Texas vs Hurricane Rita September 21st-24th, 2005
By Eddie Stakes
Dirty moon, it had been unreal hot the past several days, breaking
from September 19th thru 22dn, every day about 100 degrees. Rita was looming
in the Gulf, and had just crossed a warm eddy and mushroomed to 175mph
sustained winds and gusts over 200mph. The barometer had dropped to a
record low level, so low it is not even on your average barometric pressure
gauge at home. The hurricane now was stronger than Katrina a few weeks ago
that leveled New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport and a tri-state area. The path
had remained consistent, seems to be traveling WNW about 9-13mph. However
at the weather Channel reported, this was a storm that was affecting weather
from Mexico to South Carolina to Cuba, and covered a whopping 600X800 square
miles. And now was headed towards Galveston, site of the worst natural
disaster in US history with the 1900 Hurricane which killed 6000- 10,000
people and leveled the city. Above Houston & Galveston hung a dirty sun
during the mornings, letting one know that something seriously was wrong.
After Katrina killed hundreds, of which many bodies have still not been
recovered, people sort of finally started taking hurricanes seriously. I
have been thru about a dozen of them, and you learn that even the little
crappiest no name (some do have names) tropical storm can cause a shit of
damage. Look at Allison which hit Houston in 2001. No wind, just rain and
more rain, for five days, 36+ inches and $5.5 billion dollars in damage. It
remains the costliest tropical storm in US history, and the name was
Gone are the days of hurricane parties of my past. I think Allen took that
away in 1980, and was huddled with girlfriend on the hallway floor in our
apartment as the roof tried to lift off. Only a idiot would have a hurricane
party as storms get stronger and stronger, but even the weak ones deserve
respect and the last thing you want to be is fucked up if you have to make a
life and death decision. Celia left me with imaged scarred in my head in 1970 even
to this day. I was 11 when it hit. Several things I still remember 30+ years later
was a huge 500+ lb fan hitting our roof and bouncing off; it had flew about 100
yards from Coca Cola company's roof. Each gust of wind made the hole in the
roof larger until my mom, dad, brother and me ran next door. There was also
a seagull getting blown about by a squall, rolling literally end over end and have
wondered to this day what happened to it.
Back to Rita, many Texas cities from Corpus Christi, my hometown, to
Victoria, Galveston, Texas City, Kemah, why don't you basically pick the
whole Texas coast, were under MANDATORY EVACUATIONS. Back into Tuesday
September 20th, I had already stocked up on stuff like bottled water, dry
goods, can goods, and other things you pick up anticipating the worst as
electricity goes out for sometimes 2-3 weeks. However, this was a larger
problem. With the evacuations, the city that provides much of the gas to the
US had no gas, yes, HOUSTON RAN OUT OF GASOLINE. I drove to 15 gas stations
all over Gessner, Hammerly, Blalock, Long Point, and parts of I-10 looking
for gas, any gas, all the pumps were closed. Some stations had boarded up
and left. This created a Texas sized traffic jam with people jamming the
freeways in a attempt to evacuate. It got so bad the Texas governor had to
step in and REVERSE I-45 and I-10 to make inbound lanes OUTBOUND.
I also thought about all thosepeople all over town out of gas with a 175mph
hurricane 24 hours away. And
no gas to escape. There was no gas anywhere. Every now and then on tv
Channel 11 would break in and show a crawl across the bottom with several
gas stations that 'had gas' and my thoughts was that 5.5 million people are
rushing to that location at that moment. Eventually the Texas Governor, Rick
Perry allowed the state to step in and open up I-45 North on both sides of
the freeway heading to Dallas. That means all SOUTHBOUND lanes were opened
up to NORTHBOUND traffic, which helped a little, and then this was done with
I-10. How the hell else are you going to evacuate 4+ million people? Many of
the thousands stranded out of gas on the road got a little reprieve with
tanker trucks coming in to help stranded motorists.
