Read up! We have a democracy that needs help

I have been neglectful in the care and feeding of my site. Oh well, it isn’t as if anyone has come forward to say “why haven’t you updated your blog lately?” So I must be doing something right, just kidding, kinda sorta.

One thing is for sure, plenty of topics are out there in no small part due to that orangutan that millions will not admit  is the 45th president of the U.S.

The devastating storm that battered the Texas coast, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands all have a tie into 45. Even if the president is taken out of these disasters our U.S. citizens, including myself, encountered is often unimaginable.

Then there was the mass shooting in Las Vegas. There are so many stories there. Too many questions remain. Here is my question — and I am not certain whether it has or hasn’t been answered — why hasn’t any information been unearthed or released about those hotel guests who were staying on the same floor as the shooter?

As for No. 45 alone, it seems as if more and more Republican officials are beginning to realize what most of us who voted against Old Orange Man have known from the start. The president is incompetent and has an extreme and even dangerous type of narcissism. I am sure that one day experts will want a look at his postmortem brain. Both Democrats and Republicans are discussing, mostly in an anonymous fashion, the two legal means of ridding the White House of Old Orange Man. These manners of booting 45 are impeachment and removal from office, and exercising the 25th Amendment. Barring some dramatic and/or dangerous event involving the president first occurs, impeachment seems a  more likely avenue. That would require the Republicans coming together in Congress so if the impeachment process rolls forward, one would be assured that the reasoning for trial is a serious event.

The 25th Amendment also is an option, but hopefully that would be employed as a very, last option. Too much would be involved with such a solution not least at what is the slippery slope it would create for our democracy.

Yes, there is much to be learned and too much to digest all of the above as well as other concerns — North Korea chief among those.

So, if you haven’t already, get to reading about the news and if you find something that doesn’t sound right — which are most of 45’s actions and speech — read some more. Our democracy depends on you.

One of my favorite zoos escapes major hurricane damage.

It is heartening to know the Houston Zoo fared well during Hurricane Harvey and its flooding. About 60 staff members stayed to care for the animals at the long-time Houston attraction.

The Miami zoo has also prepared for Hurricane Irma which is barrelling through the mostly peninsular state.

The giraffe exhibit at the Houston park sustained the most damage which included about eight inches of water.

Although I do not remember hearing of any human electrocutions from lightning during Harvey,  an electrocution did kill someone who stepped on a power line under water while touching a metal boat. Also, I don’t know how much lightning was experienced at the zoo. But quite a bit happened here in Beaumont during the deluge. That brought to mind something I had often wondered: Are giraffes major targets for lightning due to their height?

Apparently, lightning kills maybe two giraffes a year, according to a BBC article on the subject. An average of 55 people are killed by lightning per year in the United States says this fact sheet from Texas Tech University.  I remember interviewing a guy who was struck by lightning following Sunday church services after a sudden thunderstorm in Central Texas. The man retrieved an umbrella and decided to help some older ladies get to their cars. The umbrella acted as a lightning rod. There seems a lot of irony in this.

A beautiful Malayan tiger at the Houston Zoo. Photo thanks to Houston Zoo.

The Houston Zoo is hoping folks will visit as a means to divert them for at least a little bit from the big bummer that has been Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. That sounds like a good idea. I might visit there myself when I have a long time I can kill after my frequent trips to the Houston VA Hospital. I might have to walk awhile and rest a few minutes due to my back problems but it sounds like it would be worth the effort. It has been more than 20 years since I visited the Houston Zoo. It is second in my top two zoos I have visited in the U.S.

