Viridian Note 00251: Houston Mosquitoes

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts
Tropical Storm Allison, Houston's Great Flood of 2001, damage costs, fire ants, vast clouds of bloodsucking vermin
Attention Conservation Notice:
A continuation of Houston's weather violence, which has turned entomological. Lots of newspaper clippings and weird anecdotes. Almost 2,500 words.

Links: Skeeters Galore!

Center for Disease Control's Mosquito-Borne Diseases!

Texas Department of Health on the West Nile Virus! (A new potential health threat to Houstonians, who are already exposed to St Louis Encephalitis and dengue virus.)

American Mosquito Control Association, clearly an org with a big future

Entries in the Viridian Hot Rod Contest:

>From* (Alex Schroeder):

>From* (Greg Patterson):

This contest ends July 5, 02001.

Source: New York Times, June 22, 02001

"In Hazy, Humid Houston, the Mosquitoes Are Winning Big.


"HOUSTON, June 21 == Clarence Watkins, a head lineman for Reliant Energy, the local utility, considers himself at war.

     "He works in the afternoon and evening == what might be described as mosquito prime time in this city still recovering from huge rains and flooding == and defends himself with a style of slapping and leg-kicking akin to Irish line dancing.

     "'I've got a long-sleeve shirt and two good slapping arms,' said Mr. Watkins, 37. 'It's like 300 of them and one of you. It's like fighting a small army. You can hear them. You know they are coming.' (((The Viridian aspect? They're eating this guy because he repairs storm-damaged power lines for a fossil-fueled energy company.)))

"First came the rains. Now the mosquitoes.

"They are everywhere, a swarm of science-fiction-like proportions (((hello!))) spawned by the torrential rains and flooding here wrought earlier this month by Tropical Storm Allison. The flooding caused an estimated $4.88 billion in local property damage (((Hear that? $4.88 big ones. Whoa.))) that may take months or longer to repair. It has also raised long-range questions about whether this city encircled by bayous must rethink its readiness for huge amounts of rainfall. (((It's almost too good: "Moats and Dikes Surround Fossil Fuel Capital Of The World.")))

     "But, really, the main topic of conversation is mosquitoes. There are about 3.1 million people in Houston and surrounding Harris County. Officials say hundreds of millions of mosquitoes may have taken flight since the flood. (...)

     "In this, one of the nation's most hermetically sealed cities, no place is completely mosquito-free: They have been spotted in the air-conditioned pedestrian tunnels that run beneath downtown and inside the city's skyscrapers.

     "'I work on the 27th floor, and I don't know how a mosquito got up there,' said Roland Esparza, 42, who was bitten twice inside his office. (..)

     "Bugs are not exactly a new phenomenon to Houston. Heat, humidity and rainfall == mother's milk to much of the insect world == are found in abundance here. The cockroaches are big enough to frighten small children. Hardware stores stock pesticides the way drug stores stock aspirin. The world's first indoor stadium, the Astrodome, was built as a refuge from the heat and mosquitoes of the city's summers. The area's most powerful politician, Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority whip, began his career as an exterminator.

     "In all, 55 species of mosquitoes call Houston home, and even under normal conditions man often wages a losing battle against them. But this outbreak is the worst in memory, said Dr. Ray Parsons, head of Harris County Mosquito Control.(...)

     "To measure the problem, the control board dispatched inspectors and 'surveillance specialists' to stand like scarecrows beneath trees and wait for 60 seconds. Then, each inspector and specialist counted the number of mosquitoes that landed on their body.

     "Anything more than 25 landings every 60 seconds is considered bad; some inspectors reported rates exceeding 100 landings a minute. (...)

     "If there is good news, it is that no cases of disease have been reported, as happened in New York last year when mosquitoes carried the West Nile Virus.

     "Still, Houston officials declared the mosquitoes a health hazard this week based on their sheer numbers, and after complaints from hospitals at the sprawling Texas Medical Center, about three miles from downtown. Many of the hospitals suffered basement flooding and power outages and had to open their windows to dry out or catch a breeze. The mosquitoes flew right in." (((Nice tight feedback loop there.)))

(((Here's a useful bill for the damages.)))

Source: Houston Chronicle, June 19, 02001

"Allison's price tag tops $4.88 billion

     "The price tag on Tropical Storm Allison's damage in Harris County is estimated at $4.88 billion, county officials said Tuesday. (((That's Texas alone.)))

