Sunday, October 02, 2005

You Loot, We Shoot

Jennifer Reynolds - © The Beaumont Enterprise

Jesse Munoz walks through his yard Saturday October 1, 2005 behind a sign with a warning to looters. Munoz said he put the sign up when he returned to his home in Beaumont, Texas before any of his neighbors, who had also evacuated for Hurricane Rita. He said he was serious about the warning at first, but now motorist honk and wave and photograph the sign.

I chose this title as I'm sure everyone wondered whether any looting took place in Southeast Texas after Hurricane Rita hit here. There were some looting and burglary incidents. The looters went to prison.

I haven't follow the news, Internet or blogs since the hurricane hit here. We got electricity and Internet back at our apartment complex two days ago. Again, it didn't motivate me to read anything. I'm more interested in reading books these days than following the news. So, I have no idea what was reported about the hurricane. I'm going to write what I have witnessed or experienced during the last nine days. It's more of a personal post and a future reference.

Some of you read about the problem we had at the Enterprise building from reading Ron's blog:

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 throughout 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.


The photo department is located on the third floor. Yes, I was asleep on the third floor when this happened. After we evacuated to the second floor, the photographers, including the ones from other news organizations went to sleep as if nothing happened. By 6 a.m. most of them were out doing their job. Luckily, we didn't have floods here. So, it was easy for them to move around the area hit by the hurricane.

BTW, the photo department got zero drops of water from the caved-in ceiling. That's sort of a miracle considering the severe damage to the floor. That day, the photo staff continued to work from their room under miserable conditions. I think the adrenaline rush kept everyone going.

The cops did an outstanding job after the hurricane. They blocked all exits from the highways to prevent anyone from entering the neighborhoods. You could exit if you were on an assignment for a media organization (TV, radio, newspapers). Sorry, bloggers didn't count. I learned from this experience that bloggers are op-ed writers. No more, no less. You want to be considered a journalist, be prepared to jump into your car and report from the worst places in your country or other countries and be ready to die in the process. I hope this doesn't disappoint any bloggers out there.

I was able to get home the first day by not taking the highway. The cops drove into our apartment complex every few hours. So, I felt safe even though I had to spend the second night alone with no electricity or lights in the streets as Mark had to work 20 hours that day.

The mayor of Beaumont and his personnel acted as if there weren't any people living in this town. Let's just say they were in denial. The first day or two, you couldn't find any shop open or anyone distributing food to the survivors. If you stocked up on canned food and bottled water, then you were in a good shape. If not, you starved. It was that simple.

The Enterprise brought a big grill and started grilling food for its employees. That's Very Texan. They really took care of their working staff and are still working day and night to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. I ate grilled Alaskan Salmon and I LOVED it.

The Salvation Army is doing a great job here. I recommend donating to them and ONLY them in the wake of Hurricane Rita. They're providing food, water and ice to the locals including people working to fix things around here in addition to other services they're providing for the locals.

Mark M. Hancock - © The Beaumont Enterprise

Kenneth Taylor of Beaumont rides away happy with the food and water he got from The Salvation Army emergency disaster service facility in Beaumont on Wednesday, September 28.

If I learned one thing from this experience, it is NOT TO GIVE ONE PENNY to the Red Cross. We haven't seen them here. Maybe they're somewhere, but definitely not in this part of Southeast Texas. It's not only me who's complaining about them, but many people called the local radio station to ask, "Where's the Red Cross?" Today, they started a PR campaign to paint a better picture of their organization. Too late.

Mark M. Hancock - © The Beaumont Enterprise

A sign taped on the American Red Cross Beaumont Chapter door explains that the organization evacuated during Hurricane Rita and abandoned the citizens of Beaumont on Saturday, October 1.

Now to FEMA. People at the bottom of FEMA's food chain are doing a great job in Southeast Texas. The people at the top of FEMA's food chain are sending conflicting messages to the people.

A few days ago, FEMA announced it would pay evacuees up to 30 days of their hotel rent. The evacuees can go to a hotel registered with FEMA, present an identification at the desk with the proper zip code to book their room(s). The hotel bills a third party, which I heard it's the Red Cross but I'm not certain. Then, the third party would bill FEMA. Why this type of billing? I have no idea. I mention this because some people think the Red Cross is paying the bill. Nope, it's FEMA paying the bill.