My favorites:

  1. San Diego Zoo — It is huge and the gold standard in American and possibly world zoos. I visited there while stationed on a ship in San Diego back in 1978. I spent all afternoon walking around this massive park and could have returned to spend several more hours. The zoo is located in the awesome Balboa Park.
  2. Houston Zoo — This is a zoological park that opened in 1922. My Dad worked there as a young man and I enjoyed hearing his story about feeding the wild animals.
  3. St. Louis Zoo — This storied park had its origins during the 1904 World’s Fair.
  4. “The Saint Louis Zoo traces its origins to the 1904 World’s Fair and in 2004 commemorated the centennial of the Fair with this dramatic new transformation of the 1904 Flight Cage.“The Smithsonian Institution commissioned the Flight Cage for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and intended to move it to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. following the Fair. But St. Louisans rallied to keep the Flight Cage intact, and the City of St. Louis soon purchased it for $3,500 (the structure had originally cost $17,500 to construct). Within a few short years, it served as the impetus for St. Louis to develop a full-fledged zoo – the first municipally supported zoo in the world.”Long before there was a “Jungle Jack” Hanna and the Animal Planet network there was “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” I loved watching this animal show hosted by Marlin Perkins. The show began during his tenure as director of the St. Louis Zoo.
  5. San Antonio Zoo — I found this to be a nice zoo during a visit around 1982 or 1983. This zoo, located in Breckenridge Park, began with some small animals, and later some buffalo and elk.. This park had the first white rhino born in the U.S. back in the early 1970s.
  6. Cameron Park Zoo in Waco — I visited there once or twice when I lived there. It was nice for a smaller zoo. I always liked the dik-dik exhibit. These are small antelope from eastern African. I always thought their names were funny. My Dad used to call me “Dick Dick” as a little boy.

Runners up:

Caldwell Zoo in Tyler — I took a small group of emotionally disturbed boys with whom I supervised to this park. I found it to be a nice, small park that was well-laid out. With this group, I also thought their education program for kids was first rate. Like most other zoos I visited, I have not been back since first visiting in 1987.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Park in Glen Rose, Texas — Although not technically a zoo it does feature a number of animals to be found on a self-guided tour. I went there to do a story about one of its conservation programs in which the then-nearly extinct grey wolves were bred and later reintroduced into the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. I was let in the cage holding the mother and pups. It was amazing.

Living through another pain-in-the-ass disaster

If I could sum up the past week here in Beaumont, Texas, in one sentence, it would be: Natural disasters suck!

The town I live in has been in the news quite often over the week during the tremendous flooding that was a result of first, Hurricane, then Tropical Storm Harvey. The first hurricane I experienced was 12 years ago this month, Hurricane Rita. Three years later, Hurricane Ike, blew in from the Gulf and left a good portion of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast flooded.

Rita had extensive wind damage and it took quite some time for Southeast Texas to rebuild. As was the case with both Rita and Ike, I was fortunate enough to sustain no property damage from Harvey. I did evacuate Rita though in my hometown some 60 miles northeast, although the damage there was also quite extensive as it was in Beaumont.

The biggest problem in Beaumont I have faced with Harvey’s deluge was having no running water due to the city losing its water supply system. That is, after the brief power outage we faced.

The water pump station is located along the Neches River and draws water from the river as the main source of water for the City’s water system. The City also lost the secondary water source at the Loeb wells in Hardin County. At this time there is no water supply for the City water system. It looked like after going through all of this, my apartments faced evacuation due to management’s concern about water supplies should a fire threaten us. We were given about 24 hours to find somewhere else to live.

But, we were told the next morning that we would be staying. Albeit, it was without running water.

The next day, a somewhat weaker water supply was evident with running water in the taps and in the toilets. However, we are required to boil any water we get from taps. One hopes boiling it will be a good fix because who knows what all kind of pollution is in the floodwaters.

There was a shortage of places to buy needed staples. Those stores are slowly but surely opening. The same goes for restaurants. I had a burger and onion rings yesterday from Willy Burger. Today, I bought a buffet carry-out meal at Golden Corral. It is the water supply that is also hampering regular operations of restaurants.

