Hurricane Rita September 24, 2005

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Hurricane Rita Pounds Orange, TX

-Simon Brewer, Reed Timmer, Lela Knight, Joel Taylor, and Shawn Maroney document incredible story from Orange, TX as Rita makes landfall. They saved a security guard from bleeding to death from severe cuts.


The Hurricane Rita Story

As told by Simon Brewer

Simon Brewer, Reed Timmer, Lela Knight, Joel Taylor, and Shawn Maroney (all Meteorology students or have already graduated with degrees) had spent all of Thursday night weeving on and off small Texas State roads to avoid the one-lane traffic frenzy of the largest evacuation Gulf Coast in history. At times they drove miles on dirt roads to avoid road blocks and heavy traffic. By sunrise they had finally met in Beaumont, TX with a few stories already under their belts due to the night-long drive, but these stories will appear at a later time to save time.

Beaumont, TX: The group of students/chasers spent sometime on the southside of Beaumont for much of Friday afternoon waiting to decide on where their final destination for the documentation of the landfall of Hurricane Rita. Rita had continued to weaken, so they knew storm surge would not be as much of a problem with this hurricane. They forecasted Rita to make landfall most likely as a strong CAT 3 hurricane with sustained winds approaching 125 or 130 mph; these kinds of winds will do significant damage to weakly built structure, but most well-built structures will most likely only lose roofs and siding, so it was no longer important for the group to find a steel-reinforced structure as their 'safe-haven' for the landfall of Hurricane Rita. Two other chasers from University of Texas-Arlington showed up and asked to join the "Stormgasm" group for the chase, so they were allowed to join the group after a brief deliberation.

After much deliberation the group decided Rita would most likely make landfall on the Texas/Louisiana border. The best location for the group seemed to be Orange,TX, which was the closest city to the border. The group drove to Orange and spotted a safe-looking location (Ramada Inn). A security guard met the group in the parking lot and invited them to stay for the duration of the hurricane. The group was very excited for this opportunity and accepted the invitation. They set up base in the hotel lobby, which was ~11 feet above sea level; they also made plans to move to the second level of the building if flooding did affect the first floor of the building. They also scoped out much of the area for video taping purposes during the hurricane. By this time the tropical storm force winds were affecting the area and moderate rain was falling over Orange.

Hours Later: The security guard received a phone call from a friend informing him of their inability to contact his mother, who had decided to stay by herself on the South Side of Orange. The security guard at this point began to have a "panic attack" and became very irrational. Simon and Jost (not sure on the name, because it was one of the two 'other' chasers that joined the group) grabbed the security guard and extracted information on what he was rambling about; the sucurity guard was fearful of his mother being alone and wanted to bring her to the hotel. Simon and Josh agreed to drive him through the city and get his mother, but one must understand this was a very difficult task at this point; the sun had just gone down and the winds were sustained at ~50 mph with higher gusts, so weak trees were already falling and powerflashes were becoming more common. Despite the danger Simon and Josh drove the security guard through the city to his mother's house.

Security Guard's Mother's House: The duplex was dark on both sides, the relatively large front window was broken and the winds were making Simon and Josh very uneasy, because it might make it very difficult for them to make it all the way back across town to their shelter. Simon exited the Dodge Truck first and the Security Guard, Tim, rushed after him. Tim stubbled up the steps to the front door and began pounding frantically while screeming "mama". Tim then noticed the broken window, and his screams for "mama" took on a louder and higher note. He charged the door, but upon hitting the door he slipped and fell face down. He did this 4-5 times before giving up and then climbing through the window Simon saw Tim place his bare hands on large shards of broken glass! Simon could only watch Tim, because Tim was at such a manic state Simon's words of logic did not seem to reach Tim's ears.

Simon could hear Tim screaming for "mama" while stumbling over funiture in the small dark house. Tim yelled to Simon, "I can hear her screaming for help!" But Simon did not hear her screams, he only heard a man driven by madness stumbling through a dark empty house. Simon ran back to the truck.

Josh pleaded with Simon to just leave, but Simon said "no, we're waiting right here for him no matter what, I'm not leaving him here!" Then Tim opened the front door from inside and yelled for flashlights, but Simon responded, "We have none with us, they are all at the hotel, Tim get back here the house is empty!" Simon then reached for his cell phone and dialed "911", but the call couldn't get through, the cell phone towers were not working!

Tim replied "I can hear her screaming for help, but I can't find her. I need help, come help me find her." He was crying, but he wasn't making sense, he ran back into the house and crying for help.

Josh pleaded again "don't go in that house, please don't go in that house!"