One FEMA rep went on radio the other day and gave people some tips. She tried to cut some of the red tape and help the locals. We were very happy with her. She also told the locals that FEMA will fully reimburse people for generator and chainsaw expenses. People went and bought those two items. A day or two later we were presented by a new FEMA person who changed the statement. She told the locals that the generator reimbursement is a program introduced by the State of Texas and NOT FEMA. She also said FEMA may not fully reimburse for those two items. Not only this, the FEMA person who tried to cut the red tape was removed from this area. That simple.

But, as I said, the people at the bottom of this organization's food chain are doing a great job. They are providing food, water and ice to the locals. In some neighborhoods, they're also going door-to-door to assess damage even before homeowners file for a disaster relief. So, when you criticize FEMA, remember who's doing/not doing a good job at this organization.

The city is coming back to life. Home Depot, Kroger, Market Basket and Walgreens were the first to open their doors for business and to provide food, medicine, fuel and tools for people to start rebuilding their lives. They will always have our respect.

The Wal-Mart in Beaumont suffered a roof damage. So, it's not open for business yet. But, it was the first business to bring fuel to the area. They were also the first to open in places like Lumberton and Orange.

Target got severely damaged because of the storm. The following photo says it all:

Mark M. Hancock - © The Beaumont Enterprise

A construction crew prepares to begin reconstruction on the Target store in Beaumont on Saturday, October 1. The store's roof collapsed during Hurricane Rita.

I can't say enough words to thank the folks working to restore energy. We have workers from places as far away as Minnesota and Michigan helping Entergy workers. They're working 24/7 to restore electricity.

City workers, Entergy and SBC started to work within hours from the landfall. Many sleep in their trucks after they finish their shift, which is normally 16-hours each day. We're very satisfied with their efforts.

When I moved to Texas, I was told many times that being a Texan is a state of mind. After Rita, I understood what that means.

I don't think many people realize how big Southeast Texas is. It's probably bigger than many American states or other countries. The destruction was very bad. Unfortunately, national media are still talking about Katrina. I guess if Texans went screaming on TV, they would've got more media coverage. But, we didn't. We actually made and still are making the best of this experience.

Mark M. Hancock - © The Beaumont Enterprise

Damage from Hurricane Rita is visible in Orange County on Monday, September 26. Hurricane Rita tore through the area on Saturday, September 24, 2005.

Jennifer Reynolds - © The Beaumont Enterprise

Everything, including the kitchen sink in the driveway, was damaged during Hurricane Rita at a residence on Pleasure Island in Port Arthur, Texas. Many of the lake front homes on the island were severely damaged by storm surge from Lake Sabine.

People who rode out the hurricane are the first people who took it upon themselves to fix things in their neighborhoods. As someone said on radio, "We all have chainsaws, and we can help with cutting trees and cleaning roads. We want to help to make the cities and energy folks jobs easier." That's the spirit here. Everyone is doing his/her part without waiting for the local or federal government to do everything for them.

Mark M. Hancock - © The Beaumont Enterprise

Dowlen West homeowner Mike Flash cleans the neighborhood's streets with his personal tractor in Beaumont on Friday, September 30.

Mark M. Hancock - © The Beaumont Enterprise

Modica Bros. tire tech Jason Price mounts a tire on a car at a store in Beaumont on Friday, September 30. Due to the massive debris throughout the city, the company offered to fix flats for free.

OK, time for me to start cooking for dinner. I'm making Iraqi salad and Biryani for the Enterprise staff. I hope they like it.

Hurricane Rita: A timeline

Enteprise photos: 09/26/2005
Enteprise photos: 09/27/2005
Enteprise photos: 09/28/2005
Enteprise photos: 09/29/2005
Enteprise photos: 09/30/2005
Enteprise photos: 10/01/2005
Enteprise photos: 10/02/2005
Enteprise photos: 10/03/2005

C-SPAN: Impact of Hurricane Rita on Beaumont, TX (Thank you Madtom for the link)

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