Not much time here. Power is still out and every crucial piece of equipment is on priceless battery power.
We survived, battered and a little dazed. Our third-floor newsroom is a shambles. The ceiling caved in as Rita ramped up and, at about 3 a.m., we quickly removed everything that could help sustain us in the next few hours and days. The greater fear was that the rushing water would naturally migrate into the second floor, where most of us were bivouacked. By 5 a.m., it started to cascade throught the elevator shaft and from several spots in the second-floor ceiling. We were faced with a decision: Move people through the storm to the emergency command center across the street, or hope that the storm would pass over us before the situation became truly desperate.
Everybody with a cellphone called anybody we knew -- anywhere in the country -- to ask: Where's the eye, how fast is it traveling, and how far out are the hurricane-force winds? The answers, frustratingly, were all different, so we essentially triangulated the responses and determined that it was likely -- at that moment -- the storm would pass us in another two hours, shortly after daylight.
It did. At that moment, we hit the streets en masse to view the damage and start reporting. I drove north toward Jasper, Texas, where the eye had apparently passed and done some of the most grievous damage. The road was treacherous and the damage extensive. Nothing was untouched. Stray dogs roamed the highway, dozens of abandoned cars from the mass exodus sat silent, huge trees were snapped in half or uprooted entirely. The few people I saw were traumatized, carrying debris from one spot to another. Rearranging rubble.
Throughout the region, the damage is serious and extensive, but not what could have been. We saw the pictures after Katrina and they turned the landscape into something that loked like God's game of Pick-up Stix. That's probably the image we feared most. It's horrible here, but not that bad. I'll post photos when we get power.
More details will come later, but I want to close this way: Last night around midnight some of us sat on a park bench and had a surreptitious sip of whiskey to toast our survival. I looked up to see the stars as clouds broke apart.
Seeing the stars didn't make everything all right, but they looked like hope. We'll be OK.