Simon "I'm not going in that house, but we're not leaving him. His mother isn't there, the neighbors must have picked her up or maybe she has been dead for a while. Tim is not thinking anymore; he's gone mad, but we're not leaving him here, and I'm not going into that damn house with him!" Simon had only known Tim for a matter of hours, and he didn't want to take the risk of being killed in small unknown house during a hurricane.

Finally Tim came outside again crying for help. Simon rushed to his side and put his arm around the man. Simon then physically forced Tim, pushing him along with his arm, towards and into the truck. Blood was spraying everywhere, Tim had severely cut his hand on the window and Simon also noticed Tim was craddling the arm, which meant he sprang the wrist or there was a fracture somewhere in the arm.

"Get the fuck out of here Josh!" Simon demanded and Josh could not wait to nail the gas. The rest of the trip back to the hotel was not fun; steering around large lake-like puddles, dodging falling tree limbs and consoling Tim. Simon and Josh half-convinced Tim that his mother was most likely taken to a nearby shelter by emergency management officials or by her neighbors. They repeated themselves many times, because Tim was having a difficult time handling reality.

Upon reaching the hotel Simon raced Tim into the main lobby and ordered everyone to get all the flashlights ready, because the power all over town was going out and the hotel's power would be out soon. Among the lights of inside the lobby Simon could see he was completely covered in Tim's blood; Simon could see blood was "pouring" from Tim's hand! Lela joined Simon and Tim; Lela and Simon raced Tim to the bathroom and attempted to wash his wounds to wrap them. This was a very difficult task because Tim was feeling tremendous amounts of pain, so Simon had to "hold" Tim down, while he and Lela washed and wrapped Tim's wounds. Simon and Lela then applied a tourniquet to Tim's arm to cut down on the bleeding.

They told Tim to lay down on the big couch in the lobby and rest, but as the night progressed Tim began to wonder and rant for hours outside and inside the hotel.

Meanwhile: It is hard to determine the state of mind of all the chasers reguarding the situation of Tim; his injuries and his state of mind. With the winds increasing and the loss of power (at ~9 PM power was lost); there were so many happenings and distractions occuring in Orange and around the hotel that it was difficult for all the members of the chase team to reallize Tim's condition, but Simon and Lela warned all the chasers to keep watch on Tim, so most of the chasers continued with the documentation of Rita while keeping a close eye on Tim's progress and his wanderings.

Tim's Condition Worsens: Nearly Midnight and Tim had been wonder all around the hotel attempting to perform his duties as security guard, but his mind was not all there and he was losing more blood. The first bandage had become dark red and there was now a continuous "dripping" from the bandage. Attempts to check the bandage were nearly impossible as Tim guarded his wounded arm from inspection, but he cried in agony every few minutes due to the increasing pain.

Meanwhile the chasers have grouped in the lobby and decide to rest and wait; the winds have reached strong tropical force strength and were gusting to hurricane strength at this time, but the group knew the worst would hit around 3-4 AM. Simon, up for almost 48 hours straight, fell asleep in one of the fancy lobby chairs, while most of the chasers played card games. Maybe an hour had passed since Simon passed-out, he was woken by Reed, but Simon was slow to wake and sat nearly motionless in his chair as screams and cries from Tim filled the lobby. Finally Simon woke completely and realized Tim was in a bathroom at the far end of the lobby; his screams were broken only by vomiting!

Lela ran out of the bathroom and grabbed Simon telling him of Tim's condition and him how they've got to rewrap Tim's bandages now! Tim initially did not rest and let the blood clot, so his wounds had continued to bleed and now his initial bandages were completely worthless. Simon and Lela had to stop Tim's arm from bleeding or he would die within 1-2 hours; help could not be reached at this point, it would be at least 5 hours before they could attempt to get Tim to any help or get help to him, so they had to do this now.

There were no medical wrappings (all had been used on Tim's first bandage), so Lela and Simon grabbed the cleanest and driest clothing available. Also, they got the duct tape (the medical tape was empty from the first aid kit). Simon then grabbed a pair of scissors and a tube of antibiotic cream. Simon and Lela walked/carried Tim into another bathroom (the first bathroom was covered in blood and vomit). Tim periodically would "dry heave" due to the pain and maybe the lack of blood. One thing was for certain, his arm was in incredible amounts of pain.

Simon inspected his old wrappings, and decided they must be cut off. The old tourniquet must be cut as well and new bandages over the antibiotic cream and a new tourniquet must be applied.

