When Hurricane Rita made landfall it was the fourth-most intense Atlantic Hurricane ever recorded and the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. After Rita made landfall in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, the storm caused $11.3 billion in damage.
The following story is my personal account of the days right before Rita made landfall, lessons learned, the actual landfall and the following days.
Wednesday morning it looked like Rita might hit Houston so my ex wife brought my youngest kids ages 9 and 11 to Bridge City Texas where my parents live, from there they (my kids and parents, not exwife) were going to evacuate to Jasper – to my house. Wednesday noon my 16 year old calls me, ask me to drive to Houston to get him out, my ex did not ask him if he wanted to leave before she left with the youngest children. At this time there was a voluntary evacuation of parts of lower Houston, Galveston area. So I left Jasper, drove to Houston, really the Bay town area to get my son.
1st lesson, have a full tank of gas going in and a plan for getting out.
Going into Houston was easy, everyone was going north – I was one of the few idiots going south. I was on HWY 96 headed south through Lumberton. Traffic was backed up through the entire city of Lumberton – 3 miles or so and 4 red lights. At this point I knew I was not going to be able to get back on HWY 96 north. I got on the phone with my wife, asked her to get on the internet – map quest, yahoo maps anything, and call her friends to see if they knew a way out of Houston using the back roads – she had about 2 hours till I needed the information. Going through Beaumont where 69-96 joins I-10, traffic was backed up for miles. This confirmed what I already knew, I was not going to be able to get out via I-10. Got to baytown, the Texas Department of Safety (DPS) and Highway Department had closed the exit I needed to take in order to get into bay town, had to go down 2 more exits, then back track. Got my son, got out to I-10 in Houston heading East. Traffic was crawling, I mean crawling because of construction at the San Jacinto River. My wife was able to get directions for me using the back roads. Once I got out of the construction zone, got off I-10 it was smooth sailing. I was one of 3 trucks for about 20 minutes.
2nd lesson, KNOW the back roads – this will be very important later in the story.
What normally would take 6 hours, to Houston and back took 7 hours so that was not bad. Gassed up my truck as soon as I got back to Jasper.
Thursday, Rita is turning more north, Houston is under full evacuation now. My kids spent the night with my parents Wednesday night. Phone lines are getting the “all circuits busy” message, they are almost useless. Parents of a friend of mine show up they on are their way to Oklahoma city to stay with their one of their sons. They spend the night with us, we keep trying to contact their two sons to let them know where their parents are at. At this the phones are almost useless. We have cable modem for internet so I send both my buddies an email with my phone number and a msg “your parents are safe, they are here at my house call me at and my phone number. If you cant get through send an email back.” Ten minutes later I get an email, their oldest son who is 38 is trying to call, can not get through – all circuits busy. Finally after about 15 minutes of hitting redial he gets through. They (my buddies parents) had planned on having a hotel room in Jasper, there where NONE at all to be had. So they are going on north to Oklahoma City. They did not have a map, so we printed a small map off the internet. They had enough gas to get to Dallas, we said our good byes and off they went. Ritas winds are now over 200 mph, one of the strongest storms ever recorded.
3rd lesson, get a MAP!!!!!
Ok, Thursday evening I am getting worried about my youngest kids and my parents. My uncle and his 2 children are supposed to be coming to stay with us now, its ok we have to room. Mom, dad, kids, uncle all leave about the same time. Mom and dad call my brother – he is in law enforcement in Southeast Texas. The police have barracked all east and west traffic. Mom and dad want to take HWY 87 north instead of hwy 62 to hwy 96. My brother tells my parents the police have left some back roads un-blocked – the roads the police use to get around the funneled traffic. This is where you need to know the back roads – AGAIN!!! My uncle took HWY 96, what was a normal 1 and a half hours was an 8 hour drive. There was a wreck on HWY 87 north of Newton, life flight was brought in. What normally took and hour and a half to drive took nine hours. My wife and I finally went to bed around midnight knowing my parents and children where trapped in traffic. Get up Friday, Rita is now expected to hit between Galveston and Sabine Pass, that puts us on the bad part of the storm – very bad. Good news Rita is starting to weaken, now down to a CAT 4 instead of CAT 5. We get out important stuff, just about all canned goods, back packs, coleman stove, clothes, insurance papers, meet my parents at where we are going to weather the storm – an office building at downtown Jasper, Texas.
