I get up around 8 AM Sunday morning and begin to pack my truck for my trip to Houston. I’ve called Eric to tell him that I’m on my way, and he’s assured me that there are some gas stations open in Houston and that if I can get to Humble, he and his friend Sean can come and rescue me if I run out of gas. I’ve only got a half tank of gas left, and there’s nothing open anywhere for me to purchase gas.
I tell my sister and niece good-bye and give my best wishes to the new friends I’ve made at the shelter. Eric has told me that the roads are in rough shape — power lines are down all over, and in many places, trees are almost completely blocking the highways. It’s treacherous going, but he said that if he was able to negotiate all the roadblocks at night, I should be able to handle them during the daylight hours. I head out west of Jasper, and decide to stop in and see my mom on my way to Houston. I am just barely able to get to her house, as the number of trees blocking the Farm-to-Market road to her house is amazing. I find out later that the only reason the road is passable is that my cousin Steve and his neighbor Grady cut a passageway through the trees with their chain saws so that they could get out to the main highway.
I find my mom at her house, and she’s about completely overwhelmed with all trees down in her yard. She’s not in the best of moods, and I tell her that I’m headed to Houston, as that is my best chance of being able to get my business back up and running. My cousin Steve will help her with tree removal as soon as he’s finished clearing the land around his house, and because my mom is staying with my aunt and uncle, so I feel pretty confident that she’ll be ok.
So, off I go, and the tree dance begins. I’m unable to go faster than 35-40 MPH because of all the downed power lines and downed trees. I’m just amazed that Eric was able to do this at night without getting in an accident. The roadway debris lessens about 40 miles outside of Jasper, and I’m able to pick up some speed. The damage I see, however, is just amazing. There’s no other word for it. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life. And, there’s little traffic on the roads, no businesses are open, and there’s doesn’t appear to be a soul around. It’s like everyone was lifted off the face of the earth.
As I near Livingston, I begin to see cars pulled over on the side of the road with their hoods up. They’ve either run out of gas or are having engine trouble. One family has made a sign that says, "Help us." I don’t stop — I can’t stop, as much as I might want to help these people. I’m completely in refugee mode–what’s mine is mine, and I’m not sharing. If I stop and give away the water and food that I squirreled away for my trip, that will leave me without anything. The day is growing hotter and more humid by the moment. And, if I offer to pick up a family to take them someplace, I have no guarantee that I’ll be able to get to my destination without running out of gas. I hate being in this situation — I hate leaving people stranded by the road. But leave them I do, and move on.
I arrive in Livingston, and begin to look for a gas station. I see alot of cars at a gas station and think that they’re gasing up. When I pull in, I realize the station is closed and all of these people have just taken refuge from the heat under the roof covering the gas pump area. False alarm. I drive through town and realize that for 50 miles outside of Jasper, there’s no gas, food or water to be had. Now I’m really getting scared as I fully realize the magnitude of this disaster.
I decide to push forward to Houston, and attempt to get on US 59 to start this second leg of my journey. Much to my surprise, the roadway is blocked. Now I don’t know what to do. I see a TX DOT worker and I pull over and get out of my car to find out how to get to Houston and why the highway is blocked. I discover that a barge has hit the Trinity River bridge and so TX DOT has shut down the highway until they can fully assess the damage to the bridge and ensure that the roadway is again safe. The TX DOT worker tells me to stay on US 190W and pick up I45 in Huntsville. I head out of Livingston to follow those directions and discover the traffic gridlock has already begun.
Traffic is at a complete standstill, and I have less than a half tank of gas. The temperature is rising by the moment, and must be up around 95 degrees by 11 AM. I can see the handwriting on the wall — if I try and leave Livingston on this route, I’m going to run out of gas before I even hit Huntsville. Sitting out in 100 degree weather with 90% percent humidity in my car on the side of the road has no appeal for me..:) I call Eric in a panic — I don’t know another route to get to Houston, so I see my only alternative is to return to Jasper. I’ll have enough gas to get there, but then I’ll be stuck, as there’s no gas to be had in the town.
Eric is out fruitlessly searching for gas cans (there are none to be had in Houston) so that he can buy some gas to put in my vehicle should I need it if he has to come and rescue me. After my panic-stricken call, he calls his friend Sean, who consults with Google maps and finds me two backroads that will help me get around the bridge and get me back on US59. I’m in tears by this point, as the stress level has just overwhelmed me. Sean eventually gets me to calm down so that I can accurately tell him where I am and so that he can give me directions.
I finally am able to understand the directions that Sean has given me, and set off to find these backroads. Some others have had the same idea, but the amount of traffic is MUCH less than the gridlock on US 190W. I’m able to make pretty good time and find these roads to be pretty clear of fallen trees, much to my relief. On the journey, one of my clients, Lin Schreiber, reaches me on my cell phone to find out how I’m doing. I vent to her about what’s happened, and it’s a great stress relief to talk to another human being..I’m not all alone!:) Thanks, Lin!
I finally reach Cleveland, and discover that Cleveland is also a ghost town. No one is around, and all businesses are closed. I begin to wonder if I’m the only person left on Earth..:) I find US 59 and head to Houston. Little traffic is on the road, and every little town I go through is completely deserted. It’s not until I hit Humble that I see signs of life. Gas stations that have gas. Businesses that have power and are open. Buildings that aren’t destroyed. I’ve spoken to Eric several times on the way, and he has encouraged me to stop off in Humble and grab a bite to eat. I see that my favorite Chinese restaurant by Deerbrook Mall is open, and I pull in.
After I’m seated and order, I sit there and am overcome by emotion. Here I am, sitting in air conditioning and being served hot food, while 120 miles to the north, and for about a 120 mile radius of Beaumont, there are desperate people who have nothing right now. Families who are stuck on the side of the road because they’ve run out of gas and are sweltering in the heat. People who decided to sit out the hurricane at home and have run out of food and water. Evacuees in shelters who have no power, no air conditioning, no running water. Folks who have had their homes cut in two by downed pine trees. People who have no homes left to come home to. I want to scream at the unfairness of it all and shake these restaurant patrons out of their comfort zone into taking some helpful action to help those people that I just left.
Instead, I wait for Eric, and when he arrives, begin to cry — again. I try to explain to him what I’m feeling, and don’t think I’m doing a great job. I know part of what’s going on is that I’m tired and completely stressed out and feel completely helpless. Eric lets me get this out of my system and just listens patiently as I tell him what I’ve seen and experienced that morning. He asks what he can do for me — what he can get me. I just tell him that everything I need is right here — meaning him — and he almost starts to cry..:)
I calm down and become more clear-headed and finish my meal, and then we head to Houston to the home of his friends. Once we’ve arrived in Houston, the first thing I do is get gasoline….:)
Note–All the photos in the hurricane section of this blog are courtesy of KJAS Radio, www.kjas.com in Jasper. While I didn’t take them, I’m using them to illustrate the kinds of things I saw during Hurricane Rita.
Best-selling author Donna Gunter works with successful business owners who are experts in their fields and established in their industry and are seeking a way to stand out from their competitors. Using her Ideal Clients on Autopilot System©, she helps them determine the exact strategies to generate more qualified leads and better-paying clients with automated systems. This proven system makes all their marketing easier and more effective and they find themselves positioned as the only choice for their clients.