If you have ever tried to evacuate 4+ million people it is not easy and
nothing goes to plan. The airports? Gridlock. Thousands of people stood 30
people deep as many of the federal luggage checkers failed to show up! So
everyone was missing their flights as they could not get thru. Even worse,
all the freeways were stopped. Even at 2-3 am, no one was moving. And many
were running out of gas where they sat. And it was 99 degrees so you could
not turn on your AC as it would use more gas. And then you would run out and
be sitting on the side of the road with thousands of others who ran out. How
bad was it? My wife, Paige's mom left here hose at 5:00am to drive to near
San Antonio, TX. On a normal day, this would be a 3 hour drive. However, by
1:00pm, she had gotten to Katy....only 13 miles in 8 hours. I-45 heading
north was worse, people were only going 6 miles in 9 hours. CNN, Fox News
and of course the local stations were showing people sitting in the 100
degree heat on every major Houston freeway trying to get out of town. For
the first time ever, Houston's Transtar freeway camera setup was glowing
red. All red, no green except a few lanes southbound on 288...
I left the house again in my 81 Eagle to try to find someplace, anyplace,
with gas on Thursday morning the 22nd. I had 1/4 tank by was stunned to see
traffic on Brittmoore backed up northbound from Clay to Hammerly, a
staggering 3 miles! So I turned off and headed east towards the Beltway 8.
On the northbound lanes, all three lanes were stopped, people standing
around waiting for any movement miles ahead on Hiway 290. I drove up to Clay
and watched as a fellow in a Toyota ran out of gas two lanes over from me
and him and his wife pushed the car to a church parking lot. The amount of
people stranded, especially with gas guzzlers, and big trucks, SUVs, was all
over. There were people pulling horses, and trailers. There were old and
young people thumbing rides on the Beltway. I don't know if they were
stranded and out of gas, only guessing. I also wondered about those poor bastards,
thousands of them, whose cars lay abandoned on the side of the highways,
and Houston predatory wrecker drivers having a feeding frenzy at $115 a tow
and "unlimited work" of course, at those victim's expense whose only crime
was RUNNING OUT OF GAS, and trying to FOLLOW ORDERS TO EVACUATE.
To make matters worse, THERE WERE NO ATM'S working, and banks had started
limiting money as they were running out! So you were damned if you did
follow orders, and well if you stay, especially in those areas that are on
the east side of town, you DIE. Several forecasters were predicting a storm
surge of 20-30 feet, which would cover Galveston, and wash all the way up
Scared? Sure. At 46 I watched water rise near my house which is OUTSIDE of
the 500 year flood plain, as Allison sat on top of east Texas for days.
now become the largest "ghost town" in America. On top of that,
we also now had the dubious distinction of having the largest traffic jam in US HISTORY,
stretching well over 100 miles in all directions in a effort to flee. The photos above show
millions attempting to escape 48 hours before the storm.
But every hour it seemed Rita nudged a little more NORTH. The small wobble in her track which had actually almost been here signature and frustrated forecasters for days was still there. Almost like a taunt. At a estimated 600 miles north to south and 800 miles across and holding above 150mph she could do anything she wanted and people knew this. Some forecaster actually superimposed the size of this massive storm onto a Texas map, which is covered Texas and THEN SOME. You had a estimated 4 million people evacuate from Corpus Christi up to Houston. The problem was she was now jogging slightly to the right, which would put Houston on the 'clean' side. The 'dirty' side was now High Island to Beaumont, and I don't think those folks had evacuated but had been watching and mobilized on a moment notice and got the hell out of there all along that costs, which is equally vulnerable in Louisiana and Sabine River area.
When Rita hit it was almost like a downer for some weathermen who had been living on cases of Red Bull for the week. Some seemed deflated that Rita had not hit Houston. I found that odd, as the destruction would have been as big as Houston and beyond. Here at the house we got tree damage from our oaks and pecans. Lost all our pecans too. Luckily for me on September 22nd I moved all my cars to the southwest corner of the house against the house as the wind would be coming from the northeast. And I didn't want them in the driveway either as the oaks and pines are first to snap. And my hunch was right as several huge limbs came crashing down when the very first squall moved thru with winds over 50mph, any of the limbs could have easily went thru a windshield.
There is absolutely nothing like standing outside when the power of a hurricane hits. That sounds stupid and many of us, myself included would like to slap the shit out of some of those newscasters who stand in 100mph+ wind and rain to 'bring us a story'. One day one will get decapitated and that will come to a screeching halt. Not sure why you need 1000+ reporters and their crews from all over the world to cover a storm either, send local crews and do a affiliate feed for all, no reason to have a crew from Seattle sipping lattes in a Cat 1.
