Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita Watch: Day Four ... Nightfall

I walked out on the roof of our parking garage around sunset. It wasn't really a twinkling of reflection, a quiet moment, a last sweet breath before the storm ... I wanted only to call my daughter on a cell phone and, for some reason, I believed the air between us would be clearest at that moment, at that height. It's a thousand miles from here to Utah, but tonight it seems much farther.

The daylight passed without offering much hope that Rita would either dissipate harmlessly or go someplace else. We made plans, re-made plans, made new plans and then threw them out in favor of other plans. The cruelty of a hurricane is not just the havoc it wreaks, but also the time it gives you to think about it ... which is simultaneously too much and not enough. We've committed to a special storm edition of our paper for Friday, and hope to keep publishing paper-newspapers off-site through the weekend. Time will tell. We don't know if The Beaumont Enterprise has ever missed a day's publication in its 125 years, and it leaves a sour taste in a newspaperman's mouth just to consider it.

The Web reassures us that we can publish effectively without a printing press. With a thimbleful of electrons and a creative arrangement of pixels, we can now publish anytime ... just like this blog. But the clicking of the keyboard somehow doesn't arouse the ink in my blood in the same way as hearing the rumble of the presses down below.

We continue to pare our staff down to a minimum, and are considering sending a team off-site to process stories, photos and pages safely away from the storm. I'll feel better when they are safe, and we are modestly more assured of making a paper.

I've been hearing from old friends and colleagues all day. That's comforting to know they're watching and worrying, too.

And the unsettled air between Beaumont and Salt Lake City lets my call through. Ashley is a photojournalist at the Salt Lake Tribune and she's covering a volleyball match when she picks up my call. She might have talked longer, but I know how it is: The story needs her attention at the moment, and we can talk later, when it's quiet and completely dark. I tell her all is well, don't worry, we're fine. It's the connection that mattered.


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Ron Franscell said...

From Don Jacobs, newspaper columnist in Beaumont ....

By noon Thursday, parts of Beaumont looked the way it did on Sunday years ago. Most all stores were closed as Hurricane Rita approached.

Dowlen Road was virtually vacant, post office doors were chain-locked, and a new drugstore featured the foreboding message, “Closed until further

Plywood covered glass windows in places, and crisscrossed tape sufficed for others. On Lucas, a man standing by a camper-covered truck seemed to be entreating a woman on her porch to leave.

At Parkdale Mall, newly-planted palms stood steadfast, too, for the present.

On College Street, a bedraggled guy clutching several bottles of wine weaved his way into some trees to wait out the storm.

Even as evacuating North Beaumont residents lined up to edge onto Concord Road, rumors spread that vandals already were breaking into homes left behind.

At the intersection of Eastex Freeway and Texas 105, police directed vehicles onto the northbound highway, but it was slow going.

Under a glaring sun in 99-degree heat, cars and trucks crawled along Concord. Some, thinking to find a shortcut, turned off at the rear of the Target store toward a jammed access road, only to return and seek re-entry.

A few impatient horns honked, but for the most part patience and a dread silence prevailed. A church van, obviously with no air-conditioning, crept along while someone held open a door to provide circulation.

Escorted by Beaumont Police Department cars, several buses rolled by filled with evacuees, and behind these, some cars pulled out of line trying to commandeer the left lane, only to be turned back.

Now and then, vehicles stopped off at a nearby store, only to learn that it was out of gas and shut down. The owner had locked up and fled with his family.

Some evacuees took the opportunity to relieve themselves behind the
building, then retrieve liquid refreshments from iceboxes taken along.

One SUV with a surfboard on top was seen headed south on Concord, along with an 18-wheeler headed for who knew where, while northward evacuees drove all
manner of cars and trucks, new and old. A motorcycle pulled a small trailer loaded with a pet cage, and a passing pickup contained a 4-wheeler and riding lawnmower.

After the radiator overheated on one vehicle, an irate rider decided to walk back home and strode down the road, but the driver talked her into waiting
while he got the problem fixed. She sat by a ditch in the sun and wept.

Meanwhile, late in the afternoon, fleecy clouds over Beaumont were hanging in a blue sky, virtually suspended but moving ever so slightly to possibly get caught up in the tempest and return with a vengeance.

Zizzy said...

Well, Ron, I'm certainly glad that you have not lost your sense of adventure. My thoughts are with you as I sit in the comfort of this first fall evening in Wyoming.

Marsha said...

I hope your description of the desolation of west end Beaumont means that people have been successful getting out of town. I pray they are not just log-jammed on the freeway, as they are in Houston -- because my folks are among those leaving. It chaps to hear there may already be opportunistic vandalism. I suppose it's better to be vandalized when one is absent from home than present: why risk dealing with both vandals and Rita face-to-face? Take care.

Zizzy said...

image of the day should impress you, Ron. :)

Tom said...

Thank you, very interesting!