Our very first hurricane season on the Texas Gulf coast turned out to be a brutal test of patience and resilience. I have lived in Texas all my life, therefore, thought myself to be immune to our unpredictable, often harsh weather conditions. Hurricane Rita proved to be more than anyone anticipated.
The college where I work and attend classes announced that all operations were to be suspended as of 4:00 pm, Wednesday September 21st. Many hurricane veterans told me not to panic. Most of them planned to stay in town. I, however, was not interested in chancing that. More bluntly, I freaked out and made immediate plans to leave town. I called my son in Temple to let him know I would be bringing my parrot and three cats. I could not convince my husband to come with me. His workplace was not closing at that point. He felt obligated to remain, but promised to join me if the evacuation became mandatory. I left with my car loaded like the ark. None of the cats were happy and the bird was simply loud. Even at that early point, the drive that should have taken approximately 5 hours, stretched into 10. Many roads to the east and west were closed. The DPS was allowing north bound traffic only. In some of the smaller towns, roads were down to one lane. I called my husband to apprise him of the conditions; however, still no word came from the corporate office regarding closing. I was forced to travel northbound all the way to Lufkin before I was finally allowed to head west towards my destination. For those who are geographically unsure, this was well north of where I needed to travel.
I spent most of the next day glued to the Weather channel. I felt a sick sense of dread as I watched the Hurricane’s projected path. It did not look good for Beaumont; predications put the hurricane well in the path of my husband’s current location. The corporate office declined to close that location unless a mandatory evacuation was issued. Finally at noon on Friday, officials made the announcement that a mandatory evacuation was in effect. Being the good manager that he is, my husband was the last one out of the building. He manages a truck stop and the employees deserted their posts like a bunch of rats fleeing a sinking ship. They walked off the job with trucks and cars still sitting in the parking lot waiting to fuel. My husband felt obligated to keep the pumps on as long as fuel was available. It was a nightmare. Let me assure you this waiting for fuel game did not bring out the best in human spirit. Many patrons decided to take advantage of the fact that there were no employees (save my husband) to take whatever pieces of merchandise they fancied. He locked the doors and continued to sell gas at the pump. However, several patrons began knocking on the glass doors, demanding drinks for their families. He told them the ice and drink machines were empty, however, they did not believe him until he threw the doors open for them to inspect. About 4:00 pm the fuel ran out. He had been circulating the parking lot telling families that fuel supplies were low; however, when the pump finally ran out the crowd immediately blamed him. Mind you, during all this chaos he had not found time to fill his own vehicle. He began the evacuation with less than half a tank of gas. The mob followed him out of the parking lot shouting and cursing.
His vehicle ran out of gas twice and none was available at any price. Through my family network, a person was located in the town where he was stranded to take him some gas. Thank god for ex-husbands who remain on good terms with their respective spouses! That person was able to bring him enough gas to get to Lufkin. Working the phone lines once again, a group of church friends from our former home in Belton procured gas cans full of gas, some as little as one gallon, others as much as five. At this point, gas was not even for sale in many locations as far north as Temple. These kind souls donated their lawnmower gas straight out of their garages. These assorted cans were loaded in a small truck and we all prayed it would be enough to get both vehicles back. When my husband arrived a full thirty one hours later, he had heart-wrenching details of the journey. At many points traffic was at such a standstill that motorists turned their engines off to preserve precious fuel. He got to know the families in the vehicles directly in front of and behind him. Everyone shared what little they had. The biggest issue was the heat. The thermometer in his vehicle was registering a sweltering 105 degrees. Dehydration was a real threat. In their small caravan an elderly woman succumbed to the heat. He never imagined such an ordeal.
We carefully watched the networks for any news of Beaumont, Port Arthur or Orange. The bulletins seemed to be extremely sketchy and pointedly about the New Orleans hurricane with small mention of the destruction being visited upon South Texas and Lake Charles Louisiana.
At this point, a full three months after the storm, we are slowly rebuilding, trying to put our lives back in some semblance of order, and striving to maintain our positive outlook. Unfortunately, the disregard we experienced continues to be true to this day in most areas of the popular media. Does anyone know the name of the town where Rita made landfall?
Last updated: 01/05/06