Possibly some of the strangest things about this particular hurricane was images. I'd like to share many of them with you, some are boring some are not so boring. But I also captured some of the news stories here. I really could not believe (and still can't today September 23rd) that Houston, Texas, which supplies about 27% of all gas to the US, is OUT of gas. There is nothing open, and lots of downed lines and trees and other crap associated with high winds. The hurricane actually made landfall today near Beaumont, 2 hours due east of us on I-10. But that dreaded "northeast quadrant" of the hurricane really took out several areas over there like Orange, Neches, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, At least 925,000 people in Texas and 300,000 in Louisiana were without electricity, according to local utility companies.
We dodged a major bullet with this. Sure, there will be others, it is part of living on the Gulf Coast, just like some of those folks get 40 inches of snow in Buffalo, or a ice storm in Quebec, or a Nor'Easter that lingers for days off east coast, or 120 degrees for days in southwest, or even earthquakes. A hurricane is different creature however. Unpredictable no matter how much technology is out there, this time, the forecasters almost got it right in the trajectory, it was off by a few hundred miles, but with a storm that size, a hundred miles either way might make a huge difference in the destruction. This one was like being in a F3 tornado for TWELVE HOURS. Luckily for us, we were on the 'clean side' a phrase I hate saying as there is really no good side to a hurricane. Hopefully one day science will somehow be able to 'tame' these. I like the idea of dropping baby diaper fillings in the eye, therefore drying it up like the pampers absorb the moisture. Hmmmm....
Local NOAA Hurricane Statement for Rita September 22nd
Luggage Carriers No Show at Houston Airports!
100+ Mile Traffic Jam to Escape Houston From Rita
NO WAY OUT OF HOUSTON, Rita 48 Hours Away
Governor Perry Sends Fuel Trucks to Help Thousands Out of Gas on Houston Roads
Largest Evacuation in US History; almost whole Texas Coast; 4+ million people
My Reply to Hurricane Asshole!
24 people die in this evacuee bus from Bellaire.
Photos of Hurricane Rita in Houston, Texas:
Noah, who just turned four, helps out dad with boarding up the house. Actually, he wanted this dammed board for his Hot Wheels cars, letting me know it would make a big 'whee' (slide). Contrary to popular belief, I can operate power tools with relative ease if I have not had a triple latte. This is me working a saw without goggles, shoes. This was on September 22nd, and Rita was about 48 hours away still. It was a staggering 100 degrees outside, ANOTHER record HIGH for Houston, Texas, as the several previous days had all been also. Paige is a Native Houstonian (I'm not, I'm from Corpus Christi) and she said this sign would scare off a 175 miles per hour hurricane easily. One thing I remember from getting our asses kicked in the 60s and early 80s in Corpus by hurricanes is you cover your ass. There will be several photos here of the house, mostly for insurance purposes in case this house was blown to Kansas. This is a angle shot from the street showing pecan trees and boarded up windows. I would learn later I was one of about 6 people WHO DIDN'T EVACUATE HOUSTON. A photo of down the street facing Interstate 10 shows how barren and desolate it was. Actually you had about a million people on I-10 trying to get OUT of Houston at this time, travel times were unimaginable, from Wycliffe to Hiway 6 could take one 3 hours to go 10 miles...or less. This is a big ass oak in my front yard. It's older than most people you know, estimated to be about 70-80 years old. It is over 3 feet across and larger than a 76 Pacer passenger side door. Oaks and pines are the first to snap in high winds. This is a elm tree that sits right across from the big ass oak. Great to bust caps in squirrel's asses in, I took a photo of a number of my trees as after a hurricane, most are gone sadly.
