Running from Rita: part 3 the anticlimactic ending
Author's note: this series of posts is a first person account of a few days dealing with Hurricane Rita. The posts are all written after the fact but I will try not to let that ruin the story. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.
Friday, September 23
Out of bed about 8:30am after lying there for quite a while. Son-in-law's father is up and has made coffee. After having a cup I brush my teeth and throw on some clothes. I'm off in search of gasoline. The fleeing multitude has sucked up almost every bit of gas to be found. All the way from Pearland to College Station we didn't see any open stations. Pumps were all bagged. Some had people parked just to take advantage of the shade, we did that at one point in our trek.
Last night as we wound around College Station I noticed that almost every Shell station was open and had gas and tried to take note of where they were. Luck is with me and I find an open station with no line about 5 minutes from the house. As soon as I get back I let the others know and they head out to fill up. We were all down a bit below a half tank so returning would be very iffy if we hadn't managed this.
Around 11am I start checking in with family to let them know that we're out and safe. Also check in with our close circle of friends. One couple has elected to stay. I was nearly in tears yesterday trying to talk them out of it and feeling positive we'd never see them again. Another couple who are close also stayed but we can't get thru to them on the phone. Both couples were boarding up and hunkering down. Other close friends who left have similar tales to ours of 2 hour drives turned into 10 hour drives in horrible traffic.
The forecast for the storm is incrementally further east and the friends who live just a few blocks from our house say they're expecting to only be in tropical storm force winds (under 70mph) but possibly for close to 24 hours. The storm has slowed and the weather people are talking about it possibly stalling out once it goes inland and dropping 25 inches of rain on east Texas.
The rest of the day passes in a blur of TV, naps, reading. We've no shortage of food or drink so we're very comfortable. My daughter has spoken to the owners of the house (on a trip to California) and while they've told us to feel free to eat or drink anything there, we've brought more than enough. We were all expecting to have to deal with power outages and closed stores for several days.
The national news is full of New Orleans today. They're getting the outer rain bands from the east side of Rita and the levees have overflowed or broken again. Some of the areas pumped out after Katrina are now filling back up. There's also the tragic story of a bus full of elderly evacuees from a nursing home. After probably spending 15 or more hours on a bus and getting near Dallas the bus caught fire. Estimates are that twenty-four people died.
By the 10pm forecast from the NHC the track has moved all the way to the Texas-Louisiana border. Relief is starting to set in. Wind forecasts for home are still lighter and the storm is losing strength even more than was forecast with sustained winds down to 120mph.
After some discussion about when to head home we all turn in around midnight. It's a little breezy in College Station but no rain yet. The tension is gone out of the house.
Saturday, September 24
Everyone is up and moving around about 8am. The storm has more or less passed. There must have been a sprinkle of rain and some minor winds because there are some wet leaves outside the back patio door. Tree tops are still swaying a bit here and there.
We've decided to get on the road early in the hopes of being on the front edge of the returning multitude. It takes us until after 11am to get loaded and clean up after ourselves. We leave our hosts some cash and a note of appreciation. I suspect they won't want the cash but what are they going to do. If they get insistent we'll tell them to donate it somewhere. Their hospitality to a bunch of complete strangers has been a great blessing.
The drive back is mostly uneventful. There is still some wind and we get a couple of light rain showers on the way. The direct route seems slow so we take an alternate that's slightly longer. A stop at grandmother's house finds them without power. But our caravan is splitting up here. Daughter and son-in-law collect their cat and head for their home. Son-in-law's father and mother (with grandmother and husband following) will go to their house. We get one last call from the friends who rode it out near our house telling us that power has been off most of the morning but is now on. The drive across Pearland is uneventful. A tree here and there down, lots of leaves and small branches, a sign down every once in a while. There have been wind storms that did worse. We arrive home about three hours after leaving College Station.
We get home to find that the top of one of our trees has snapped off and is draped across the cab of the pickup. I take some pictures in case I need to file insurance and then with the help of a neighbor and a hunk of rope pull it over and off. Damage seems to be confined to a very small dent and a few minor scratches. The house is 100% intact, no broken windows, no water blown in thru crevices, nothing. The feeling walking around the house is pretty indescribable. Not that I couldn't have picked up and gone on if the house had been flattened as we feared but... I am just very grateful not to have to do that.
The aftermath It's Monday afternoon as I type this. Since arriving home I've been filling bags with downed leaves and branches and getting good use out of my chainsaw. Also put the A/V system and the computers back together. The only problem there was that the ethernet cable I grabbed to hook up my server was bad. Gave me a bit of a turn until I swapped that out. For some unknown reason my external drive, which had seemingly semi-croaked a week ago now seems to have healed itself. But I have lost trust in it and will replace it anyway.
Saturday morning a nearby grocery store opened and was mobbed. People are still panicky. I saw people buying groceries like they thought there never would be any more food. One lady left one of her children as a placeholder in the checkout line while she filled a shopping basket absolutely full, then hopped in to line where her kid was (right in front of me as it happens). I got a few things to replace the contents of the refrigerator, just enough to get us thru a couple of days. In our certainty that this was going to be a catastrophe we turned off the power at the main breaker before leaving. Mostly out of concern for the air conditioner in case power surged or cut on and off. [Note to self: if you turn off the power it's a good idea to not leave the ice cream in the freezer on the top shelf.]
Gas is still a little hard to come by but the Honda made it back with two-thirds of a tank and the pickup is full so we're good for several days.
The rest of the neighbors are trickling back in. About two hours after we got back on Saturday we heard on the TV that local officials are calling for a staged return and that we weren't supposed to come home until Monday. Oh well. I'm not sure how they thought that people in other cities up to several hundred miles away were supposed to know that. We listened to the radio all the way home. What we heard was a mixture of "stay away" and "all is well here come on home" from different localities. About half the families on our block were home before we were so obviously they didn't get the word either.
We got together with our closest circle of friends last night and ate pizza and drank margaritas while we swapped stories.
As the saying goes, all is well that ends well. I'm not a native of these parts but aside from the monumental traffic jam I have to say that Houston officials really seemed to have their stuff together through all this. While we were spared the devastation that New Orleans saw I think there's still a contrast in what the government did. Some may say that this was due to lessons learned from Katrina but I think that was a pretty minor part. One of the officials said on TV something like: We've been working with different organizations for years so when there were problems we already knew who to call and had established relationships.