, millions of Houston residents woke up to daunting news. The hurricane was certain to come ashore in the Galveston area and would barrel north through Houston with hurricane force winds. Houston was going to take a direct hit. Hurricane Ike was classified as a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale with sustained winds of 110 mph. The real danger though, was the size of the storm, over 800 miles wide almost the size of Texas itself. This unusually large storm began to change the outlook of residents who vowed never to leave after the Hurricane Rita debacle. Elaine Walker reevaluated the situation, “The news kept telling everyone that although the storm was relatively low in terms of the category, the massive size would put everyone at a higher level of danger”. Weather buffs knew that as a Category 2 hurricane, the ability to “weather” the storm was high. But Hurricane Ike had been underestimated.

In the late night hours of September 12th Hurricane Ike came ashore. The outer bands of the massive hurricane could be felt long before the dreaded eye reared its ugly head. Storm surge in Galveston Island was mind blowing as the famous 17 foot seawall saw ocean waters swell right to the edge before the worst of the storm even arrived. “Imagine a wall built to rise 17 feet above sea level to protect the island. Now imagine the ocean suddenly swelling to 20 feet. People who decided to ride out the tame storm began to panic!” exclaimed Samayah Jabari, area resident. But a mandatory evacuation, panic or not, means there was no help for thousands who opted to stay behind on Galveston Island. City officials estimated that 40% of the islands 57,000 residents stayed. Just up the road Houstonians were taken by surprise when the city of 4 million people went black Saturday night; the power was out.

Since Hurricane Ike was so large, residents had to endure eleven hours of hurricane force winds before Ike was downgraded to a less threatening tropical storm.  By Sunday afternoon, the sun brought the realization that parts of Galveston Island were wiped off the map. Huge skyscrapers of glass and concrete, misplaced symbols of power, were destroyed and humbled.  One building which housed several offices had all of the windows shattered and some of the contents of the building, such as chairs, desks, and machinery, thrown and scattered all over the streets below. Trees, fences, cars, roofs and electric poles were thrown about the city as if they were leaves in a breeze. Local authorities began reporting the deaths. A curfew was immediately put in place. Anyone found on the streets after 9pm was subject to arrest. There were no stores open to purchase supplies. There was no potable water, no gas for vehicles, no banks or ATM machines available, and still no power, to the panic of millions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reacted by setting up emergency services to provide shelter, food and water.

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