Like AMC cars that people drop off at my house like a homeless shelter, people seem to do same for animals. My mom, Sarah Marie DeAlcala Stakes (1926-1988) taught me to be kind to God's critters. Well, most except those damned squirrels who have been eating all the pecans. (I don't have to worry about that as of September 23rd as all the pecans were blown out by Rita) Hmmm...now I will have to actually aim my gun as squirrels on the ground. But this little kitten someone dropped off near the easement behind the house. We simply call him "mean orange kiki" as when we first found him, he hissed a lot and tried to scratch you if you fed him. Now he is 1/2 friendly, and here, Jacob, who is 2, decides whether he wants to keep his fingers or not. We left the cat outside for the hurricane, he was safe in the 74 Hornet wagon with better food than Jacob. A "insurance photo" of the front of the house, yes, I actually left the bottom of the front window uncovered as a 'escape route'. Never mind the DOOR next to it, more exciting to crawl out a broken window into flying debris like 2x4s hurling thru the air at 200mph that can spear completely thru the big ass oak above. If the wind would come out of the west, I could get out of raking those leaves too. Days before Rita, it was record temps in Houston. This strange photo if of a setting sun on the side of my house. What was unusual about it was it was still in the 90s at 5:00pm, and the sun appeared a dirty orange. Granted, it usually appears a dirty orange with our smog here, but this was different. There was a apprehension or a strange feel to the air. And the dirty orange sun casted really scary shadows on everything. It was a feeling I used to get in Corpus before a storm, but this was different, it was eerie.
Well I told you I can operate power tools, but really didn't need those two fingers anyhow. That is Cookie the Dumb Lab behind me, and good thing about a hurricane, is if you have a roof left, you don't have to clean all those damned toys off the roof the kids tossed up there; look closely, you could make every kid in the city of New Orleans happy with just the crap on my roof. Another strange and eerie photo is this one showing a dirty orange moon. This "dirty moon" had appeared the whole week. No breeze at night, and stifling heat. Almost hard to breath like a Phoenix or Las Vegas heat. But the moon was just creepy and had never seen anything like it. Hard to believe that 300 or so miles away something so powerful lurked it could wipe a whole city off the map. Another strange photo is this one taken September 23rd, it was 100 degrees when it was taken, and if you look closely, there is a double ring around the sun. This was taken from my back yard facing the pecan trees. I took lots of photos at that angle not knowing if those 80-100 foot trees would still be there in 24 hours.
This is the big easement behind the house and Hurricane Rita would be blowing in at this northeast angle now that we were on the 'clean side' and it was to hit Texas on the left of Houston. Nothing spectacular about this photo except that when you consider Rita was less than 200 miles away, it was strange to see these clouds forming in all levels......and quickly. The old lady who lives across from me, Brazina, has some really beautiful, but annoying pine trees. Pine trees are great to look at but their needles are a pain in the ass to clean up year round. Since these are on the north end of her house, and the wind would be coming in from the northeast, figured I would take a photo in case any of these old warriors decided to visit her roof. She evacuated on Thursday so would no be there if anything happened. This is a photo of my own pecan trees and the dirty sun September 22nd, about 5:00pm, which would be roughly 30-32 hours before landfall of Rita. A squall builds quickly over Houston approaching from the northeast on Friday the 23rd.
This is one of the limbs that came down in my driveway, there were lots of these all over Houston, this particular one weighs about 200 lbs. This is why I had moved my cars against the southwest corner of the house, and out of the driveway. It paid off. This is four of my AMCs shoved against the house. The pecan tree there would take a better beating than any oak or elm, and rarely do the branches break with downbursts or storms. With Rita passing east of Houston and pounding the shit out of the Golden Triangle area, after Rita made landfall we woke up to tropical force winds in Houston.
For some reason people seem to think that a hurricane comes and goes in 1-2 hours. They don't and most last 6-15 hours of pure hell. While Rita made landfall about 1:00am Saturday September 24th about 120 miles east of where I am, this photo shows how powerful these storms are well after hitting land. A 50mph+ gust of wind was hitting as I took this photo, and several large branches are blown down and the tops of the pines are flattening out. A deserted photo of Wycliffe Saturday 23rd, with many limbs down. Almost looks normal in my front yard, but still winds are above 30mph with gusts to 60mph+, there are a lot of limbs and leaves down in this photo. Another shot of Wycliffe Saturday September 23rd, still getting buffeted by 40+mph winds and between squall lines. Since I had taken a few photos of the easement behind my house at this angle, thought I would take one more here while Rita was on land, this is a blast of 50+mph gust in squall line, while the bush in the forefront of the photo is not moving, note the trees across the way flattening out. The wind blasting thru those high transmission lines is a weird sound. Right after I took this photo the same gust hit me. Scruffy the dog stayed outside with Cookie the whole night. He is a tough guy, Paige wanted to bring him in, but the dogs wanted to stay under one of the cars, out of wind and out of rain.
