Hundreds of thousands have evacuated Galveston and a band of coastal Texas counties, while Houston residents stockpiled supplies and awaited what may be a direct hit on the country's fourth largest city -- with winds of perhaps 115 miles per hour expected at landfall.
The risk of staying was made blunt by the weather service in a warning Thursday: "Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single-family one or two story homes may face certain death," from the 20- to 25-foot storm surge that Ike is expected to push ashore, the agency said.
The National Weather Service reported at 1 p.m. Central time (2 p.m. EDT) that Ike was about 165 miles southeast of Galveston and about 270 miles east of Corpus Christi. Presently the storm is a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but forecasters said it is strengthening and could be a Category 3 by the time the center of the storm makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday morning.
I don't know about you, but to me the words certain death in a local weather forecast seem pretty grim; I can't imagine anyone not heeding the evacuation warnings or not taking this storm seriously. Human nature is unaccountable, though, and I'm sure that just like every other time something like this happens some person or other, or more than one, may try to "ride it out," with the assumption that this will be a near miss instead of the worst-case scenario that officials are warning about.
And that person (or those people) could be right, but he/they could also be horribly, tragically wrong, finding out only too late that they weren't paying attention and didn't appreciate the danger.
So often our approach to faith is a little bit like this. And to be fair, God's will isn't always expressed to us as clearly as a weather warning. Sometimes we seek His will, but remain uncertain as to whether we're really doing it, reexamining our motives and actions, having recourse to prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments, and always ready to hear Him should He make His will known to us in a way we're not expecting.
But sometimes we seek our own wills. Sometimes we do what we really want to do despite the warnings and problems that can arise. We might take on too many responsibilities at once, or become careless about prudent financial matters, or spend too much time and attention on the computer or the phone or the craft store or the local moms' group. When the first signs of trouble begin, when clouds form on the horizon in feelings of stress or overextension perhaps, or waves crash over us in a few bounced checks or a few too many projects going at once, we can pay heed to those signs and seek higher ground--or we can insist that we know what we're doing, that God obviously wants us to be involved in all these things and so He will provide, and blame the devil's mischief for making us feel like we should reexamine our priorities or prudential decisions or plans.
Stubbornly, like the man in the anecdote, we keep ignoring the rising floodwaters; even when we're sitting on our rooftops we pretend that all is well; and finally when the waves threaten to overtake us and we've ignored the boat and helicopter God sent to get us out of our predicament, we complain to Him that He didn't really let us know in time that we weren't doing His will, after all.
Fortunately for us, many waters can't quench God's love for us, and neither can the floods drown it. He lets us learn from our mistakes, and calls us to grow closer to Him, so that the next time we find our wills diverging from His we won't have to be submerged before we figure things out.
My prayers today are with all the people along the coast in the path of this storm. I hope that they did heed the serious warnings and go as far as they could away from the peril that threatens them. May God be with them, especially those who evacuated and will return to devastation when this is all over, and may He show them that the power of His love is greater than any of life's storms.
UPDATE: As of the most recent reports, Hurricane Ike is over 500 miles wide. For comparison, the State of Texas is 660 miles wide by 790 miles long. This is a hurricane that is almost the size of Texas. It's 70% bigger than a normal hurricane, so even if it stays a Cat. 2 or becomes a Cat. 3 it could do much more damage than a "normal" sized hurricane in these categories. Those being told to evacuate really should do so.