SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - 10 years ago today, Hurricane Rita hit Texas. Rita was the 4th strongest hurricane ever recorded.
And since Katrina had flooded my home town of New Orleans less than a month before (click here to read my Katrina story), my family and I were still living near Beaumont, Texas at the time... directly in Rita's path.
After Rita passed, my high school classes eventually resumed. And for an English assignment, I wrote a story about my Rita experience: surviving a major hurricane landfall. This is that story:
My family and I left from Lumberton, Texas early on Thursday morning before the storm. We were on the road for a long time. There was traffic, heat, and plenty of lovebugs. We had to keep the door open, let the windows down, and turn off the car (on that burning day) in order to preserve gas.
When we reached Lufkin that afternoon, we registered for the Red Cross emergency shelter arranged in the adjacent city of Huntington at Huntington High School. We were the first family to arrive. The later it became, the more the numbers grew.
Friday, anxiety grew. From the radio, we heard that Rita was intensifying rapidly.
After a few small meals, it was time to put the pets in the school's agricultural shop room, before the storm hit. Red Cross shelters do not accept pets but the registered nurse, Connie, in charge of the shelter, broke the rules for us. The room was very dark, large, and not airconditioned. There were several very large dogs in the same room as my small dog, Coco. The integrity of some of the dog's leashes was questionable. Someone told me that they would leave the doors to the room open during the hurricane for ventilation.
I did not feel safe putting Coco in the room, but I had no other choice. I wasn't going to sit in the car with her during the storm. I could have and should have, I later thought to myself after the ordeal. As I was leaving the room, I saw the deep look in her eyes as she helplessly watched me leave her.
Around midnight, Connie moved the entire population of the shelter into the school's gym for extra protection against the storm. The outer wall of both the school and gym were reinforced by a one-foot-thick wall of concrete. I was not worried about being blown away by the storm. I didn't care about anything but the safety of my pet at that moment.
We were safe, despite the frightening roar of the damaging wind outside. I knew we shouldn't have come here; Huntington was in the center of the path of the storm. The power went out. We could hear debris hitting up against the walls of the school, hopefully that debris was not our cars. It sounded so terrifying, like something was screeching across the roof of the building, slowly ripping it off.
A woman (after asking of Connie's permission) led all of us in singing hymns: "This little light of mine", "Down on the Cross", "Amazing Grace", "Jingle Bells" (well, mostly hymns). They actually started some serious praying and preaching in that dark gym. This helped to distract everybody from the horrific noise outside.
I felt like I was in a movie, everything was so surreal. Yet, I couldn't help but notice the wall padding behind both basketball goals reading "GO! Huntington Devils!" Seriously, what kind of school's mascot is a devil? I began to notice the red flames decorating the top rows of bleachers. Countless pitchforks were scattered in the areas between the burning bleachers. Their mascot, a tall monstrous demon, with a wrinkled, scaly face was staring at us from beneath the goal. Two intimidating horns protruded from the top of his head. His eyes sunk into his face; his nostrils were flared. His mouth was gaping open, showing his many yellow, curved, sharp teeth. He looked ready to devour us in his flames. This could not bode well. And we sang, "Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!"
When the conditions improved slightly and we were given permission to exit the gym, I sprinted through the doors and the pouring rain to the agriculture shop room.
It helped to see that all of the many trees fell in what seemed to be a graceful circle around the school. All of the cars were untouched. My uncle said it was the work of God.
Suddenly, my confidence level dropped significantly after I saw several large dogs running around outside with broken leashes around their necks (poor animals; they were probably outside during the storm), I still kept some remnants of hope in the bottom of my heart for my beloved pet. The door was ajar and banging on the wall, open from the howling wind and cold pouring rain when I got around there.
At last, I finally saw that familiar pair of gleaming, watery eyes filled with joy. When Coco saw me, she began behaving frantically. Barking, yelping, and screaming, she greeted me with thousands of warm, friendly licks to my face as her excitement took hold of her and forced her to wet the floor. I thought her fluffy, brown tail was going to fall off; she was wagging it so forcefully. Reunited with my loyal friend, we fled from that awful room. The power was not restored until very late that night.
The darkness had ended. I was thankful for the lights to be back on again. As I looked to the heavens that morning, I could see better days on the horizon.