All in all, we got thru this one ok, but really feel sorry for those folks on the TX/LA border who are hurting and have lost a lot with this monster hurricane. You don't really realize how fragile stuff is sometimes until you see what happened with Katrina, and then 3 weeks later, Rita, where people lose everything. I hope that for the 4+ million people who did evacuate and leave Houston and the Texas coast won't think twice about doing it again if it ever comes to that, after all, hurricane season don't end until November 30th or so. I appreciate the emails and calls our family got to see if we were doing ok in light of this hurricane. We stayed this time. It was a gamble. We have a solid house, not that anything in Houston would be left standing if this had continued on its projected path and stayed at a Category 5 with winds of 175 and gusts over 200mph, there is not a building in Houston that could withstand that, it would be like a 100 mile wide F4 tornado sitting over something for 6-12 hours. As I write this, Rita is still wreaking havoc in northern Louisiana, winds only 35mph and gusts to 50mph, but over 40,000 square miles of Texas and Louisiana right now have damage; many places no water, electricity or gas, and some will not have those for weeks to come. One more thing before I go. For the first time in three days I saw a aircraft above Houston. It flew over today and was a dark green military aircraft we used to see after disasters or sitting on the tarmac at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi for the air show. Big, thundering aircraft, four propellers, you hear it coming a mile away, really large. I thought it was a C-140 but don't remember what it is called, might be a Hercules; just a huge transport craft I remember from the bases down in CC, and now was the first plane I saw in the skies above Houston in days.....heading east towards the destruction Rita has left behind a few miles east of us.
Lastly, my hat is off to those "elected officials" who tried to keep calm, and didn't sleep for days on end, especially those behind the scenes with TxDot, City of Galveston, City of Corpus Christi, Houston, and hundreds of others who faced a monumental task in attempting to do something never before done in American History and that is get millions to get the hell out of the way of a powerful hurricane that covered the Gulf of Mexico. Mayor Bill White of Houston reminded me of the guy in Animal House though, who as millions of DEATH MOBILES crammed onto Houston's freeways, Bill urged calm and like the guy in Animal House (Neidermeyer) gets his ass trampled as no one listened and anarchy ruled the streets in a attempt to escape. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDAmPIq29ro
I also didn't care for some of the state senators, a few who I even voted for, looking for the nearest camera. Sheila Jackson Lee makes me want to vomit, and she hears a 1952 DuMont shutter camera clicking across town, she will gladly jump in front of it to get a photo op. I think Governor Rick Perry did a good job, but still wished some plan had been in effect to stock those filling stations along evac routes once order was given. President Bush, who I am a big supporter of (and think Cindy Sheehan should be sent to Iraq) here showed how he got the high score of 'missile command' with a class of generals who have never figured out how to roll over the score at 999,999,990. I'm not sure if he realizes a clean shaven Osama Bin Laden is sitting to his right either, learning the secrets of this popular 1980 Atari Video Game. New Orleans Mayor Nagin also needs to figure out basic city government and not blame federal government for shit like levees falling apart and Acts of God. He might have learned a few lessons from old Bill over here (who I didn't vote for) who handled a equally stressing and impending doom situation with a little more class. Well, that and a few cases of stockpiled Red Bull.
Hopefully there are a lot of lessons, from both states, to be learned here for possible future evacuations and disasters of which there of course WILL BE. I think it is amazing to think how many people fled the gulf coast from Corpus Christi, Matagorda, Freeport, Galveston, High Island, Houston, and Golden Triangle area in such short notice. Again, it needs to be pointed out that it never has been done in US history a massive evacuation such as that. Next time, possibly people won't pile into 3-5 of their cars for each family; and they will take water, spare gas, munchies knowing a 4 hour trip could last 20+ or more hours, but at least they will be safe from the storm. And if they seek refuge, they are refugees, not evacuees, which sounds like a form of herpes.
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