We preside over a ghost town.
After midnight last night, I drove through the city's west side neighborhoods, to sweep through my house one last time, to find a safe spot for a few last, probably inconsequential things. The city-scape is barren. Distant headlights down boulevards and back streets dart like the illuminated eyes of nervous rats, too far away and too fleeting to offer any comfort that we are in this together. Each of us is, truly, on his own.
We know humans have clustered together in small groups and hidden spaces, hunkered down for what's coming. We know a few civilians have postponed their evacuation until today, in hopes traffic congestion will have eased. We know some won't leave. We know some first-responders -- mainly police and firefighters -- will ride out the storm aboard a ship in the Port of Beaumont. We know there are people in some local hotels, many of them reporters from as far away as the Los Angeles Times. We know that later today, after the sun has risen and set, some will seek sanctuary here. But none display themselves casually within the city now.
We see reports of people handing out water and gasoline along the evacuation routes. We also get tiny glimpses from the road: 10 hours to go 20 miles; women holding bedsheets at the roadside so desperate other women can get out of nearly-stalled traffic to relieve themselves semi-privately in front of hundreds of motorists; anxiety crackling over cellphones over how far will be far enough. We also heard stories -- maybe apocryphal -- of people traveling down back roads for hours only to be turned around and sent back.
We sent a handful of editors to Houston late last night. They'll not only provide support from the shelter of the Houston Chronicle, their evacuation reduces the number of our people here who must face the storm eye-to-eye. For me, that's a comfort.
The sun will rise in the next hour or so. Rita's vanguard -- bands of rain and squalls spinning ahead -- haven't begun, but they're coming. A fellow editor went for a pre-dawn jog, maybe the last chance he'll get to stretch his legs for a few days. We've begun stashing some food, bedding and other necessaries deep within our own building, away from windows and above the wildest flood stage, where we'll likely spend tonight. Right now, Rita is expected to make landfall around the small coastal town of High Island then rumble north over us. At this time tomorrow morning, we expect to be under fire from Rita. When we can safely venture out to see what she wrought, I don't know, but it will be as soon as we feel we can do it safely.
Before Rita, our Features staff had planned a story for today about what appears to be an unusually busy hummingbird migration across Southeast Texas. Earlier this week, a reporter and photographer went to visit one birdlover's small farm, where literally dozens of hummingbirds had been coming and going all the time. When they arrived, the lady apologized that their numbers had mysteriously dwindled. So the reporter called a Texas expert on hummingbirds, and he wasn't surprised.
Even hummingbirds, he said in so many words, are smart enough to flee ahead of a hurricane.