Sabine Pass: The hits keep on coming

Today I decided to get off my ass and do, at least something, to help my neighbors who had a lot rougher time than I did during Hurricane Ike. I went to Wal-Mart, bought a couple of small charcoal grills, a few big bags of charcoal and a few other items. Then I took off for Sabine Pass, about 45 miles south of where I live in Beaumont, Texas. I know, it’s not much when you talk money-wise, but I don’t have a lot money-wise.

Port Arthur Fire Department Station 4 in Sabine Pass. I think their engine crew is staying in a travel trailer a short distance from this wrecked station.

Sabine Pass is on the Gulf of Mexico at the southeastern tip of Jefferson County and sits astride the Texas-Louisiana border. A little sliver of Texas Highway 87 keeps Sabine Pass attached to Port Arthur. The latter city annexed Sabine Pass in 1978. Their Fire Station No. 4, shown above, was heavily damaged in September 2005 by Hurricane Rita and rebuilt in 2006 into a very nice new station by the ABC-TV “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show.

Unfortunately, the mammoth storm surge that hit Sabine Pass didn’t have any respect for celebrity, nor heroes such as the firefighters who work there. Although my pic above doesn’t show it well, the storm pretty much washed away everything inside the firehouse.

Upon arriving in Sabine Pass this afternoon on my mission of mercy, I was directed first by the Port Arthur mayor then the school principal to the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center where some nice ladies gratefully took my donation. One of the women said that one couldn’t get past Sea Rim State Park on the road running along the beach. That highway actually was blocked off with the chair below, which I suppose came out of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife headquarters for the McFaddin Wildlife Refuge which includes McFaddin Beach. It is next door, a half-mile or so from Sea Rim.

This would make a pretty good spot for a guard should they need to post one here to “formally” close Texas 87 at McFaddin Beach.

Until it was uninterrupted by erosion, State Highway 87 was one of the most scenic highways in Texas. Great parts of it still are very pretty most of the time. I grew up with Highway 87 running through my hometown and in my teen years it was the closest route to the honky tonks, some 50 or so miles away, across the Sabine River in Louisiana where one had to only know how to order a drink so he or she might purchase one.

The highway starts out in Timpson, Texas, and runs through the deepest, darkest Piney Woods of East Texas. Timpson was made famous by the Tex Ritter song “Timpson, Teneha, Bobo and Blair” which I will let you read the linked article to delve into its history. Tex Ritter, for those of you under, say 40, was a famous singing cowboy in what once was called “picture shows” and now are known as “movies,” “cinema” or just plain “crap.” Tex Ritter was also the father of the late actor John Ritter, who played a swinging guy posing as a gay guy so as to live with two hotties of the opposite sex on “Three’s Company” during the 1970s. He also was starring in some other TV show at the time of his death in 2003.

Interestingly enough, Tex Ritter is honored in Nederland, Texas, which is about 15 miles south of where I live. The town is so named due to its Dutch settlers and Ritter lived there when he was younger. His relatives are local home improvement magnates.

Whew. Anyway, Timpson is about 150-some odd miles from Sabine Pass. Highway 87 took a turn at Sabine Pass along the Gulf, where its pavement crossed onto Bolivar Peninsula and extended down to Galveston Bay. There at the bay, the state has a ferry, or actually several ferry boats, which traverses the Houston Ship Channel lanes at Bolivar Roads into Galveston. Highway 87 continues once upon Galveston where it runs into Interstate 45, which leads back up to Houston, Dallas and, I don’t know, possibly the Sun. In case you were vacationing on the sun when Ike hit, Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island both were severely whacked by the storm as well.

A series of hurricanes and subsequent erosion finally led to Highway 87 being closed between what is now left of Sea Rim State Park — next door to my favorite and usually secluded McFaddin Beach — and High Island on Bolivar Peninsula. A lot talk, with that talk being accentuated by highway dollars, brought about in recent years the possibility of redoing Highway 87 and once again making it a coastal highway between Sabine Pass and Galveston. But first Rita in 2005 and now Ike, has made that prospect very dim, at least in my lifetime.

New erosion at McFaddin Beach such as this makes reopening Texas 87 between Galveston and Sabine Pass an unlikely proposition, at least for many years to come.

As I mentioned earlier in my semi-live post from McFaddin Beach, I was heartened to see that despite some horrendous erosion like that above, portions of the beach remain gorgeous and a good many folks were out enjoying McFaddin today. That is despite big chunks of highway are missing between Sabine Pass and McFaddin, plus one does not even want to ponder driving on the beach there without benefit of 4 x 4 and a wench, er a winch. Either way.

I won’t elaborate on why I so revere this mostly secluded and now even-harder-to-access beach. I talk about it quite a lot on my blog and it (the blog) does have a search function. I like McFaddin because of its seclusion and I have spent a lot of times both good and bad there. If you can continue visiting with admiration a place holding a reservoir of times both great and ill, then chances are its a special place. And, that’s all I have to say about that. Maybe I need to go for a nice long run, like Forest Gump.

On the way back home and through Sabine Pass again, I took a hard look at the damage.

The power of nature is awesome. Still, it sucks sometimes.

I don’t know if I could possibly judge the difference in damage to Sabine Pass from Rita and Ike. I have been doing that lately, trying to pit the damage of the two storms against each ot
her. I do that because it’s the only reference I have as they are the only two major hurricanes I experienced in living color. It’s also unfair and not very scientific. They were two very different storms. Rita made landfall just a skosh east of Sabine Pass as a 115-mph category 3 storm. Ike landed around Galveston as a 110-mph category 2 hurricane.

But the storm surge, even though not as bad as anticipated in Sabine Pass when Ike struck, was as much as 8 feet higher, according to preliminary statistics. Ike was also a huge storm causing storm surge all over the Gulf.

You’ll likely not meet any movie stars nor any Indian chiefs at this Sabine pass car wash, at least for awhile.

Smells, especially since I have regained most of my sense of smell after almost exactly eight years after giving up those horrid cigarettes, are something which are so powerful in bringing back memories. And I think I got a new arsenal of odors today which will no doubt remind me of Ike. I smelled it just as I started up the Intracoastal Canal bridge just south of Port Arthur proper and when I crossed it later headed north once more. It smelled like I was stuck inside the hold of a fishing boat that had been covered with benzene. I don’t have any clue what that’s all about. I can guess. The fish smell, from the intense storm surge. The petro smell, well it’s just down river from a couple of huge refineries. Take a wild guess.

This is most likely the longest EFD post ever. If you read it, look at it, or throw your computer out your window in disgust, then so be it. This was something I just had to do and to write about. And I am not making a dime from it, so far at least.

It’s not easy seeing scenes (and smelling them) like I saw today. I’ve seen tons of destroyed buildings and objects from hurricanes, fires, tornadoes … But it is unsettling knowing how someone’s life is upended by such events. Seeing one, like a burning house even such as those I helped saved from becoming a slab when I worked as a fireman, was difficult enough. Seeing many homes and businesses destroyed, means looking at compounded human suffering. I’m glad I was able to do a little something today to help. Such an act may be an act to assauge guilt, survivor’s guilt, or just something to make me feel a little better about myself. But during times like these, we all need to feel a little bit better don’t we?

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