Proportions

The recent flooding of Houston made me think of numbers (because that’s the kind of guy I am).

One of my friends lives inside the City of Houston, and his house was not flooded (because the city is built on a hill, relatively speaking, of about 400 ft. above sea level. But it’s an island, so to speak, because most of the surrounding area is less than 100 ft. above the Gulf of Mexico — hence the massive floods caused by Harvey).

For my British Readers, let me give some perspective. The Greater London area (population 8.8 million) comprises about 605 square miles; greater Houston (pop. 6.5 million) comprises just over 8,900 square miles (in the U.S., “greater” is labeled as “metropolitan statistical area”, or MSA).

In so large an area, you’ll get a situation like this:

Texans don’t trust government, so they rescued each other when things got desperate

Across Southeast Texas, police, firefighters, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded with immense force. But in a storm of Harvey’s sheer monstrousness — hundreds of miles across, lingering for days with bucketing rain that swallowed roads and initially kept rescue aircraft grounded — no government response could ever have been enough.

So ordinary people took up the challenge.

When Andrew Brenneise saw his West Houston neighborhood flooding at a ferocious pace last Saturday, his first thought was Facebook Live. He pulled out his smartphone in the punishing rain and pleaded for volunteers with boats.

Forty-five minutes later, the first truck arrived with a boat on a trailer. Then ten more. Then twenty. Then Brenneise had a flotilla of fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs which, over the next six days, rescued hundreds of people and animals.

“This is who we are,” said Brenneise, 31, a business development manager at a chemical company. “The police and firefighters can’t be everywhere, so the community has to step in and take control.”

It’s true that by and large, Texans don’t trust the government (any government, even our own) — our state constitution is the most restrictive covenant in the world — but coupled to that is the realization that government can’t be everywhere, all the time (especially as in the absence of a state income tax, we can’t and don’t want to fund it). That’s true even in the best of times, as it happens, which means that in a massive crisis like Harvey, we have to take care of ourselves — and it looks like we did.

I also note that comparatively speaking, there doesn’t seem to have been too much thievery, no doubt because of the many “You loot, we’ll shoot” signs that popped up all over the place. Yeah, we include “defense of our property” in the list of things we don’t entirely delegate to government either. And any suggestion that government agencies should disarm Texans in times of disaster would be met with mocking laughter, not just from ordinary people but also from our elected politicians and police forces.

Now for the rebuilding. Texas has an aptly-named “rainy day fund” of just under $10 billion, which we’re going to have to dip into, I guess. The federal government will probably kick in as well — and before anyone jumps in with a “so you hate government but you’ll take their money” snark, let me remind y’all that we Texans do pay federal income taxes — and in any event, if the rest of the U.S.A. wants gasoline for their cars, we’ll need to fix the drowned oil refineries around Houston too; so yeah, the feds should come to the party.

I haven’t really kept on top of this — I’ve been eating Full English Breakfasts, getting plastered on warm ale, and swanning around stately palaces, sue me — but that seems to be a reasonable overview of the situation.

Feel free to add corrections and comments in the usual place.


Afterthought:  the Dallas-Ft. Worth MSA (pop. 7.1 million) extends for 9,268 square miles, fifteen times the size of Greater London.