Monday, September 24, 2007

On This Day

On this day in 2005, Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border. It was a Category 3 hurricane when it came ashore, but it had been a Category 5 storm in the days before landfall, with maximum sustained winds reaching 180 mph on September 21. Rita was devastating to the Golden Triangle of Texas, although it certainly could have been much, much worse if it hadn't weakened considerably in the day before it came ashore -- I saw what it did as a Category 3 with 115 mph winds, and I can't even imagine what 180 mph winds would have done.

Despite the damage it did in Southeast Texas (and that damage was extensive and severe), Rita will probably be remembered mostly for the evacuation of Houston that it spawned. For several days before September 24, the National Weather Service forecast that it would make landfall near Galveston, which would have meant that it would have blown by Houston as a Category 3 storm or worse. Having seen what happened to New Orleans with Katrina less than a month earlier, a significant portion of the population of the greater Houston metropolitan area evacuated. Or attempted to. It was a disaster. All of the roads out of town were gridlocked. Gas stations ran out of gas. Stalled vehicles were lined up along freeways and back roads all the way to Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.

I have lived a sheltered life, and I am very fortunate that I didn't have to live through a major hurricane hitting Houston. However, that evacuation was the worst day of my life. I left home at around 3:00 AM on September 22, heading for Dallas, where I have family. By 5:00 PM, and still hadn't reached Conroe. Interstate 45 was a disaster area. Traffic was moving at maybe two or three miles per hour. I was still miles south of where the contraflow lanes had been opened up. I realized that I was never going to reach Dallas by the time the storm hit. I made a mid-course adjustment and headed for Austin on back roads with the help of my brother, who relayed directions from Mapquest over the phone. By 2:00 AM, I had reached College Station, but I was almost out of gas. Because they are the best friends a person could have, Mamacita and Papi Chulo, who had managed to make it to Austin on the afternoon of the 22nd, drove back to College Station to bring me gas. We ate at the Whataburger in College Station with a bunch of drunk (but very polite) Texas A&M students and then headed to Austin. We finally pulled into Mamacita's aunt's house at around 6:00 AM, by which time I had been up for 27 hours, was badly sunburned, and was caked in the salt from my own sweat. I called my father, who by that time was downright alarmed, and went to sleep. As I wrote, I don't have that much to complain about in comparison to those who lost loved ones or all of their worldly possessions in the storm; but it was truly a terrible experience.

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