Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Rita: So it begins

The squalls have arrived. Winds are steadily increasing, the lights flicker occasionally, rain drums an incessant bass line against the masonry skin of our building, the windows bulge with every gust, a transformer on the corner detonates in a shower of sparks ... and we're only in the tune-up. The prelude comes in a few hours, and the violent first movement a few hours after that.

We have taken a head count and everyone is safe. Now that night has fallen, we can take stock and plan, to some degree, the next move. As stories are filed, they are edited and quickly posted at our Web site and sent to our shadow desk in Houston for the paper-newspaper that will come out tomorrow just hours after Rita makes landfall. We shifted our normal morning cycle to midday so the newspaper could contain some of the first daylight images of Rita's wrath.

Galveston's electricity has been dead more than an hour, but we're still on here. We've adopted the rhythms of impending calamity, like a guy with exactly 12 minutes to live. We get a series of little shots to get this right, and each one presents a new challenge. We are one a short runway and there's no scrubbing the take-off.

Tonight, a Time Magazine reporter asked me if I was afraid. I am, a little. But it's more a tool than a handicap. It's how I know I haven't lapsed into a mechanical existence. It's the pulse of my survival instinct. And it's not always a fear of the things I can't control; it is also a fear of failing at the things I can control.

On a newsroom bulletin board -- the old-fashioned kind made of cork -- somebody posted an advisory note that ran on the New York Times news wire tonight: Editors, we commend to your attention storm coverage from New York Times News Service partner news organizations, including Hearst Newspapers and Cox News Service, but especially articles from The Houston Chronicle and The Beaumont Enterprise, two Hearst papers in the path of Hurricane Rita. Their unique perspectives lend an authenticity to storm stories that cannot be matched.

Spirits rose. Somebody is seeing. Still, I'm not sure why we think we might deflect a 500-mile wide hurricane by throwing a scrap of paper worth 50 cents at it. Maybe it's like some many things we do in life: It just makes us feel that we did something.

I'm not inclined to give it too much thought tonight. Maybe another time, after the pieces are picked up.
The lights went out in Galveston an hour ago, but they're still on here, so there's a precious moment to do one more thing. Post a blog entry. Visit one of the frightened dogs somebody bivouacked in the darkroom. Answer an e-mail from a concerned friend. Call my son in Wyoming and reassure him that we'll be OK. The hard work will be sleeping.


Anonymous said...

Best wishes, Ron. We hope you don't mind - we went ahead and made a post from your comment and want to send some of our folks your way to say hi and wish you well.

Stay safe -

The i66 News Blog Team

Zizzy said...

We are reading you, Ron. Thinking of you as we watch the lights go off in Beaumont, the fire in Galveston blowing down the street at 70 mph, hearing of the hotel roof just peeling off.. a Holiday Inn. I'm hoping that you've chosen your hunker-hole wisely. Looking forward to your next post,


Zizzy said...

P.S. you are a large orange stripe on CNN and I hope ya packed your brown pants.

TigerCat1945 said...

Greetings from Tucson

From an ex-Beaumont Enterprise reporter of long ago, I commend your efforts to keep Beaumont and the world
apprised of the inside of a hurricane like Katrina. If you're on the 3rd floor, I just hope you guys taped the northside windows facing the old Fire Dept. building pretty good... :-).

Kudos to Dave Ryan for great photos. And give my best to Dan Wallach, who was city/county swing beat when I was there. Tell him Sonoran-style Mexican food is the best!

Prayers and good thoughts for all of
you. Be safe and well...

David A. Harrington
Tucson AZ


Booksie said...

Good to know you are still around, not floating on a raft somewhere. Hope the notes, manuscripts, etc for future books are okay.

Anonymous said...

