HOUSTON – Long before her windows started humming and the lanky pine trees began swaying, new mother Claudia Macias had second thoughts about her family's decision to ride out Hurricane Ike in their home on the far east side of Houston.
As the night wore on and television news programs churned out reports of flooding and tornado warnings, Macias again questioned her decision to stay.
The Houston native had been through other hurricanes, but this one was different. This time, Macias was worried about her 3-month-old daughter.
Macias and her husband, Alex Villegas, 39, who evacuated during Hurricane Rita in 2005, were encouraged by the mayor's advice that thousands of families not in evacuation zones should "hunker down."
So, they planned to do just that in their four-bedroom home, along with Macias' parents, Carmen and Pedro Macias, and eight dogs.
But as the wind gathered strength, and worried relatives peppered the family with calls about flooding nearby, Macias began to gnaw at her cuticles and peek anxiously out her windows.
She wondered aloud whether there was still time to leave.
It was not yet 8 p.m. local time, and Hurricane Ike was still about 100 miles from landfall. Macias braced herself for a long night.
"I don't know who's going to sleep here tonight, maybe the baby," said Macias, 34, a teacher and principal who is taking a break from work after giving birth. "I'm not sleeping."
At the home on a quiet middle-class street, a pink "It's a girl" banner still hangs over a doorway. Toys, infant bouncers and strollers litter the house. The couple, married nine years, delight in every gurgle, smile and new move from their little girl, Citlahli.
Macias wanted to be prepared for the worst — a last-minute evacuation, lengthy power outages and possible tornadoes. She packed clothes and emergency bags. She loaded nonperishable food into plastic bins and laundry baskets. She bought enough water to line the perimeter of her dining room.
And she cleared out a "shelter of last resort" in her first-floor laundry room and walk-in closet. If the wind began to roar like a freight train, this is where they would retreat.
"We're trying not to be visibly apprehensive," said Villegas. "We need to be confident in body language, and tone. We're trying to be calm, at least visibly."
Around 9 p.m., shortly after a local news radio station announced a tornado watch, that calm shuddered, then seemed to regroup.
Macias returned to the comfort of the routine. It was time for Citlahli's nightly bath. Macias tried not to think about the big window on one wall of the bathroom, or the sound of the quickening rain and wind hitting the panes.
Instead, she and her mother, Carmen Macias, 59, gently cooed to the smiling infant.
"I'm trying to ignore everything I'm hearing outside the window by singing and talking to her. It's not just for her sake, but mine too," she said. "I'm trying to keep it as routine for Citlahli so she doesn't pick up on the bad vibes I may be emitting."
Still, she noted earlier, even the baby seemed to know something was different about tonight. Citlahli couldn't even fall asleep for her afternoon nap.
"Her eyes are bigger. She is raising her eyebrows more," Macias said. "I can't believe she's going to go through her first hurricane."
As the night wore on, each person in the house found their own way of staying calm.
Villegas sat over his laptop, one eye on the screen, the other on the TV set. Every hour, he stepped out to the garage to check on the dogs.
Claudia Macias hovered over Citlahli, gently rocking the infant to sleep in her arms, then laying her down for the night in the laundry room crib.
Pedro Macias, 62, who is famous in his family for sleeping through Hurricane Alicia in 1983, posted himself in front of the television, occasionally nodding off for a few minutes now and again.
And Carmen Macias, who had taken a "little anxiety pill" before coming to her daughter's house, steadied herself the only way she knew: by going to work in the kitchen. Cooking chicken and rice. Washing dishes. Scouring the sink and the stove.
Still, every thud against a wall, every creak outside the window, every gust rattling the house, seemed to unnerve her.
"What is that? Is that a tornado?" she asked as the air conditioning unit kicked on just after 12:30 a.m.
Her daughter shared those nerves.
"It sounds ugly upstairs," Claudia Macias said, as she walked down the stairs.
"Maybe this is as bad as it's going to get," said her husband.
"No, this is just the beginning," replied Claudia.
The worst was yet to come.
Around 2 a.m., the power went out, plunging the house into total darkness.
Alex Villegas and Claudia Macias scrambled to grab flashlights, scanning the rooms for any damage.
Carmen Macias, who had been upstairs, scurried down to check on her daughter and granddaughter, who remained fast asleep. Her grandfather, sleeping soundly on an upstairs couch, also did not stir.
Cell phones chirped, as they had all night long, with friends and relatives anxious to make sure the family was safe.
Outside, the wind gusted and rain drummed against the window like small stones.
The bands of Ike were reaching their house, and Claudia, Alex and Carmen huddled together on an air mattress tossed on the corner of the first floor bedroom floor. Their faces illuminated by flashlights, they talked quietly through the pre-dawn hours.
Carmen Macias recounted stories about family trips to Mexico when she was a young girl, funny tales about getting through Hurricane Carla in 1961 and anything to get their mind off the mounting storm.
Around 6 a.m., the house began to stir again.
There had been momentary relief when the eye of the storm passed overhead, quieting the wind and rain to a whisper. Claudia Macias was able to take a brief nap, before jolting awake to the storm powering back to life.
"The nerves come and go. When it stops outside, I think we're OK, the house is still standing, then it picks up again," she said. "It's almost over, and with sunlight, it'll be better. The howling and the wind in the darkness makes it worse."
Citlahli, who had slept undisturbed through the night, called out to her mother, as if sensing the renewed movement around her.
The waning night also brought the first hints of hurricane damaged. Leaks sprouted in the living room ceiling, likely where shingles had been blown off the roof, and water seeped in through the fireplace. In the front yard, a tree had lost a good chunk of its upper limbs and debris could be seen in the street.
And there were still hours to go. The storm, still howling, was predicted to hover overhead until noon.