 

An Army vehicle carries a woman through flood waters in Orange, TX. The troops are from the 1-143 Infantry Regiment, Airborne Battalion. Army photo by Spc. Austin Boucher

Next in my big bag of flooding complaints is the fact that the flooding has cut off Beaumont from pretty much the rest of the world. First, almost every road leading in or out of the city was shuttered due to rising water. Today, Interstate 10 from Beaumont to the Louisiana line is closed mainly due to flooding in an around Vidor. U.S. Hwy. 96 which leads to Jasper and points north is closed due to the collapse of a bridge over Village Creek from flood waters. I-10 from Beaumont is open again, and I will have to use it to drive to a medical appointment on Wednesday at the Houston VA.

While Harvey did quite a lot of storm damage as a hurricane upon landfall near Corpus Christi, it was its unending rain that caused so much damage in Houston. Upon the storm re-entering the Gulf and making another landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border, that rain only became worse. I did see a lot of trees swaying to and fro as the tropical storm moved to the south of us. But it caused little wind damage up here.

There is no doubting that I am very fortunate in not having severe hardships such as requiring military helicopters to pick me up and taking me to some shelter. Just how many homes and other abodes will require repair or rebuilding, it is hard to say. Likewise, the human loss seems to climb every day. The toll has surpassed 60, ABC News reported tonight.

Finally, many societal questions have risen in Harvey’s aftermath. The first responders from across the U.S., and at least one person from Israel, came to help. A lot has been made about the “Cajun Navy” who have come to help. During such a crisis, there is often a tremendous sense of “coming together.” But we are a nation divided that continues down that path, I think, until that moron in the White House is gone. Even rebuilding will be negatively affected by Trump and his fellow assholes. The easy reconstruction process made so easy by ready Mexican labor during Rita will be in severe demand because of the racist moves of the administration to rid our nation of immigrants.

Our newest challenge is once again North Korea which exploded a hydrogen bomb during a test this weekend. The concern that nation is causing makes a 1,000-year flood look like a spring rain.

 

Flooding shutters Interstate 10 at Texas-La. border

The flooding along the Texas and Louisiana border is undoubtedly no big national story. That is because, perhaps, a half-million people reside there as opposed to larger metro areas. The same limited media coverage also happened in this part of the U.S. during Hurricanes Rita and Ike. Sure there were the TV people who parachuted in and got their “Dan Rather” routine, trying to stand up in the wind and rain while talking. I imagine some of these folks could even chew gum at the same time.

But have no doubt this flooding is affecting millions of people merely because the flood waters in the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana has submerged Interstate 10. Texas transportation officials say it could be Tuesday or later until it is reopened.

The most recent Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) figures, that I could find after an hour of searching, from 2013 shows about 48,500 automobiles travel I-10 just outside the southwestern Beaumont city limit. Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city is, mostly, west from there some 75-to-80 miles. Near where Interstate 10 intersects with what are basically three highways in Beaumont — US 69, US 96 and US 287 — more than 130,000 vehicles travel per day. On about 25 miles east, at the Texas-Louisiana border, the traffic count is about 46, 000. You talk about cars, trucks, buses to the Louisiana casinos, and so forth going here and there, that is a lot of people.

flood

The flooding at the I-10 bridge at the Texas border in Orange — that city was devastated from storm surge in 2008 from Hurricane Ike  and now may see even worse flooding — was the scene Wednesday of confusion between the two states and no doubt left much head-scratching among those in the more than 46,000 vehicles which head east and west.

It is really difficult to keep up with the confusing details of the I-10 closures at the Texas-Louisiana border. Wednesday morning, TxDOT was supposedly poised to close the Sabine River bridge. The Louisiana State Police did close the westbound lanes to the bridge. But the eastbound routes remained open, for awhile at least. Returning from Houston yesterday on I-10, I saw probably five or six electronic signs that warned the bridge was completely closed, in both directions.

Amid this confusion, TxDOT issued some I-10 alternate route information that made me wonder if the information was clear enough for the average driver who does not live in this part of the state, or even if they are from elsewhere.

