What a Month (Part II) and Hurricane Harvey: Communications, Floods, Guns, Prayers, and Volunteers

When I posted a blog a few days ago titled, “What a Month!,” I had no clue Hurricane Harvey would pound Houston for days and days, and in the process, it would destroy and upend so many friends and students and the city that I love. 

It has been a few very wild days. In Lake Jackson, we really lucked out. Comparatively, it was uneventful. The rain and wind were constantly within 30 miles in all directions but not here. Not counting the handful of times we lost power for a few seconds, we lost power once for around two hours (maybe not even that long). Currently, the main consequence has been that all roads in and out of Lake Jackson are closed due to flooding and gas stations, grocery stories, and restaurants are out of food; although, this problem seems to be abating quickly.

Elsewhere, as the media has made clear, is very different.

(Aren’t you glad we have journalists and freedom of speech in the United States – things that Donald Trump and his allies want to end, according to their rhetoric. The Free Press must be defended.)

After the storm, 85 percent of roads in Houston were flooded. My only criticism of the coverage is that they didn’t really show the very impoverished sections of Houston or the areas populated by those who are mainly racialized as non-White. East Houston and South Houston have not received the same attention as North, West, and Central Houston.

Hurricane Harvey’s power to completely change or completely destroy the life of so, so many in such a short time is amazing and baffling and humbling, all at once. The city of Houston–because of its infrastructure and size and because of the kindness and diversity of its people–is an amazing, comfortable, and unique place. During the aftermath, people have been waiting in line to volunteer, as this meme illustrates. 

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Social media has greatly enhanced the power to have the latest information and to help others. Hurricane Harvey would have been much worse without the communications technology of the 2010s.

A few individuals have shown their disrespect for humanity with displays such as this:

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I’m by no means a perfect speller, but isn’t it interesting that displays like this always have spelling errors? “Looting,” of course, becomes very relative when people are devastated, displaced, and malnourished. How did we get to a point where shooting someone is simply acceptable?

On this note, Facebook is wonderful in many ways, but it has a reputation for not stopping violence when it could. Cody Rollo made this comment on The Facts‘s Facebook page about the Brazoria County Fairgrounds and shelters for the displaced. 

On another note. I live literally a stones throw away from the fairgrounds. Anyone steps on my property will be shot! 

I reported this comment to Facebook, but it doesn’t violate their standards. 

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My main other frustration during the Hurricane Harvey recovery is the constant reassurance of prayers from social media posts, from politicians, and from reporters. (And these are thoughts I’ve held for a long time….) Prayers aren’t really going to do anything. People need to take direct and specific action, if they can. Praying isn’t going to make a storm disappear or go elsewhere, isn’t going to make the water suddenly go away. Praying isn’t going to help fix human-made global warming and won’t correct the engineering problems that cause Houston to flood (there are solutions to this, if people and politicians will listen to science).

Praying, historically and sociologically, is what humans sometimes have done when they don’t know what to do or say, can’t do anything else, and/or don’t understand what is happening. Praying is frequently unethical too insomuch as people might pray that a storm hit somewhere besides where they live – suffering is going to happen and sometimes people wish that suffering on someone else.  

Why Christianity Must Change or Die has some excellent discussions on this topic.

Prayers (and thoughts) won’t prevent another hurricane from coming in and doing the same (or worse!) damage. Science (supported by engineering, math, biology, and history), however, can–if given dollars and ears.

Classes are supposed to resume at the University of Houston next Tuesday. I’m anxious to be back in the classroom and to see my 150 students again. Given that we had class for a week and then classes were canceled for a week, it will be a bit unusual starting back up again. I already know some of my students lost everything, so I’ll be working closely with them. Now I have to see what kind of adjustments to the course calendar I might need to make.

And I have another blog or two (mentally) in-progress, so you’ll hear from me again soon.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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6 replies

  1. Thank you for the news, Dr. Pegoda. I was wondering after your last post why the university president hadn’t declared a “flood holiday,” with a forecast of another 17 inches of rain back then. That was before the actual load ended up being >23 inches. I was also very worried that you and the university would have to be evacuated, too. I was also wondering why I couldn’t find a map anywhere on the internet or in the news of what parts of Houston were flooded. (Why didn’t anyone publish a topo map of Houston with all areas below the prospective sea [er, Gulf] level shaded in with estimated flooding?)