Jasper had an eerie feeling around the town. There was no gas anywhere to be found, all of the hotels were closed, it was almost like a ghost town. The hotel owners went door to door telling their tenants they had to leave, the hotel was closing, they had to get out. Hundreds of people that had evacuated before the storm were put out on the street with nowhere to go.
4th Lesson, do NOT depend on the charity of others. Places of business may close as the owners flee in front of the disaster.
Friday, its starting to get dark, winds are picking up looks like we might get a direct hit from Rita. We have 5 trucks, 4 of which we park on one side of the building, the last, my toyota we park on the opposite side of the building, just in case something happens to one side of the building, we might have at least one drivable truck. The place we stayed was pretty big, we spread the family out into separate rooms, my daughter and cousin in one room, my son and other cousin in another room, parents in another, me and my wife in the hall, my step daughter down the hall a little. This is what bothered me, my kids where not right there with me. I knew however that if the building collapsed, at least a few of us might survive if we are spread out insead of being bunched up. Rain and winds where picking up, by midnight power was out and we broke out the flashlights. Well not really broke them out, everyone already had their flashlight assigned to them friday evening. Everyone tried to lay down and get some sleep, the kids feel alseep first – let them sleep they are better off in their dreams. My wife and I laid down around 1:30 – 2:00, around 3:30 it sounded like the roof was coming off, it was a terrible sound, no way to describe it. A couple of us jumped up, still half a sleep. There was no water damage on the ceiling, the walls where leaking. The building we were in has a semi-flat roof, the water was leaking in at the top of the walls. We are awake, waiting for dawn. My thoughts where, “please stop, would the wind just please stop.” Finally, we are able to see – down trees, all of the buildings we see are still standing. The radio announcer from KJAS – www.kjas.com got in his jeep and was giving live updates while he was riding around. We finally left the shelter around 11:30 saturday morning to go check our houses. Mine and my wifes house is still standing, trees are over the roads, you have to drive in the ditch to get around the tree tops, our house is fine, and my son in laws house is fine. We left the shelter, went home, fired up the bar-b-q pit cooked some steaks and deer sausage, had a good dinner, went to bed.
Lesson, have a way to cook without electricity.
Sunday, my uncle and I drove my kids to Buna and met their step dad. We had to get them out of Jasper. Baytown had been almost untouched by Rita. So I knew they where better off there. The devastation was terrible, cars on the side of the road, ran out of gas during the evacuation, down trees, power lines down. On the way back to Jasper the radio announces the National Guard was at the Jasper High School handing out MRE’s, water and Ice, my uncle and I drove in and picked up a case – thats right a case – dont be mad I know most of you would love to have a CASE (thats right a full case) of MRE’s but we needed it more then most of you at that time.
Lesson, have a couple of good ice chest. Something like a good quality coleman or igloo brand.
We had 4 ice chest on hand, we pulled our milk and some meat out of the fridge and iced it down. We used our oil lanterns for light, we left one burning in the bath room so people could see at night.
For breakfast we would fire up the coleman stoves, warm up what ever meat we had, for lunch and dinner we used the wood burning bar-b-q pit. Mom and Dad moved their RV to my house Tuseday. We were able to use the Generators off the RV to run our freezer and fridge – but not at the same time. We ran the freezer for a little while, then the fridge.
Lowes in Jasper opened with their own generator on the Tuesday after the storm. We were able to buy a generator big enough to run freezer, fridge, and a couple of fans all at the same time. We were able to get to Lufkin which is 45 mile north of Jasper, waited an hour to get 45 dollars of gas. The station was rationing out gas – 45 dollars at a time, then you had to get get back in line. At this time, regular was 3 bucks a gallon. We were going through almost 15 gallons a day running the generators, two small hondas for the RV and one for the house where the freezer and fridge are at. Mom and dad slept in the RV because of the AC, the heat is hard on them. We moved some of the meat out of the house and into the freezer of the RV, it uses propane.
People are heading south on 96, 69 and 87 – the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has blockaded all south bound traffic at HWY 190 and IH-10, these people have nowhere to go. Some of them are setting up their tents at the blockades, they just do not have anywhere to go but back home. My brother was able to get to his house, he had 3 trees on it, mom and dad had almost 2 feet of water in their house. Orange county finally opened back up, people are getting back in now.
We spent 18 days without power and 14 days without safe drinking water. There are more details to tell about, lots more, I am just tired of writing at this point. We had a garden we had planted this past summer. This supplied us with fresh Okra, Squash and Peas. This was really nice, since the grocery stores did not open up till almost a week and a half after the storm.