When I first set myself to writing a series of posts about the last decade in Houston, this post was going to be about Bill White, and his decision to bring evacuees to Houston after Hurricane Katrina. It was, I thought, one of his brightest accomplishments during his tenure. Frankly I have struggled to write this post because on one hand, I didn’t want to write a gushing tribute to Bill White because while I do believe he is one of the greatest mayors in the history of this city, he’s not perfect.
So as I sit down to write about Bill White, I would like to pay special attention to one of the most definitive moments of his tenure, Hurricane Katrina. It is no secret Houston is an entrepreneurial city. Oftentimes, we are downright opportunistic, maybe to a fault. The Port of Houston stands as the most visible testament to our ability to take advantage of some else’s misfortune. At the turn of the 20th Century, Galveston was thriving as a major commercial center of Texas. In 1900, the hurricane of all hurricanes hit, and the Port of Galveston was severely damaged. It killed over 6,000 people, and changed the Texas Gulf Coast forever. The biggest change came as a result of the opportunistic leaders of Houston. They quickly pointed out to Washington that it was a bad idea to keep a major U.S. port in such dangerous waters. Houston, a good 50 miles inland, was a better option. Thus the Port of Houston was born, and the histories of these two cities was never the same.
However, despite the fact that the fortunes of these two cities was irreversibly altered, in the end, it made a whole helluva lot of sense. Fast forward 104 years later when Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on the city of New Orleans. We all remember the images, we all remember the outrage and sorrow. It was the 21st Century, how could this happen? Will anyone step in to help these people? In Houston, that call was answered.
When I went looking for an image for this post, I was shocked by what I found. I mean, I remember the images from the Dome, but to see them again now, I was taken aback. This is THE Astrodome, the House of Pain, the Eighth Wonder of the World, being used as a hurricane shelter. I honestly don’t know if there were many cities that would have thought up this idea so quickly. Houston did what it does best, it opened its arms to people in need, and didn’t care who you were, only that you got what you needed. However, I will readily admit the decision to allow the evacuees to come to Houston wasn’t totally fueled by altruistic motivations.
As far as Houston was concerned, many were glad to help, others were wary about what we had let into our city. It is not worth bringing up here, but it wasn’t a match made in heaven. There were issues, there were problems and the city found out quickly it had to cope with the burden of a large group of people that were scared and desperate.
Frankly, I have little time for criticism over this situation. Particularly when those throwing barbs did not, nor ever intended, to likewise open their doors to help these people. I am not saying Houston was the only city to step up, but we did take on a greater burden.
While this post was to be more about Bill White, as I close, it is really more about Houston. As with the previous subjects of the X Marks the Spot series, it isn’t about the events themselves, rather the way they fit together to create a perfect harmony that allowed Houston to emerge as a greater city then we knew a decade ago. It would be ignorant to say some Houstonians didn’t recall the grisly images following Tropical Storm Allison when the coverage from New Orleans poured in. Nor would the fear of unemployment not haunt those of us who lost their jobs in the aftermath of the collapse of Enron. Houston knew what it felt like to fend for yourself in your darkest hours.
And no other time in this decade was that more evident than when a man by the name of Ike came ashore three years later . . .