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Published July 16, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Storm season extra complicated for paraplegics

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

It’s that time again.

Watch for clouds off the West African coast.

Find the Yucatan Peninsula on the map.

Listen to those TV weather folks you ignore most of the year.

It’s hurricane season.

I never used to worry about hurricanes. Since moving to Houston in 1971 I had survived Allison’s flooding, Alicia’s winds, and Rita’s panicked traffic jams. Like too many of us, I had grown to think I was Hurricane Harvey and becoming a paraplegic seven years ago changed that. Through training and first-hand experiences I have learned to adapt to wheelchair life, but nothing prepared me for Harvey.

You can’t fight Mother Nature, especially from a wheelchair.

As Harvey lingered for days, all I could do was sit in my chair and watch the water rise in the streets and check TV to see whether it was raining green and yellow amounts (not too bad) or red and purple amounts (really bad).

The hard work was left for my wife. Kelly waited in lines for storm supplies. Kelly moved the outdoor furniture. Kelly arranged homemade sandbags.

Things weren’t supposed to be this way. I felt useless, vulnerable, guilty. These feelings aren’t uncommon for a paraplegic, but Harvey certainly heightened them. And I am sure this wasn’t what Kelly signed up for.

Things got worse as the water started creeping over our curb and up the driveway toward our one-story home. Evacuation became a possibility.

As an editor at two Houston newspapers, I had seen my share of pictures of elderly people in wheelchairs being rescued from high water. Now I was in danger of becoming one of them.

We needed a plan. Kelly, despite my objections, planned to stay in the house with our pets even if water started coming in.
A neighbor in a two-story house offered refuge if worse came to worse.

But I couldn’t even get to that house. I felt trapped. In desperation, I called the Pearland police. They would come get me but only when water started entering the house. They put me on their list. Another neighbor offered me a boat ride out.

So we had a plan if things got worse. Kelly would stay in the house while I was evacuated.

Those of us in wheelchairs become accustomed to some indignities. But this was new … and humiliating. Whatever male ego I had left was shattered.

Harvey finally moved on after dropping 50 inches of rain on Pearland and destroying or damaging 150,000 homes in the Houston area.

Luckily we didn’t need to evacuate, but it was a close call. As logical as our plan seemed, I still - to this day – feel as if I would have been abandoning ship, leaving my wife behind.

For this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting “near normal” hurricane activity with between two and four major hurricanes expected.

However, only two major hurricanes hit in 2018, but both made direct strikes on the U.S., causing billions of dollars in damage and claiming dozens of lives.

You can bet I will be watching the tropics … and making a better evacuation plan.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)