     "With an estimated repair bill of nearly $2 billion, the Texas Medical Center suffered the greatest loss, said Jim Robinson, chief appraiser for the Harris County Appraisal District. The Medical Center == the world's largest health-care complex, with about 40 institutions == accounted for most of the total estimated damage of $2.04 billion at the county's public facilities, including hospitals.

     "Residential properties, including apartments, sustained about $1.76 billion damage, according to estimates made by the appraisal district and Harris County Emergency Management, Robinson said.

     "Estimated damage to the county's businesses is $1.08 billion.

     "An estimated 2,744 homes and 696 mobile homes were destroyed.

     "Homes with major damage were numbered at 9,492, plus one mobile home. In all, 43,269 Harris County residences suffered some damage." (((Hope they didn't lose their mosquito screens.)))

(((Weak little Allison barely made official "Tropical Storm" status, but there was no stopping it. It killed people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and finally flooded New England.)))

Associated Press reports, Houston Chronicle, June 14, 02001

"Allison puts imprint on North Carolina

     "The remnants of Tropical Storm Allison dumped rain on North Carolina on Thursday(...) Flash flood warnings were posted Thursday for eastern North Carolina, where forecasters were predicting as much as 6 inches of rain in some areas.

     "Rain fell fast, about 2 inches in less than an hour Wednesday, and power outages affected more than 6,000 homes in the area around Salisbury, about 40 miles north of Charlotte. (...) Allison, the Atlantic's first tropical storm of 2001, is blamed for killing 22 people in Texas last week as it stalled after coming ashore, dumping nearly 3 feet of rain on some areas. Nine people died in Florida, including five who drowned in choppy water stirred up off the Florida Panhandle.

     "On Wednesday, Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes declared a state of emergency for 14 eastern Georgia counties left awash in 8 inches of rain that fell Tuesday. The storm system also brought heavy rain to South Carolina on Tuesday and Wednesday, but not enough to end a statewide drought."

"Last traces of Allison inundate parts of New England Associated Press

     "BOSTON == The last traces of Tropical Storm Allison swept through New England, dropping up to 7 inches of rain, flooding roads and knocking out electricity.

     "Meanwhile, authorities said two bodies were found Monday in a Pennsylvania apartment complex devastated by flooding and a storm-related fire, bringing Allison's death toll to 47.

     "Flooding created problems for drivers on just about all of Massachusetts' major highways (...)

     "'I woke up, and I had two swimming pools in my back yard, one that has a lot of chemicals and one that has a lot of mud,' Dennis Garafolo of South Windsor, Conn., told WFSB-TV of Hartford. (((What a wonderfully Greenhouse thing to say.)))

     "As the storm moved up the Eastern Seaboard, parts of New Jersey received more than 5 1/2 inches of rain, while 7.2 inches of rainfall were recorded in Pomfret, Conn., and nearly 5 inches fell in Wellesley, Mass., officials said.

     "'This was not an easy storm to forecast,' said meteorologist Neal Strauss of the National Weather Service in Taunton. (((Uh, yeah.)))

     (...) "In Pennsylvania, which received more than 10 inches of rain over the weekend, six deaths were linked to the storm. Firefighters on Saturday rescued about 30 residents from the flooded Village Green apartments in Hatboro, 16 miles north of Philadelphia. (...) A natural-gas explosion and fire struck one building in the complex, and the rising waters prevented firefighters from battling the flames. Four bodies were found in that building Sunday and two on Monday, authorities said.

     "'We think that everything was caused by the flood initially,' said Upper Moreland Police Chief William Moffett. 'It appears that the water damage caused a gas leak somewhere, which caused the fire. And the deaths apparently were fire deaths.'" (((This is a classic, pocket-sized Wexelblat disaster: they were flooded out by storms while being roasted by fossil fuels.)))

     "Allison made landfall in Texas on June 6 and quickly weakened. But rainfall totals soared as it lingered, first over Texas and Louisiana, forcing thousands from their homes and causing at least 22 deaths in the two states. As it crept eastward along the Gulf Coast and up the East Coast, nine deaths in Florida and seven traffic deaths in North Carolina were attributed to the storm. A tree toppled in waterlogged ground, killing a woman in Virginia Beach, Va., on Saturday, officials said."

(((Meanwhile, back at the buzzing, whining front lines:)))

Source: Houston Chronicle, June 22, 02001

"Mosquito-fog trucks greeted with hurrah by itchy residents By ERIC HANSON and CINDY HORSWELL

(...) "'It's incredible. People are actually coming out in their yards and clapping as I drive by,' said Gary Gillen, whose Gillen Pest Control provides fogging service to Richmond, Sugar Land and other area towns. 'When I stop at a stop sign, they yell "thank you."'

