Online Story Contribution, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

On the Monday before Hurricane Rita hit SE Texas, I was discussing with a friend the proability of it actually hitting here. Having grown up on the Gulf Coast, the possibility is always there. However, odds are low that any one area will get hit with a major hurricane. And, I was also discussing the validity of it being as strong as Hurricane Katrina. I was asked if I would evacuate, and I scoffed and told my friend that people obviously needed excitement, because everyone was getting worked up over what was then a Tropical storm. Monday turned to Tuesday, and talk on the TV became more serious. It was not a question of it hitting somewhere in the Guld Coast, it was a matter of how strong would it be. At this time, all predicitons still had virtually all cities form the Florida Panhandle to the Southern most tip of Texas in the strike zone. Wednesday came, and so did the first evacuations, and news that this Hurricane was not stronger then Hurricane Katrina. The strike zone now included almost all of Texas. At this point, I began to worry. \r\n\r\nI work at a mill. It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And, take a lot to shut it down. Even with some mandatory evacuations, and some volunatry evacuations, we were told to report to work on Thursday. And, we were told to bring an extra change of clothes. Because, if the order for Jefferson county to evacuate was mandatory, Contraflow would be in effect, thus forcing the majority of us to stay at the mill. I went home that afternoon, and I made plans with my parents. I tried not to think to much about what was happening. And, it was easy to do. The weather outside was beautiful. Texas blue skies, warm, with a breeze. Typical SE Texas summer weather. I went to bed that nite prepared to wake up in the morning and hear that it was going to strike Central to South Texas. \r\n\r\nAt 4:45 AM on Thursday my phone rang. It was my boss. She told metyo get up, get dressed and get the hell out of here, now! I was confused and asked her what was wrong. At that point, it was projected to make landfall as a possible Cat 4. near High Island, Texas. More then a direct hit. This was a head on hit. I jumped up out of bed, turned the TV on, and saw the news caster\'s faces. I remember thinking, they look like the end of the world is happening. It was James Brown and Dan Gresham. Greg Bostwick was on there too. Rita, at this time, was still a Cat 5, and had not weakened. I called my Mom, woke her up, and had her turn on the TV. We both sat there on the phone, dead silent, listening. How could this happen. We, here in SE Texas don\'t get hit head on by major hurricanes. Sure, we get Cat 1\'s and some Cat 2\'s. But, nothing major like this. I think it took both my Mom and I a while to realize, this was serious. And, I think we both realized it at the same time. She told me to get my son up, get him dressed, and pack up. \r\n\r\nI flew around the house taking pictures off the wall. Getting my backyard situated. And making sure all my windows were shut, with something in front of them to protect what I was leaving behind. As I walked out my door, several hours later, I somehow recalled, shut all the doors. I don\'t know what made me do that. I don\'t know how I knew which pictures to take down, nor do I know how I knew to pack up my house to save valuables I would have to leave behind. I had never had to evacute before in my life. I knew about securing backyard things, but, not about household things. I guess common sense took over. \r\n\r\nAs I went to my parent\'s, I looked at the drivers on the road. You could see shock in many faces. Grim determination, and grief. Many did not know what they would come back to. I got to my parent\'s, and we secured their house. My Mom\'s next door neighbor came over, and they hugged and cried. We all exchanged cell phone numbers, and I gave both of them a crash course in text messaging. I knew from watching Katrina that this would be the best way to communicate. \r\n\r\nBy 1 PM, on Thursday Sept. 22, we were on the road. At first, it was a semi adventure. Once again, I was struck by the weather. Cloudless, hot, and very humid. It was like the air was heavy. We left via Hwy 69. In order to conserve gas, we rolled the windows down, and turned off the AC. My Mom\'s Expiditon showed the outside air temp to be 106*. My son, who was three, was in the back, strapped into his car seat. My brother and sister in law were in their car with their 16 motnh old daughter. My Father brought up the rear in his truck. My Dad had had the foresight to get 10 portable gas can\'s and fill them up. Each held either 2 or 3 gallons. It was soon apprearant that these gas cans were worth more then gold. All along the highway you could see cars. They had ran out of gas, they were over heated, or they had just died. It was sad. The misery these people faced. I even wondered, would we make it out in time. \r\n\r\nWe were on the road for over 14 hours, when finally we made it to Livingston, and pulled into the Wal Mart. It was borded up, and the parking lot was full of evacuees. It literally looked like one of those refugee camps you see in war torn countries. Trash, water bottles, diapers, you name it, it was on the ground. There were no restrooms, and people used the trees as bathrooms. You could smell urine and feces everywhere. We parked, turned off the cars, and tried to sleep. This was about 3 AM. By 5 AM, we were up. Not that we slept much. The noise of car doors slamming, motor homes running, sirens blaring, and people hollering was not conduicive to sleep. Not only were we tired, but, none of us had had a real meal since we had left. I don\'t think that we realized when we left we would be entering, for all intents and purposes, a third world country. \r\n\r\nFinally, at 5 AM, on Friday, we pulled out of the Wal Mart parking lot in Livingston, and got on Hwy 59. As soon as we got up on the highway, you could see people laying in the grass. Cars had pulled off to the side of the road because sheer exaustion had taken over. People got out of their cars, spread blankets ont he ground, and slept. Trash littered the sides of the road too. No one thought to take care of their trash. That\'s was really stuck out in my mind. It was dirty. It was nasty. And, all of a sudden, I realized, this is what national TV is seeing. This filth. I wondered what people thought of us. \r\n\r\nTraffic first hing in the morning, at 5 AM, was a bit better then it had been the previous day. However, about 25 miles outside of Livingston, it clogged up again. Contraflow, by this time was in effect, but, it was not helping to alleviate matters. My family and I decided the best course of action would be to hit Hwy 287 and cut across. When we got to it, I was suprised to see hardly anyone taking advantage of it. For the firs time, in 24 hours, we were actually traveling at 55 MPH. It was like a God send. We were able to turn on the AC, and close up the windows. And, we were running out of gas. My brother actually found a gas station in Palestine. It was the first gas station we had come across that had gas. There was a line, but, there was gas. There was also a Whataburger right next door. I hopped out of the car. That Whataburger had never smelled so good, nor tasted so good. It was like mana from heaven! \r\n\r\nFinally, at 10 PM, Friday September 23, we pulled into Amarillio. We were able to purchase some of the few remaining hotel rooms. While I had wanted to stay up and watch the news, sheer exhaustion over took me. I missed getting to see the hurricane come through. I did get to ctach glimpses though, and was excited to learn that Lumberton, Texas was where CNN had camped out at. \r\n\r\nFrom Amarillio, we went to Albuquerque, NM. The news there was spotty at best. My relatives did not have cable, nor the internet. We were able to acces the internet occasionally. The people of Albq. were the kindest, most gracious people I have had the advantage of knowning. If I said Rita, they automatically went out of their way to help out. It was hard though. Not knowing how your personal possesion faired. Or would your life ever be the same. \r\n\r\nWe came home, 9 days after evacuation. And, I was not prepared for the devestaiton nor destruction I saw. And, as I sit and write this, on Jan. 17, 2006....today is the day I am getting to move back into my office since Rita. My office was destroyed. While my house, and personal property made it though, I have had other parts of my life totally disrupted since Rita.

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Citation

Jennifer Robinson, “Online Story Contribution, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank,” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed September 23, 2018, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/623.