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Hurricane Rita

Port Arthur, Texas - Sept. 24, 2005

Satellite View

NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at Goddard Space Flight Center

Hurricane Rita You Tube

The record breaking 2005 hurricane season kept going with the second category 5 storm in the Gulf of Mexico in the span of a month. Hurricane Rita eventually made landfall along the Texas/Louisiana state line in the middle of the night on Sept. 24th as a cat 3 storm that didn't do as much damage as Katrina did but still packed a serious punch. Joining me for the trek from Toronto was Mark Robinson and we met up with Tim Millar from Florida.

Just getting to the coastline was a challenge. There were over a million people evacuating and that caused an extreme gas shortage that stretched far inland as people were trying to get out of the path of this storm. At one point, the northbound traffic was jammed and as I came up over a hill there was an 18 wheel transport truck going north in the southbound lane. He was flashing his lights and obviously had no way of getting back into his proper lane. I had to quickly pull off onto the shoulder as he and a few other trucks blasted past me, almost causing a head-on collision. We were also concerned that we might get robbed for our fuel since we had 4 gas cans strapped to the roof and there were dozens of abandoned cars strewn along the highway that had already run out of gas.

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Boats along the levee just prior to Rita's landfall.

The building where we rode out the storm.

Green & Blue explosions everywhere as the increasing winds take out transformers and power lines.

Incredible winds as the eye of the storm comes ashore at about 3:00 A.M.

When we finally got to Port Arthur, the place had an eerie feel to it. The streets were empty, the residents long since evacuated. The "calm before the storm" feeling was evident especially since we knew that by the next morning, this city would be completely changed. One major concern was that the city was only a few feet above sea level and it was protected by a series of levees and a sea wall. If they were to fail, the entire area would quickly be underwater. We sheltered ourselves at a health dept./bank building that was well constructed and had space to protect our vehicles. As the wind began to pick up and the sun went down, the sky started to light up with fantastic green/blue power flashes caused by exploding transformers and shorted out high voltage transmission lines With each explosion, more and more of the town plunged into darkness as the electricity failed across the city. Before long, there was complete darkness.

Occasionally we would go down to the sea wall to check on the status of the water levels and the only people we saw besides us was Geraldo Rivera and his crew and when the storm really started to pick up, they retreated further inland. Throughout the night the storm raged on and the sounds of smashing glass and flying debris hinted at the destruction that was going on just out of sight. When the first light of day came, we started to see the full extent of the damage in the area. There were destroyed buildings, trees and power lines down and lots of debris in the streets.

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A sturdy brick wall toppled over.

Numerous buildings in Port Arthur were collapsed.

A shredded gas station.

Tremendous destruction all around.

The street flooding was also very extensive. Entire neighborhoods were completely submerged under water.

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A cat tries to negotiate around the flooded homes in the area.

The roads had turned into lakes.

Dead end indeed.

A large part of the city was completely underwater.

The worst part was getting trapped in an area that was completely flooded out. For hours, we waited for the water to recede, trying to find any clear path out to higher ground but there was no place that wasn't blocked by water. Eventually, a local man appeared with a huge, lifted pickup truck. He went through the water first and quickly tucked in behind him and drove through the wake created by the truck. This worked but it was tense as the water level was high enough to crest over the top of the hood of my truck. We had seen enough of Port Arthur so we continued to Beaumont for a while, then the long, 2 day drive back up to Canada.

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Two dogs patrolling the abandoned streets.

Boat or truck?...I think the boat would be more useful.

This is the flooded area that we had to drive through to get out of town.

Heavy damage in the city of Beaumont.