View Full Version : Living through RITA

09-25-2005, 03:22 PM
What follows is an exerpt from a letter to my daugther in Canada describing what happened to us in NW Houston - all in all a pretty "easy" hurricane for Houston but absolute hell for those east of us in Beaumont, Port Arthur and most of Louisana.

We were sent home from work about noon Wednesday and told we had Thursday and Friday off. Went out that evening to buy some extra animal cages for transporting our critters, thinking we could get out of town San Antonio way early Thursday morning. Nope, by that time the gas stations were virtually out of gas and I-10 westbound was total gridlock; 290 going NW was total gridlock and I-45 N to Dallas was even worse. Some people traveled north a total of 4 miles in 12 hours. It was 100 degrees outside and cars were running out of gas and/or overheating so badly they had to be turned off. We were stuck in Houston for the storm!

I had some 3/4 inch plywood in the garage, so hastily made some panels to fit over the windows on the side of the house where the worst winds were expected. All the other windows were taped to help prevent broken glass from flying about the interior of the house. Fortunately for Houston (but not so good for Louisiana) Rita kept tracking farther and farther east, putting us on the "clean" side of the storm and farther and farther out from the eye.

Friday I completed the hanging of the plywood and if anything the traffic situation was worst. Traffic was backed up and just creeping north on I-45 - 80 miles worth! 290 and I-10 were still hopeless. No gas, no water and no food at any gas stations along the way, anywhere! If the evacuees didn`t take anything with them, then there was nothing, period!

Some volunteers went out to the stopped vehicles, serving up snacks and lots of water. And it was still about 100 degrees until the clouds started appearing and the wind picked up. It was breezy starting about noon and by evening there was a pretty steady wind of about 20 MPH with some higher gusts. We had prepared the main bathroom as a "refuge", stocked with flashlights, candles, food and beverages, medications in plastic bags, and some tools - axe, saw, hammer and chisel. By that time I had all the "valuable" paper work in plastic bags, my briefcase, computer and camera gear in plastic bags as well and put up "high" in case there was a water invasion of the house.

We turned in about 9:00 PM, but by this time the wind was still rising - steady at 30 MPH with gusts to 45. I was starting to feel a little scared by this time. I know first hand (2 times in fact) what hurricanes are like because as a 5-year old, Mother and I returned from a trip to England in 1953 by boat. The North Atlantic was one huge storm and they battened down the hatches and sealed the ship at Land`s End and for 5 days we were tossed about pretty good, until the ship reached the Straight of Belle Isle. My second experience with a hurricane was in 1971 when I was working on a seismic boat up between Greenland and Baffin Island. A hurricane came up the eastern seaboard, decided to try and wash Newfoundland off the map and then instead of heading into the North Atlantic as they usually do, this one decide to continue North up into Davis Straight. The boat captain told me the wind was blowing better than a Force 12 gale and that it was taking the tops off the waves at 45 feet.

I was woken by some strong wind about 3:00 AM Saturday morning and that was the end of sleep for me. Luckily we still had power and could still receive a satellite signal, so I just watched the storm coverage on TV for the remainder of the day. I was still scared, not because of the wind, but what it might contain and what it might do to the tall trees in the neighbor`s yard. I kept waiting to hear a loud "crack" and was prepared to run down the hallway to the refuge....

Anyway, Rita blew through Houston without a whole lot of damage anywhere. Thankfully we live on the far NW side of town, so even the winds were not all that bad - maybe sustained 40 MPH with the occasional gust about 50. The neighbor`s tree dropped a couple of branches in our yard and about a million leaves, but that was it. I don`t think we even got 1/4 inch of rain, which was a God-send because it didn`t loosen the soil around any tree roots.

I`m still a little shook-up from the experience, but otherwise OK.

Don`t know about returning to work tomorrow because the state government is trying to deal with 600000 home and businesses without power and trying to get 2.5 million people back into Houston in some sort of orderly fashion that will eliminate the mass confusion and stress of the exodus. Most local gas stations are still without gas or power or both and those that are fortunate to get some have 2-3 hour queues. I don`t think there is much gas along the highways back into town either.

So there you have it, my experiences with a land hurricane, called RITA.