  • El Paso take I-20 East of Van Horn
  • San Antonio take I-35 North to I-20 East to Shreveport
  • Houston take US 59 North to I-20 East to Shreveport
  • Beaumont take US 96 North to US 69 North to US 59 North to I-20 East to Shreveport

At least the last alternative made apprehensive. US 96 to 69 — remember they are considered the same along with US 287 going northward from Beaumont. That is really no problem but I think the transportation department might have added: In Lufkin, turn right on Loop 287 and take the US 59 exit toward Nacogdoches. Trust me, I lived in Nacogdoches for many years and those directions are seared in my brain.

All of those alternatives were not meant for me, of course. I think later, when the Sabine River bridge was opened on US 190 in Bon Wier, Texas, TxDOT gave the alternative to travel up US 96 to US 190 in Jasper, from where the state line is about 25 miles east to southeast on that highway toward Baton Rouge.

I worked today so maybe I didn’t read everything about traffic on I-10 that I needed to. I was quite surprised though when heading to downtown Beaumont this morning where I-10 was reduced from three lanes to one lane. It turned out, I didn’t even have the option of going on east to downtown. Traffic was being rerouted at the I-10 split with US 69/96/287. I found a way off and made my on alternate route to downtown. I wish I had known that I couldn’t drive on the interstate the way I usually do. To be fair, I had to go out westbound on I-10 later on, and coming home I saw that an electric sign message said that the interstate would be closed at the exit where the routes to the Piney Woods split.

These are all minor inconveniences to me. The majority of the area hit hardest on the Texas side of the Sabine is where I grew up and where my closest relatives and  old friends still reside. Several family members are working to keep others safe. One of those — a niece — is helping others even though she and her family had to be rescued by military personnel. Hopes for her home surviving are dismal, from the last messages I have seen.

This is, literally, a disaster. A large portion of this area in Texas has been declared a disaster area by the state. Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican executive of Texas, flew over the region in a chopper. I am hopeful President Obama will also declare these counties as a disaster area.

Looking at such wreckage makes you forget your own minor problems — like some traffic slow-down. I do hope TxDOT will learn from their mistakes and miscues. Obviously, Texas and our neighbor to the east need better communication.

Yes the water’s rising. To some, it’s old hat.

“Is it raining?”

That is what most folks ask me when I get a phone call from someone living somewhat of a distance from where I live. Yesterday it was a guy in the District of Columbia. Today it was a man in Dallas.

If you have been watching the news in the United States during the past couple of weeks you will see that Texas has had some trophy raining.

It began with the flash flooding in the “Hill Country” of Central Texas, primarily around San Marcos, Wimberley and other areas between Austin or San Antonio. Hays County, where San Marcos and Wimberley is located, really took a pounding. Houston, another low-level city was flooded. Then it was Dallas’ turn. Two of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. waterlogged.

In actuality, the flooding has seemingly settled into the area where I live — in Southeast Texas — for more than a month.

Areas of the Sabine River, south of Deweyville in Newton County, has hung on the precipice of flooding for some time. The area I am referring to has an elevation that would struggle to make 10 feet. Many of the residents see this as just a part of living on the river.

Some times are worse than others though. Recently, the Sabine River Authority has had to let loose some of that mass of water that is kept by Toledo Bend Dam. The dam, like the river, separates the Texas-Louisiana border. The dam is located about 100 miles north of Deweyville and Indian Lake. Both the dam and “greater” Deweyville are located in Newton County. Across the river bank are Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes in Louisiana.

Although the river authority reports that it has “cut back” on water releases, the equivalent of 12,474,852 gallons of water per minute are flowing downstream to regulate the elevation of the largest man-made lake in the south and the fifth largest in the United States.

Local television reports that folks around the area below Deweyville are taking it all in stride. They’ve seen it all before. Some people think the people who live just off the river bank are a little on the insane side. But, be it ever so humble …

Hell, if the water keeps rising they’ll ride their roofs downstream if they have to do so. How high’s the water mama? Well, the present forecast calls for the river to crest tonight in Deweyville. But if it keeps raining, we’ll find out high the water really will be in south Newton County.