A few weeks ago, the electricity went out in my neighborhood. A pretty fair swath of the Salt Lake Valley was impacted. The official cause, according to the recorded message on Rocky Mountain Power's customer service line, was "an equipment failure." Nine hours later, the power was restored.
It was a bleak reminder of the hit-and-miss status of our personal preparedness. Flashlights were missing. We had spare batteries but not the right size for the flashlights we could locate. We had plenty of candles, but if we burned very many at once, they set off the smoke detectors. It was Murphy's Law on steroids.
As I've watched news reports about Hurricane Ike, I'm forced to wonder about the survivors of that disaster. Did they have any emergency supplies? Are they expecting immediate help from the Red Cross, the state or federal government? What are they doing when it doesn't come as soon as they had expected?
Why did the people who decided to ride out the hurricane stay in the path of a storm they were told could bring "certain death"?
At press time, the death toll from Hurricane Ike was at least 39 people. It's hardly the scale of Katrina but tragic, nonetheless.
Texans are entering a new phase of the disaster, figuring out what to do next an ordeal complicated by widespread power outages, no toilets and long waits for clean food and water. People in shelters face long waits because their homes were badly damaged and destroyed. Even those who have homes to go home to can't because it is unsafe due to downed power lines and a lack of water and sewage service.
I'm no expert, but when public officials tell me to get out of Dodge or face "certain death," I will go to great lengths to get out of Dodge. But that means my car's gas tank had better be full, I have supplies ready to go, including something for my dog to eat. It means I have cash on hand and a plan where I'll go once I'm told "GO!"
And that's the best-case scenario. The types of disaster that Westerners are most prone to earthquake, floods or blizzard can come without warning, particularly earthquakes. Who could have imagined a tornado could touch down in Salt Lake City?
In some respects, the recovery from Ike could be worse than Katrina. Americans are ordinarily very generous, willing to help those in need. But along with the images of floating caskets and alligators menacing search-and-rescue workers, we saw Lehman Brothers' employees walking out of their offices Monday morning carrying cardboard boxes of their belongings.
We can't help but wonder how the already flagging economy will respond to these events. Just as gasoline prices had dropped below $4, we're bracing for another spike until all of the Gulf Coast oil refineries are back on track.
Many other Americans are suffering in states such as Illinois and Indiana, where the aftermath of the storm resulted in intense flooding and more deaths.
Interestingly, the only solicitations I received today via e-mail were from political campaigns asking for contributions. As a journalist, I don't contribute to political campaigns. Although I understand the presidential campaigns are in the home stretch and in a statistical dead heat, it's bad timing to ask for political contributions under the circumstances, maybe even bad manners.