Sulphur, Louisiana, Oct. 2005, post-Hurricane Rita. (The tree fell in front of the house, thankfully, not on it.)
As a child, the solemn tones people imparted when speaking the names Audrey, Betsy, Camille no doubt formed my sense of the power of hurricanes at a very early age. I don't remember how old I was when I learned that I should go into the hall closet and shut the door if a tornado was approaching, or into the hall at the very least, shutting all (wooden) doors behind me so as to be away from all windows. It just seems like something I always knew, like knowing where to duck at this moment if the earth beneath my feet begins to tremble out here on the West Coast.
No doubt the collective community memory, if not the actual experience, of these storms, saved many lives when people evacuated Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas before Hurricane Rita in 2005. And if stories of dead cows found 20 miles inland where they were pushed by Hurricane Audrey's 1957 storm surge wasn't enough to send residents packing, the still-fresh news footage of Katrina's aftermath to the east should have converted even nonbelievers.
Hurricane Rita hit the Louisiana/Texas border five years ago today. I was in California worrying about my family back home in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas. I don't remember ever actually evacuating ahead of a hurricane in the 25 or so years I lived in Louisiana, only battening down the hatches and stocking up on canned goods and such. But Mom & Dad and other relatives actually got out of town for this storm, even though they live about 40 miles from the Gulf Coast.
Staying away from home for almost 2 weeks was difficult (Calcasieu Parish, my family's home, was officially "closed" due to the lack of electricity in most areas, passable roads and potable water in some. Cell phones, message boards, and e-mail relayed reports on local damage from those who stayed or sneaked in), though it probably paled to cleaning out the putrid freezers and fridges, everyone's least favorite chore, when they returned.
My parents were lucky that only a few trees were downed (and fell away from the house instead of on it) and roof shingles damaged. Many people came home to worse. Some still have repairs left undone, and others cannot afford to return to the coastal areas due to stringent new building codes and expensive insurance premiums.
Some call this the "forgotten" hurricane, because news coverage of it was much less than for Katrina. I suspect, however, that Rita and Ike will be the "Audrey" in the minds of my nieces & nephew and their children in the way that Audrey was the cautionary tale for my generation, told by those old enough and lucky enough to have lived through it.
Copyright 2010 by Liz Hall Morgan, all rights reserved.