Riding Out Ike: What it Really Felt Like

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Mark Wilson / Getty

A man walks near the JP Morgan Chase Tower which had many windows blown out when Hurricane Ike past through the city September 13, 2008 in Houston, Texas.

"It's here," I said at 2 a.m., and we immediately moved our 4-year-old to a cot inside the closet. Mercifully, she slept almost the entire night, waking up just once to ask what the "boom-booms" were. The wind — like the continuous blast of a train whistle, interrupted by the occasional roar of a jet engine — didn't seem to bother her.

My husband, my daughter and I are back in my hometown for my brother's wedding. It was supposed to be a grand one, with dinner and dancing under a canopy of old oak trees in Brazoria County. But the county's been evacuated, and the bride's parents have fled to Hempstead, a small town northwest of Houston. The three of us decided to ride out the storm in downtown Houston with my parents in their sixth floor apartment.

When Ike first reached downtown Houston, we took our positions in front of the television, where we'd spent a good portion of Friday night watching Ike destroy Galveston. The blue tarps we hung over the windows appeared to be breathing, moving back and forth. We'd pull back the tarps and curtains and peek out at the storm. The streetlights were still on and we could see the trees blowing crazily. We felt relatively safe, until we heard the breaking glass.

The partition that screened my parents' balcony from their neighbor's shattered. Its metal frame was ripped partially out of the wall, and we've listened to pieces of it breaking off and flying away all night. Then the glass partition on the other side shattered as well. Watching that metal frame pound against the wall, knowing it could break free and smash into the windows, forced us to retreat. I'm hiding in the kitchen behind sheets of plywood my father attached to the bar. My parents are sleeping here on the floor. Ian, my husband, is guarding the closet, behind more plywood, which separates us from the floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of the apartment. It's been a frightening night.

Earlier this morning, around 12:30 a.m., an explosion woke me up. It was one of those sounds you hear and feel, as though the bass were turned up really high on your car stereo. At first I thought it was the hurricane, but I could still hear the hum of the air conditioner and the faint noise of the storm coverage on TV. My mom and I looked out the windows and watched orange flames jump into the dark sky as Brennan's restaurant, a Houston institution, burned down.

It's about 8 a.m. now and the rain is pounding us. The wind is still raging, but the water is falling down, not sideways, and the jet engine sounds are quieter and less frequent. We're nearing the end of hurricane force winds downtown.

I've just discovered those pretty plate glass windows in my parents' apartment leaked like sieves. The rugs are sodden, the curtains are damp up to about four feet, and there's about an inch of water in some places. My cousin owns a rollaway storm shutter company in Florida. He warned us yesterday to be prepared for water infiltration. Dad spent the better part of Friday afternoon taping the window seams and hanging tarps. It didn't work. Plus, there's a leak in the living room ceiling. We're wondering if the apartment upstairs lost windows.

And even six stories up we're worried about the rain. The wind is preventing the water on the balcony from draining, or maybe the drains are full. Whatever the cause, the water is building up. Another inch or so and it will be coming in under the sliding door. Mayor White is on TV, asking everyone to conserve water, as one of the critical pumps is down. We have water in garbage cans, flower pots, all the kitchen pots and pans and anything else that could hold liquid. My dad wanted to make sure we could flush the commodes and have some to drink if our bottled supply ran out.

Family and friends from the Midwest and Australia have been emailing us. Amazingly, we still have electricity and Internet service, so I've been able to let them know we're OK. It seems downtown and the Medical Center were the only places to keep their power. We lost the cable TV a few hours ago. Just before it went, we saw the hotel we were supposed to be staying in last night for my brother's wedding. Part of the facade had been ripped off and the lobby flooded.

It's starting to get light outside and soon we'll be able to see the full extent of the damage. Eventually, my parents will be able to go check on their beach house in Galveston County. From what we saw last night, it's probably under water. Their bulkhead was just six feet high, far too low to stop the storm surge. But it's hard not to feel relieved anyway. We're all safe, and it looks like my brother will get married after all, no tugboat required.

(See photos of Hurricane Ike here.)