Story Circle Network

Catastrophe, Survival, and Recovery: Stories from the Storms

An Angry Woman Named Rita
Alene Dunn, Jasper TX

She came weaving and bobbing her way across the Gulf of Mexico, eating up the warm waters in swirling, hungry motions. Rita was her name. Her Hispanic name called to mind visions of a raven-haired beauty with deep scowls on her face, music playing with a steady strong beat. Suddenly, the crescendo became a deafening roar surging to heights and realms unknown to the calm in the world she haunted.

Rita was known and expected days before she made her dramatic arrival. Though not ready to greet her, East Texans faced the stormy lady with their usual determination and confidence to overcome. After all, our forefathers faced Indians, dreaded disease and wild animals as they came here to tame this heavily forested area of Texas.

Rita blew into Jasper, Texas about 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 24, 2005. Seventy-five or so hospital staff and family members hunkered down to ride out the blow in the inner core walls of CHRISTUS Jasper Memorial Hospital. From 4 a.m. until about 1 p.m. on that day, Rita lashed her angry winds and driving rain onto the lush forests of pines and old oak trees. Many did not survive. Trees had their way with rooftops, glass windows, walls and awnings in their path.

As we sat in the hot, windowless rooms located amid the belly of the thirty-seven year old hospital building, we heard the roar, whistle, and moans of Rita like a woman tearing out her soul with fury and determination. There was no panic, no uncontrolled fear. There was only a quiet sort of camaraderie of taking care of one another, our family members. Among us were associate's mothers in their 80's, one crippled and bedridden from arthritis. Another parent, a survivor of heart surgeries and numerous health problems, waited for Rita's passage along with the rest of us. None complained.

Reality set in when reports were brought in by maintenance individuals who climbed atop the flat roof to pump off accumulating water, relieving weight on the building's roof. The awnings were gone from all our buildings, they said. Trees were down on the campus; one laid over on the north end of the facility. We could only imagine the rest.

When these reports came in, quietness came over the group as each individual retreated to their own personal thoughts of what might be left of their homes. What would we find when we emerged from the devastation of this vicious lady.

Sometime that afternoon, we had breakfast and each ventured to look outside. Expressions like, "It looks like a war zone," "Trees are popped off and twisted like toothpicks." Others saying with fear in their eyes, "I wonder what's left at home." But no panic, no tears, only calm resolve to move forward as soon as we could safely do so.

What did the staff of the little hospital do to help our community? An evacuee from south of us, trying to get to safer ground on Friday before the storm hit, was rushed into our emergency room. This patient had already coded in a car in route. Emergency Department staff sprang to action and the patient was stabilized and transferred. September 24, a new life entered the tumultuous aftermath of Rita in the delivery of a 23-week baby at this battered little hospital and safely transferred out to a higher level of care. Both mother and child were fine. There are many other stories of lives being saved by a few nurses and our faithful physicians during the aftermath of the storm.

The little hospital has been seeing patients in its Emergency Room since the day Rita arrived. Help came in the form of ambulance services from across the country, helicopters from other places volunteering to transport critical patients. Gradually other units in the facility are opening up for business and we are taking care of the community like we always have done. The staff is weary, some have much damage at home.

No, there are not the horrendous media-sought stories from Jasper that you heard about from Katrina. East Texans are solid, determined and tough people. Yes our staff is weary, our homes are hot, water is scarce and food is whatever we can find. But our spirits are in tact. We have continued the healing ministry of Jesus Christ at CHRISTUS Jasper Memorial Hospital without missing a beat.

Goodbye, Rita!

Last updated: 11/03/05