(...) "Chambers County Clerk Beanie Rowland, who lives in Wallisville, said, 'I have to fog outside my door or else they'll eat my dogs alive.'

     (...) Precinct 4 Commissioner Ed Rinehart and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador said crews are spraying daily from the roadways, but the pests are hatching in unreachable, flooded forests. (((Can't spray; too much rain.)))

     (...) "In Chambers County's salty marshes, inspectors counted up to 200 mosquito landings per minute == sometimes recorded as 'too numerous to count.'

     "Kay Ray, a secretary at mosquito control, said some callers have 'cussed and screamed and acted like we're raising the mosquitoes to put out in their yard.' (((Call Exxon-Mobil, folks.)))

"Mosquitoes bugging Medical Center Officials say pests are a health hazard By KATHRYN A. WOLFE, Houston Chronicle

     "After suffering severe property damage from flooding, the Texas Medical Center is now under attack by so many mosquitoes that the city is expected to declare the pests a health hazard and approve an emergency infusion of cash to get rid of them. (...)

     "The action was prompted mostly by Medical Center officials' complaints about the mosquitoes that have invaded hospitals and impeded construction work.

     "Dr. Ralph Feigin, president of Baylor College of Medicine and an infectious diseases specialist, said no mosquitoes have been identified as carrying the deadly St. Louis encephalitis, but the sheer number of mosquitoes creates a health hazard.

     "Any mosquito that comes into contact with sewage- drenched floodwaters can infect humans with several diseases, he said. (((That's rather interesting: mosquito-borne diseases direct from flood-burst sewers.)))

     (...) Feigin said mosquitoes are swarming inside hospitals that have opened their doors and windows to air out flooded areas. (((Flying, contaminated sewage mosquitos right in your hospital bed!)))

(((Where's the emergency relief money? Surprise! Thanks to Allison, the USA ran out of it!)))

"Senators reinstate FEMA funding By KAREN MASTERSON, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

"WASHINGTON == The Senate moved quickly Thursday to restore $389 million the House had cut a day earlier from the disaster relief fund Texans are using to recover from Tropical Storm Allison.

     "Senate appropriators from both parties said the cost of the storm in Texas alone would drain the nation's natural-disaster account. (...)

     "The Senate's action stood in stark contrast to that of the House == where flood-relief funding became a political football in a partisan game that pit Houston- area Democrats, who opposed cutting the disaster money, against Republicans, who said Congress could restore the money later. (((Perhaps they can save money by re-using the partisan Kyoto football as the partisan Disaster football.)))

     "In the ornate appropriations meeting room == decorated with sparkling chandeliers and frescoes from floor to ceiling == senators talked of Houston's devastation and mosquito infestation 1,400 miles away. (((You've got to love this sensitive touch of Beltway decor.)))

     (...) The panel agreed that FEMA's budget is in trouble. 'We think Allison could take every single nickel out of FEMA, and yet we're at the beginning of our hurricane season,' said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

     (((And then there's the final Texan fillip: Argentine fire ants.)))

Source: Houston Chronicle, June 14, 02001

"Most fire ants survive flood with vengeance

     "Floodwaters do not drown significant numbers of fire ants. Instead the colonies form a ball or ribbon, float, and flow with the water until they find land. As floodwaters recede, these floating colonies will get onto anything that they contact.

     "This means that piles of debris or items from flooded homes are extremely inviting to fire ants. At this time, a general treatment for controlling the fire ants is out of the question. Each colony has to be dealt with on a site-by-site basis.

     "If you spot fire ants, follow these tips:

     "Be cautious. Be aware that fire ants will be under almost anything. When you pick up debris, pay attention to what is on or in it == especially if the debris has been sitting in one place for two to three days. Fire ants love to get under furniture, carpet strips, old wood, and re- establish their colonies.

     "Protect yourself. Wear gloves, longsleeve shirts, long pants, socks and shoes. Spray insect repellent onto your shoes and lower pants leg. If you are using shovels or other tools, spread talcum powder on the handle. Fire ants cannot climb onto the powder-coated surface. (...)

     "Treat a fire ant sting like a puncture wound. Use a good antibiotic cream to help prevent secondary infections. The fire ant venom is very complex, and many people may be allergic to it. After you are stung, if you notice a shortness of breath, unusual swelling of the sting area, or feel nauseous, see a doctor.

O=c=O O-=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O-=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O