Ron,Just checked your site here. You're in my prayers. Got off the phone with Mary and she's hangin' tuff too. Try to sleep and we'll check again in the morning. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Ron, Todd & I just saw your building on Fox News. Wierd knowing you are in there somewhere. Can't keep watching. Poor windblown reporters are running out of people to interview and fill endless hours of network time by describing wind force. Would much rather read your insight. Plus, seeing your written word assures us you are still OK in there. Hope to see you again on TV tomorrow - walking safely out into the daylight.
Sleep tight - if possible.
M&T in Chicago

Pebble said...

Standing by, waiting for your next post...

Don said...

Just be safe!

Melanie said...


Reading you and The Enterprise and hoping that the cold light of day finds all of you well.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any other way to let people know who might be reading this. Talked with Ron at about 7 a.m. CST and they are still in the Enterprise building. The 3rd floor is gone; their roof collapsed and they have moved to the 2nd floor/mezzanine. They're trying to figure out how much worse it could get and/or should they move. Everyone is fine; just unsure how much longer the storm will be causing major effects.


Melanie said...


If you talk to Ron and crew, let them know they aren't alone and we are pulling for them.

ShielaJean said...

Ron, sure have you on my mind since I first heard Rita would be coming your way. Bet your Rocky Mountain Home is sure missed at the moment! :) Be safe, we want to keep hearing your lovely words flow...The Black Cup misses you I'll stop later and have a cup for you.

Anonymous said...

This is what we know from Ron as of 8;45 am on Saturday 9/24 - The cieling collapsed in the newsroom in several places around 2:30 am. We moved computers out of harms way and everyone is safe. All the windows in the newsroom held but my office is completely destroyed. There is something metaphoric about the fact that the only thing that survived in my office were the framed front pages of newspapers detailing major events in our countries history. We transferred newspaper operations when the power went out to our back up crew in Houston. The newsroom was made uninhabitable for a lengthy period of time.

As soon as the storm was past us, I wanted to be on the road. I just couldn't sit there. I'm almost to Lumberton. Trees are down and there are damaged roofs but I dont' see the matchstick/pick up stick devastation that we saw with Katrina. I'm dodging a lot of debree on the road. Telephone poles are damaged everywhere. We got through it. It was, at times, a frightening experience. We are sending people in every direction.

Anonymous said...

Ron, you're in my thoughts as are all the folks in Rita's path - I wish you well and i'll keep reading.


Anonymous said...


Apparently things turned out pretty well there in Beaumont. The local stations are treating the aftermath as a non-event, with very little coverage. Of course they all are hyping the "gasoline scare" situation. You know, "Gas will hit $4.00 a gallon" in so ensuring that it will. With those types of comments, they just give the oil industry the impetus to jab it to the public again.

Anyway, I hope things are as they seem, with the usual strom related problems and no deaths.

I went through many hurricanes grwoing up in SE Texas and after going through Carla in 1961, can appreciate the concerns.

Stay Safe;


Pebble said...

Just checking in....

RepJ said...

I saw your building on FOX as well. Shep Smith is a maniac! lol He was hanging onto one of the Bmt Enterprise's parking signs. Anyway, if you've got any info on Hamshire, please send it my way. :) I did a 'live' blog as best I could, but in The Woodlands area.

Shawn Cowper said...

Ron and others who missed it:

I caught your interview on NPR on Saturday. I'm glad to hear everybody is well, and look forward to new postings when you have bailed out and fired up the computers.

Shawn Cowper

Krista said...

Keeping you in thoughts & prayers- hang tough....


Anonymous said...

More info from Ron as of Saturday night (I'm posting this Sun. morning as we didn't have power in Shreveport, either.)

The news in Beaumont is actually pretty good. Everyone is safe, and seems like there was not as much damage as was seen with Katrina. Here is the link to Ron's NPR interview on Saturday for those who want to hear it.

Ron stayed at the newspaper building last night but was able to check on his house. Lots of exterior cosmetic damage but no flooding and only a small roof leak, so that is a blessing. Apparently they won't be allowing the rest of us to return to Beaumont until at least Tuesday.