Battered by Ike


There's a popular stereotype, fed by films and other media, that says that natural disasters are almost invariably followed by looting. But in the real U.S., theft and violence are extremely rare in

such situations. In Texas right now, as Hurricane Ike moves northwards, you'll find reports of people fretting about looters as they refuse to leave their homes. Yet when you look at how neighbors in the storm's path are actually behaving, you see cooperation instead:

The water was rising at the Summerset Apartments in Galveston at 5:30 a.m., according to residents, who said they had been through a long night with little sleep, like many who stayed in the area to meet Hurricane Ike.

After the ceiling caved in on her mother's bedroom in their second floor apartment, Vee Thrasher moved into the bathroom and took in some neighbors from the first floor, which had already flooded.

And then there's this intriguing report from Houston:

The Black Panther Party says it deployed 17 of its members to area gasoline station convenience stores to protect them from theft in the hours before and after Hurricane Ike makes landfall.

Owners asked the group to provide private security for their property, said Major Kenyha Shabazz, chairman of Peoples Party No. 3, the Houston affiliate of the Black Panther Party.

"These are the places that service our communities with food, water and fuel," Shabazz said. "We don't want these places torn up."

During the daylight hours, Panthers were standing guard at boarded-up convenience stores in the East End, North Houston and Third, Fourth and Fifth wards. They planned to spend the night in the stores and be back out front at dawn.

"We hired these Black Panther people to take care of our two stores, one here on Dowling and the other one on Elgin," said Nabi Chowdhury, manager of a Mobil station on Dowling Street.

"We have confidence in them because for a long time we have known them, and their attitude and everything, we like," Chowdhury said.

That isn't the Black Panther Party, of course—that group disbanded three decades ago. But whoever these new Panthers are, they're apparently more interested in keeping the peace than offing the pigs.

Also revived: the rumor mill. Yesterday afternoon, at a Circle K in southeast Michigan, an employee told me confidently that gas was going to go up to $6 this morning. He was wrong, though it did hit an impressive $4.05. That's higher than fuel costs in Houston right now. (In Galveston, on the other hand, gives me this message: "No gas prices found. Please choose another area." Note: If you're trying to drive in Galveston today, the lack of gas will be the least of your worries.)