September is not a kind month. It reminds us of the end of the summer. For Texas coastal areas it is also the midpoint of the hurricane season. And for the nation it reminds us how vulnerable an open society can be.
Many of the readers of this paper read in July of the damage hurricane Ike caused in the Galveston - Houston area. It was on September 13 last year when this hurricane made landfall on Galveston Island and then proceeded inland to hit Houston. The island was, of course, the hardest hit. Now a year later all but 20% of the people have returned of its pre-storm population of 53,000 people, and only about a quarter of the homes that were flooded and poisoned by mold are not habitable. Businesses have rebounded despite the general economic downturn and ¾ of pre-storm stores have reopened. And tourism is doing well. So ya’ll com’n down and see us!
The same can be said for the coastal areas east of Houston. Still, the burden of the storm remains, felt by the need for reconstruction resources. It has been estimated that the total damage to the region was widespread and has a price tag of $38 billion. Road signs are still being repaired and abandoned buildings in some places are a blight.
Eight years ago, on September 11, terrorists hijacked several planes with the objective to crash them into symbols of American power. Houston was not a target but the danger to its oil processing and shipping facilities was not known at the time. Houston also hosts Johnson Space Center, the major communication link with the International Space Station. Eight years ago on that day I sat in the Houston airport clubroom waiting to board a plane for Toronto. The room had three televisions going with sports and news. At 8:15 (central time) they switched one by one to views of smoke billowing from the twin towers. I had a unique vantage point to see the events in New York as carried by three different networks. People watching this were stunned, wordless. Only half an hour from my boarding time all flights were cancelled and by loudspeaker people waiting for flights were asked to retrieve their luggage. So thousands of people descended simultaneously into the baggage hall where all luggage was brought in from the planes.
At the same time planes arriving from South America were landing in Houston, since the airspace further inland was closed. Their passengers were off-loaded together with their luggage. The baggage carousels were quickly overwhelmed with suitcases stacked four deep. Finding a suitcase was a major challenge. But people were unusually subdued and very courteous in their search for luggage. Possibly they realized that there was more to worry about that than just their possessions. On my drive home from the airport, I saw fighter planes circling overhead. It dawned only later that Houston was thought to be in danger. Later I learned that the fighters had orders to shoot down any aircraft that were not heading for the airport.
When I flew out to Toronto a month later, there were young soldiers with rifles on the ready patrolling inside the air terminal. To be honest I was more afraid of them than of terrorists. The U.S. attacked Afghanistan as the place where terrorists were allowed to train. Actually, the hijackers of 9/11 got their flight training in Florida but I am glad we did not attack Florida.
Now 8 years after that September event we continue to live in a changed world.
One year after the hurricane, eight years after the terrorist attack