Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rita Who? . . . Five Years Later

Today marks the five year anniversary of Hurricane Rita. "Hurricane who? What? When did that happen?" my northern readers might ask. Rita was the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, at one point a category five; a category three at landfall. She devastated southeast Texas/southwest Louisiana; Lake Charles and coastal Cameron Parish in particular. And who, besides the people who lived here and either survived or suffered evacuation even knew about it? No one. Why not? Because Miss Katrina slammed into New Orleans just a few weeks prior. The country was still reeling from New Orleans' devastation, still glued to the horrific television images of people crowded at the Super Dome and the Convention Center, of folks stranded on rooftops, babies dying in the streets, the Lower Ninth Ward submerged. The country was so overwhelmed with Katrina's nightmare, no one noticed Rita. She and her path of destruction were, for the most part, ignored by the national media. So how could we have known?

I moved here in 2007; two years after Rita blew through. I remember being shocked that there could still be so much visible damage, even two years later. Blue-tarped covered wind-damaged roofs. Billboards and business signs blown out. Once vibrant shops and storefronts boarded up. In Cameron, we saw hollowed out houses, shredded remnants of curtains fluttering in busted out windows; bare cement foundations which used to support homes; small cottages and vehicles tilted askew, abandoned, in the middle of marsh grass. And I remember feeling guilty, because I never knew. I prayed for the victims of Katrina. But I didn't know about Rita. I sent money to help the victims of Katrina. But I didn't know about Rita.

Most every resident has a horror story to tell. Of flooded floors and ruined furniture, lost pets, tree limbs shoved through living room walls. Of sitting in traffic jams for hours during the massive evacuation, cars running out of gas or breaking down, blocking the roads. Of returning to stinking freezers full of rotting food, and dealing with overwhelmed, overworked contractors, and FEMA, Road Home, and insurance nightmares. No electricity for weeks. Schools closed for a month.

For many residents, it's hard to believe it's been five years -- I'm hearing that alot. For some, it still feels like yesterday. One can still see a blue roof here and there around town. A few FEMA trailers still dot the landscape. But for the most part, Lake Charles and Cameron have done an amazing job at recovery. My previous post is testament to that. And certainly, there has been some help; church groups and college students spending spring breaks to work on damaged homes -- thank God for them. But by and large, these resilient people of southwest Louisiana brought about their own recovery, neighbor helping neighbor. Because the rest of the nation simply didn't know.

For my Louisiana readers, what are some of your memories of Rita? And let's hope we don't see another hurricane like Rita, or Katrina, in a very long time.

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