    Now, to find out how much of Houston was flooded, I am also surprised to hear only of “rebuilding,” but not “rebuilding where” discussions. Hasn’t most of Houston been relocated to inside the Gulf of Mexico, and can no longer be considered a “coastal” city? Shouldn’t the “why don’t we move Houston north” discussion be taking place? long before hurricane Sandy, I wondered the same about Norfolk,Va when the news that it is sinking into the Atlantic came out well, and about the loss of coastal homes after Sandy, in New Jersey, New York and Rhode Islands (yes, it became that). VP Pence’s comments about “making America bigger” really seem to be lost in another century, as our terrestrial ecosystem mass shrinks. At least Norfolk is starting to think about moving parts of it inland.

    But many sea-front homes are complaining about losing the view they paid for with their mortgages (but did not pay for with flood insurance).They seem to assume that the feds will pay for returning the coastline to its former position. [Oh, yes, even the far right like to feed at the federal trough. Wealthy New Hampshire wants Medicaid expansion for healthcare paid for by the feds. They want the federal dollars but do not want to help pay for it with state income taxes and sacrificing tax cuts for the wealthy]. Is Texas willing to do its part to pay for its expansion into wetlands? Someone said on the news that many Florida homeowners are complaining about having more than one severe flood ruining their homes over the past 10 years. Duh! Why did they keep rebuilding in the same place? And why did they keep getting permitted to do so?

    Most coastal cities (especially on the Gulf coast) should be looking at topo maps to see how far inland they will have to move their cities to avoid huge losses in the space of at least a predicted three foot rise in sea level over the next 50 years. After all, it does take quite a few years to move a city, usually longer than two generations! The rise of Gulf waters is expected to be far greater than three feet over the next 50 years. So making Texas “bigger” seems to be a far greater challenge than Holland’s since it created its first dike.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My brother is in Norfolk, and as you say, the city has “moved inland” at least many vital facilities and services. I am impressed with Dr. Pegoda’s comments, as you seem to be, with the exception of the futility of prayer. I guess he and I will just agree to disagree. LOL

      Liked by 2 people

    • We agree on many more things than we disagree on! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting thoughts about moving Houston more toward the North. In many ways, it is, kind of, in that it is growing in every direction like crazy. “Houston” (city limits and general area) occupies an incredibly large area and the population center keeps moving north and northwest. As far as businesses and hospitals go, I’m hearing damage was very limited. And Houston’s economy is largely dependent on the water, so I don’t see it “moving” too much. I do wonder if people might move. I know I would like to live in Houston but some where high that won’t flood!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I do happen to agree with Dr. Pegoda about the futility of prayer and pretty much most of what he said in this post. Prayer itself will do nothing to help. BUT… often to a group of very religious people, praying unites them, gives them a feeling of satisfaction that then allows their own brains to mobilize, share common feelings and leads them to accomplish a lot more than if they did not join others in that feeling. There is no reason to doubt that some other things can manage to do the same, however. I sincerely doubt that so many would believe in prayer if the only way they practiced it was alone.

    It is just that our modern society keeps developing methods to prevent people from coming together as a community except when severe tragedy happens, and not as regular, and predictable, methods for achieving that level of satisfaction. Our ancestors had regular square dances, and not necessarily prayer meetings. Today we have expressways and zoning laws. Not quite the same thing. The town meetings that continue today in those cities who caucus rather than vote by machine seem to be the only fallback to a time when face to face meetings were ways to keep a community together.

    I see the only way religion really helps anyone is for those who fear death. Then religion can help in calming those fears. But it really doesn’t give a person useable help to solve their problems. I suspect that the poor generally tend to hold loyalty to a religion because hope is the start of all the steps we need to take to overcome real setbacks in our lives. When no relative exists who has enough money to help or no government agency even cares, or even neighbors don’t care at all, then religion offers hope but often no long term solutions. But any true victory we can achieve over those setbacks has to have hope based on real possible solutions. There are few for the poor. At least any permanent ways.

    The brain, however, relies heavily on many centers that reach satiety to be able to build hope for anything at all. So satiety from listening to a piece of music might be enough to start to build hope for passing that exam next week, even though the music has nothing to do with the information you have to remember for that exam. In the end, however, real victory can only be achieved when the hope for help ends up bringing that particular help you need. So many leaders think well, you just got to do SOMETHING, without realizing that you have to know what is needed before SOMETHING is relevant to the solution. That is the failure of relegating responsibility for bringing help to a government solution where the government is run by, for, and of the wealthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rituals, including prayer, are always interesting to me from anthropological, historical, psychological, and sociological perspectives. Two brief comments about this for now:

      Prayer, for sure, can help people unite or help a person concentrate/meditate/relax or feel empowered.

      I’ve read about many studies that show people who are sick or have some kind of major surgery have more complications if they know they were prayed for — they don’t heed the doctor’s advice or they get over confident, for example.

      Liked by 1 person

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