On this day in 2005 …

Hurricane Rita was knocking on my door in this satellite picture on Sept. 22, 2005.

One year ago today I was in my apartment in Beaumont, Texas, trying to decide where I was going to stay when Hurricane Rita made landfall. After hearing forecasts the day before that Rita would 1) Hit the middle Texas coast. 2) Land around the Surfside/Galveston area. 3) Strike the Bolivar Peninsula, I awoke that morning to find out Rita was headed straight for us on the extreme upper Texas coast. A mandatory evacuation for Jefferson County had been called that morning.

I had touched base with the publication for which I had been doing some freelancing and I had no specific assignment. Instead, if I was going to be in the Beaumont area during the storm then the publication would be able to use me. But I just couldn’t work out the logistics for it without a specific job, so I evacuated about 8 that evening to Newton, about 60 miles northeast of Beaumont. I stayed that evening and through the storm at my brother’s home, which was the house in which I was raised. While I had heard all sorts of horror stories that day about evacuations taking place both in the Beaumont and Houston areas, I fortunately had only a two-hour drive in travelling that 60 miles. Make no mistake, it was bumper-to-bumper on first Texas 12 from I-10 in Vidor to Texas 87 in Dewyville and then on to Newton. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. That was a refrain I would say quite often over the next month or so.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, the 24th of September, Rita made her presence known all over Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. That included the house on the Old Bon Wier Highway in which I was staying. I actually slept a few hours before some loud booming from exploding electrical transformers woke me up sometime around 2 a.m. Outside, the continuous roar of the wind could be heard and it didn’t stop at that pace until almost daybreak. The noise was fortunate in one respect. It prevented us from hearing the huge pine trees being uprooted around the place.

When the roaring stopped and it was safe to go out, I saw more trees and downed power lines than I had ever seen before. While there were some homes damaged and even destroyed where I was up in the woods, I would see damage that seemed almost unimaginable in the months to come in places such as Sabine Pass, Texas, and Cameron, La.

After a brief trip to Allen, Texas, where I am currently residing, I returned to Beaumont one week after the storm to see the damaged heaped upon that city. In terms of wind damage, Newton had been struck with about the same wind velocity as Beaumont. Gusts had probably been in the 90-100 mph range. But Beaumont, with a population of about 112,000, had many more structures to provide targets for the storm than my small hometown.

I was lucky upon returning in not only being damage-free but also by having electricity restored the second day I was back. It took a month for my brother’s power to be operable. It would be weeks before most stores and restaurants were back to normal. It would be months for still other businesses. Like many others in Rita’s aftermath, I profited to some extent from the storm. If it wasn’t for freelance stories for a certain publication about the post-Rita world, I may have starved to death.

Rita was unlike anything I have ever been through and I’m sure that goes for many other friends and relatives who also experienced the hurricane. I guess in some respects, going through a hurricane is kind of like going through other earth-altering and life-changing experiences. Everybody has their stories. Even those who fled the storm.

I hate that Rita blew the hell out of places such as Cameron, Holly Beach and Johnson’s Bayou in Louisiana and Sabine Pass in Texas. I’m sorry for the loss that people suffered from Rita from the Gulf of Mexico to more than 100 miles inland. While the numbers of those killed and injured were thankfully few, I regret that anyone had to suffer through and after the storm. But regrets aside, I was exceedingly lucky as was my family and my friends who went through Rita.

And without a doubt, Rita was one hell of a thrill ride with admission that was free.

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