Sunday, September 25, 2005

In Rita's wake

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.

9 comments:

greg said...

Glad you made it through intact, amigo.

Zizzy said...

heard the NPR piece, thanks to this blog, Ron. Looking forward to the pics. Most happy to see the new post. :)

Mover Mike said...

Glad you and your friends made it! Thanks for supplying us an on the ground feel. We look forward to your pictures.
Mover Mike

Melanie said...

Ron,

Great news. Glad you are back

Wldflwr008 said...

::::whew, huge sigh::::GREAT to know you are safe and well. Thanks to Mary, et. al., for keeping us informed during the dark times. Yayyyyyy, Ron and crew!! I look forward to your next writings, RF.

Adara said...

Glad you guys are okay!

Anonymous said...

I am originally from Beaumont myself[been gone 6 yrs now] and I have sat out a many a hurricane, so I know what it's like[interesting,exciting... but scary at times]. I am just here thanking and praising Jesus that He brought you all through this.

Ken said...

Have you heard any estimates about how long electricity will be off in Beaumont? My son goes to Lamar and is trying to decide whether to go off and vacation to make the basis for it or whether to spend the time studying.

Ron Franscell said...

Ken:

No estimates on when electricity will be restored at Lamar University. Some sources suggest that we might have electricity in the immediate downtown area as early as Tuesday, 9/27, but Lamar University is more distant and the extent of damage to the college area will play a role.

Another factor: City authorities are still keeping citizens from returning to Beaumont. That's expected to be the situation until some infrastructure -- including electricity -- is restored.

So it's all a very fluid situation. You can be certain of only one thing: No public institution in the city will expect workers, students or customers to be here until days after the city authorities re-open the city limits to returning evacuees.

So I'd guess something between a two-week vacation and pulling an all-nighter would be appropriate for your son's downtime.

Ron