Originally posted 9-26-05
Before the storm
With the eye of, then category 5, Rita forecast to make landfall near us, we decided to follow family members and go to southwestern Louisiana. After making preparations to leave we got on the road about 9:00 Wednesday night. It took us a bit over an hour to clear the traffic that was evacuating from south of us, but driving through Houston and getting on I-10 to go east was pretty easy. I-10 was crowded, but moving. We saw lines at gas stations and food stores, but as we made progress east, we were able to stop and fuel with no problems. A trip that would have normally taken us less than four hours ended up taking seven and a half.
Having gone to bed at 4:00 a.m., I woke up mid-morning to the news that the storm had turned early, and was now expected to make landfall north of Galveston. That was a good news/bad news situation for us, as having the storm come in farther north would spare our home area the worst of things, but it also moved the storm closer to where we were staying.
The rest of Thursday and most of Friday had a bit of a “family reunion” feel too it. But not quite. The TV was on the Weather Channel and the computer was being used to keep an eye on the storm. Also, we checked on water and food supplies, and made sure everyone had a flashlight. By Friday afternoon, the storm was expected to come in even farther up the coast, near Beaumont — about 90 miles from us. The storm had weakened a bit, and it appeared that it would come in as a strong “3.” Everyone would sleep at one house that night, that is, if they slept at all.
In the storm
Early Friday evening the wind began to blow, with some strong gusts. At 7:00 the power went out and conditions decorated with bands of torrential rain and strong wind. There were nine of us in the house and, in the darkness several went to bed. My son had a battery powered TV, so he spent most of the night watching it and keep us updated. The only problem was that the best TV signal was from a Lake Charles station. They had evacuated from their studios and were operating from a temporary location. Their on air picture was of three people sitting around a table with one microphone. Their “graphics” was a small white board with written messages. Their “remote” capabilities consisted of holding a cell phone up to the lone microphone so those watching could hear what was being said.
Meanwhile, we were seeing wind gusts of 70-90 mph with lots of rain. The wind, and the sound of rain being driven against the house, was so loud that little else could be heard, however, there were some “extra sounds” that suggested damage being done in the area. To the south, a couple of city blocks away we could see a constant display of sparks showering down from a power pole. We tried to sleep, and when not asleep, to pray. Without power, and with all the windows closed because of the rain, the house was uncomfortably hot.
The center of the storm came in right on the Texas-Louisaina state line. This brought it closer still. We were also on the “dirty side” of the storm which meant we got, in addition to the wind, the rain and the tornados associated with a hurricane. Apparently, it was small tornados that did the bulk of the damage in the community we were in.
Saturday morning brought more powerful wind and rain, but by mid-morning there were a few breaks in the action. An outside survey revealed a downed small tree in our yard, a wrecked old barn nearby, and another metal building nearby that had been flipped over. After two more very powerful bands of wind and rain, one which ended our phone service, things began to clear. Sprint will love this, but my Sprint cell never lost service, even though you had to more or less stand very still outside and hold the phone just right to keep the connect. At one point, that was our only want to communicate. Most damage throughout the area was apparently from downed trees. People began to venture out to move limbs and see what had happened. A few well prepared souls fired up generators, but most everyone just opened up the windows. There was a strong breeze that made it livable in the house.
With the windows opened, and the storm passed, Saturday night brought a better night’s sleep. We were glad to be in a house with a gas stove, so cooking was possible. Also, the community’s water system was never compromised, so we had good running water.
On Sunday morning we were thinking about how we would get home. Clearly, the path of destruction lay between us and home. At first I thought about taking a more northern route in an attempt to miss the possible traffic. However, after chatting with a few of the local ham operators on 2 meters, I was assured that if I had the fuel we could get back to Houston on I-10.
We made our way back to the freeway and found things pretty much wide open. The only slow down was a few convoys of tree-trimmer or other types of service trucks being moved into the area. Most of the time we ran about the speed limit with no problem at all.
The worst of the storm
As we drove west, the damage of the hurricane became more and more prevalent. At first we saw tree limbs down, peeled back tin roofs, and the like. As we progressed into the heart of the storm’s path, we saw that hardly a highway sign was untouched, with some broken off at the top. The level of damage increased to the point that around Lake Charles we couldn’t spot a single building that didn’t have some damage. Entire forests were down.
Every off ramp was manned by law enforcement. A few ramps had lines of cars waiting to go through the checkpoint. Basically, people were being allowed to flow through Lake Charles, Vidor, Orange, and Beaumont, but not to exit. That was fine with us, as that is just what we wanted to do. Still, the destruction was a sobering reminder of the power of the storm. West of Beaumont, we saw a staging area with, I imagine, thousands of National Guardsmen set up for rescue and relief efforts. There were helicopters, trucks of ice, etc.
Driving south on Highway 146 was also wide open. Somewhere along 146 we saw the first open gas stations. People were lined up waiting to get fuel. We also saw a Taco Bell that was open and few non-chain restaurants doing business.
By the time we got to Alvin, I was able to pull into a gas station that appeared to be having a slow Sunday afternoon. We got gas, drove home to find things about as we had left them, and went out to eat.
I wanted to write the story while it is fresh on my mind. I will probably have some reflections on this, but will add them upon, uh, reflection!