Monday, September 24, 2012

Hurricane Rita

Today marks the 7th Anniversary of Hurricane Rita, the fourth-most intense Atlantic Hurricane ever recorded. While in the Gulf, Hurricane Rita gained a Category 5 status before dropping to Category 3 right before she hit landfall.


A mandatory evacuation was called for our area. At the time, I was a new nurse only 4 months out of school. I went to work that Friday morning because I was on the schedule (forgetting that I was still considered an “orientee” might I add!). HAH!

I won’t lie – I WAS SCARED. Scared to death. Most of our patients were evacuated from the hospital, but those who could not be evacuated were moved to the ICU. The nurses who stayed were placed on shifts and we all took turns caring for the patients.

We were also assigned our own rooms (which usually served as patient rooms). As a fairly new associate at the hospital, I didn’t know a lot of people. While checking into my room and scoping out the area, I ran into one of my good friends who worked in the ER (we went to Nursing School together and were in each others weddings). I think we both about passed out when we saw each other. We said “YOU’RE HERE” at the same time, then ran and hugged each other in tears. She was so sweet and allowed me to stay in her room with her so Jason could stay in my assigned room. At the time, Jason and I had only been dating about a month. This is crazy I know, but I was nervous and scared and felt completely alone and I wanted him with me. So instead of evacuating, he came to the hospital with me. Having Jason and my friend Amy with me helped me relax and feel more comfortable with a completely uncomfortable situation.

I remember feeling anxiety as night fell. We lost electricity around 9 p.m. and we had to follow storm updates from radios placed all over the hospital (plugged into the generator outlets). The local news crew took over a section of the 5th floor of our facility so we were able watch and hear updates from them.

CNN was also at our facility. Weeks after the storm, I was told by family and friends from church that they saw video footage of me working in the ICU on CNN! I remember exactly where I was when they captured that video footage – I was giving report to another nurse and we were sitting in the ICU nurses station talking.

Since I can’t find the video, here’s the script taken from CNN’s website:

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Hurricane Rita hurtles towards the Louisiana coast, a local hospital  in Lake Charles, Louisiana decides to do what few other hospitals in the area are doing, stay open for business.
In a hurricane, hospitals are one of the community's most precious resources, responsible for the sick and elderly and for taking in the injured in the storm.
Thursday morning, September 22nd, officials call for a mandatory evacuation. The staff races to get patients out as it becomes clear that Lake Charles and the hospital are in its path. More than 150 patients are evacuated by ambulance and helicopter in the two days before the storm, an emotional scene for nurses and others to watch.
(on camera): We are in a graveyard just outside of the Hospital. The last few patients are leaving in this army helicopter, evacuating further north, further east, away from here. Just outside of the Hospital, a few patients, critically ill, still remain here in this hospital. (voice-over): Friday afternoon, four patients remain who are simply too sick to move. Twenty doctors and about 50 staff stay, waiting anxiously. But they are prepared, windows boarded up, supplies stockpiled, enough for five to seven days. But there are also recent lessons learned.
Katrina was a different story. Charity Hospital in New Orleans, the morgue was flooded, supplies were limited and the staff struggled to operate without power or running water.
Here generators are above sea level. Clear plans are made to move the emergency room to higher floors in case of flooding and surgery suites are prepared to operate on backup power.

As I attempted to sleep the night of the storm, I remember listening to a song on repeat on my CD Walkman  (oh my gosh I feel so old saying that!). The song was called “All My Praise” by Selah – You have promised You will not abandon so I shall not fear…Even in the shadow of death, I will praise you. Even in the valleys, I will say…..Holy my God, you are worthy of all my praise…. When I hear that song today, it brings back a flood of memories.

The sounds coming from outside as the storm hit were so loud – it sounded as if a train were driving on top of the hospital. It was hard to sleep and around 2 a.m., hospital administration walked through the halls to wake everyone up – they told us to pull our cots, mattresses, chairs, etc into the hallway because windows of the rooms were not stable.

The next morning, I woke up to find leaves in my room. The ironic thing – I was placed in a room with a window facing an atrium. The window was intact, but several leaves were on the floor. The atrium floor was full of leaves as well. In Jason’s room, leaves were in odd places like the top drawer of the bedside table. Very very odd.

Jason and I walked over to the parking garage and were amazed at what we saw - trees were down everywhere and a lot of homes were pretty messed up.

To lighten the awful mood, Amy, myself, and Jason walked the halls of the hospitals and told jokes to each other. We also searched out the elusive “ghosts” that supposedly walk the halls of the hospital at night. As hard as we tried, we never found any ghosts.

Since we had no electricity, it was HUMID we were HOT! The walls of the hospital developed droplets of water – similar to a cold soda can sitting on a table. By Saturday afternoon, I was nasty and in desperate need of a bath – thankfully, I was told to fill the trashcan in my room with water before the storm hit. I used a water bottle and attempted to scoop water out of the trashcan to wash myself and clean off. I washed my hair as best I could and by Sunday afternoon, my hair was still wet (that’s how humid the hospital was). We also attempted to wash off by using the hospital’s “bath in a bag” system - water, wash cloths, and dry soap (meaning you don’t need water to rinse off after).  Thankfully, whoever made up the bags used ice water and it felt amazing!

On Saturday night, we decided to find a cool place to sleep. Word on the street was that the OR had air! We dragged the mattresses from our beds down two flights of stairs to the OR and were met by a very gracious staff. We were placed in a room with several physicians and nurses - the entire room was full of stretchers, mattresses, and cots.

On Sunday, we were informed that the main roads of our town were passable, so I decided to return to my house to survey the damage. I still lived at home with my parents at the time and they stayed during the storm. I think after this experience, none of us will ever stay again.

I found that sections of my parent’s roof was gone, leaving only the bare wood. We were lucky that the roof remained however, rain water was able to seep through the wood and soak the entire inside structure of the home.


This is only a portion of the roof that was blown off. Several patches of the roof also had the same damage on the front of the home.


Portions of the ceiling were soaked with water. This happens to be the ceiling right below the attic – which means a lot of the attic contents were destroyed as well.

Rita3  FH000018

Trees were snapped in half – these trees were in my parents back yard. Thankfully, none of the trees landed on their home.


Blue tarp was placed on our roof to prevent further damage from any upcoming rain storm. These “blue roof’s” became the signature staple all over town in the weeks following the storm.

Before leaving to evacuate to Dallas, Texas, Jason and I drove around town to take pictures and survey the damage.


Several panes of glass were blown out of our bank tower downtown.


We saw several homes/businesses with signs like this one!


At the time, Jason worked at Movie Gallery (while he was still in college working on his degree). We drove by and this is what we found….


I took this picture of Jason being silly….


….and of course, a cop pulled up to see what we were doing! Hah! We showed him Jason’s badge so we didn’t get in trouble! :0)


On our way to Dallas, we saw several Entergy trucks headed towards Louisiana. We assumed that we’d have electricity in a few days – little did we know, it was much longer than just a few days.


We were SO NASTY after three days without a real shower! Since we were both very smelly, I guess we couldn’t really smell each other! Hah!

Once we arrived in Dallas at my Aunt and Uncle’s home, I made a bee-line for the shower! To date, that was the best shower on record!! :0)

A few friends also evacuated to the Dallas area, so we were able to get together several times throughout the week.

TGI Fridays

We encountered SO many gracious people and businesses while in Dallas – we even received free meals and discounted tickets to events. My favorite – the Grapevine Opry – was incredible. When I explained our situation to them, they supplied us with FIVE FREE tickets to that night’s show! At the start of the show, they even gave us a shout-out and wished us the best. I cannot tell you how much that act of kindness meant to me. To date, I try to attend the Grapevine Opry every time I visit my family in Dallas. Their generosity will never be forgotten.


We stayed a few days in Dallas with my family, then went on to stay a few days with Jason’s family who evacuated to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Once we received word that we had electricity again (TWO weeks after the storm hit), we returned back home and were greeted with mold of every color, shape, and size imaginable ALL over the house…


The walls of my bathroom


My closet



The ceiling downstairs

While cleaning out the house, we all wore masks – we definitely didn’t want to play around with mold or mildew!

My parent’s home had to be completely gutted and re-built. In the meantime, we lived in trailers in our front yard. My brother and I shared a trailer while my mom and dad shared another.


This space served as my home for six months.


Believe it or not, that makeshift couch/bed was very comfortable!


Kayla was staying with me at the time these pictures were taken so that’s why there’s a suitcase on the floor.

Let the re-building process begin!


This was my room.

living room2

The kitchen/living room


Living room/stairs


The guest bedrooms

Our home was completed in March of 2006 and we were able to move back in (six months after the storm).  We were SO very blessed because the damage could have been a lot worse. None of my friends or family were harmed physically and I’m very thankful for that.

I realize that this has been really long, but I wanted to recap all of my experiences with the storm. Even though the storm ended that Friday night, the damage and it’s effects lingered on for months. The entire Gulf Coast of Southwest Louisiana was destroyed. Many rebuilt their homes but a lot of people moved out of the area completely. We were very fortunate to only have water damage – others lost everything they had.

I hope that another storm like Hurricane Rita never hits Southwest Louisiana again. The memories from the storm and its after effects are definitely something I will never forget.

Have you ever experienced a natural disaster? If so, share your story!

1 comment:

  1. I lived (well, still live) on the MS Gulf Coast when Katrina hit. 2005 was a horribly insane hurricane season for LA & MS and I just remember thinking with Rita, "I can't believe it's happening again". So sorry to hear about all of your damage. :(


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