The rest of this is very gruesome and full of pain on the part of Tim and there was a great amount of mental strain put upon Lela and Simon as they were forced do this very crucial first aid work on Tim, while he thrashed and screamed, so the rest of this part will not be explicated in any further detail on this site. It is important to know that Simon and Lela completed their task and they discovered Tim had fractured his lower arm near to the wrist, so his arm was put into a makeshift splint/cast (all the damage had been done to the right arm and hand). And Tim was then forced by the chaser group to stay on the couch the rest of the night, which he gladly accepted and he slept for most of the remainder of the hurricane.

Now, during most of these happenings some of the chasers were watching/helping Simon and Lela with Tim, but some had nothing else to do except continue to document the hurricane. After Tim was settled down most if not all the chasers were now focused on the hurricane; by 2 AM it became clear the eye of Hurricane Rita would make landfall and pass over Orange. The eyewall would most likely hit near 3 AM and the eye would pass over around 4 AM. The winds had already done and were doing damage at this point, but it became clear the winds were getting substantially stronger with time.

Eyewall: For timesake the story will skip to the eyewall of Hurricane Rita. Internet briefly became available even though phones were not working, so the chasers were able to get some data including a few radar and satellite images. They could see deep convection was exploding around Rita's center. By 3 AM the winds were incredibly strong: lighting flashes were becoming common and soon the lightning flashes were frequent! This was unheard of; maybe in rapidly developing hurricanes frequent lightning was witnessed in the eyewall, but not at landfall. At times a cloud to ground bolt could be seen through the horizontal rain and thunder rumbled above the roar of the winds! Reed made a comment after a bright stroke of lightning hit nearby, "I never thought we would have to worry about getting hit by lightning, maybe flooding or random debris, but not lightning!"

At one point the roof peeled off the Hotel and flew into the parking lot knocking down light poles and signs in its path. Window screens and siding were stripped from the hotel and became projectiles, which caught a few of the chasers off guard hitting one in the shoulder, but not even minor injuries were sustained by the chasers during this hurricane. An 18-wheeler parked in the street was turned on its side, only to later flip over multiple times before the eye finally hit. It is important to note the winds before Midnight were mainly out of the Northeast, and around Midnight they shifted and came from the East-Northeast. And between 3-4 AM the winds were out of the due East and the highest sustained winds and strongest gusts came during this time period.

The Eye of Rita: Near 4 AM the winds no longer were sustained at hurricane force, but intense 100+ mph gusts were still frequent, and a relatively area of brightness began to envelop the southern horizon and the pressure at this time dropped to 945 mb. This "light" was not from manmade electric devices, but instead came from above the clouds. Soon the intense gusts began become less frequent and the light encroached the whole area and the pressure dropped to 940 mb. ~4:15 AM the winds were nearly calm with the exception of a light breeze no stronger than 5-10 mph and the pressure dropped one last time to 939mb! The chasers knew they were in the eye of Rita, and the sky was still overcast, but the clouds were so thin the moonlight/starlight was enough to literally brighten the whole area, and relative to the nearly pitch-black darkness of the eyewall the eye was bright! The chasers could see the whole area was heavily damaged and the once thick batches of trees in the area were thin and few trees were standing! The chasers took this time inside the eye to survey damage around the area, but the time in the eye was very brief for within 5-10 minutes of the relative calm the winds rapidly increased from the South-Southeast with the initial gusts approaching 70-80 mph! Some of the chasers were caught off guard hundreds of meters from the hotel and had to make a mad-dash for the shelter! The pressure then rose to 940mb, and within 5 minutes the pressure again rose to 944mb and the winds were once again sustained at hurricane force with stronger gusts now out of the due South. The eye had merely 'scraped' by Orange; the city had been in the right side (Northeastern Quadrant) of the Eye of Hurricane Rita.

Backside of the Hurricane: The eye had come and gone and Tim the chasers were all tired and worn from the experience. They all settled in the lobby falling onto chairs, couches and even the giant rug on the floor. Crashing, banging, ripping, and cracking noises could be heard as the backside of the hurricane shook the building. The flood waters had barely reached the doors of the hotel, but were did not have the needed inch to make it inside, so the chasers along with Tim all fell asleep in the lobby. What a scene: a raging hurricane outside making the most awefull howling noises and 7 chasers and an injured hotel security guard were sleeping in the lobby! Now all the chasers are hardcore weather nuts, but after the excitement they witnessed the backside of the eye was not enough to fight their tiredness. Many of the chasers had problems sleeping, but all would go in and out of sleep till dawn.

Evacuating the Hotel: Dawn had come, but the winds were still rather strong, so the chasers waited. Near 10AM they gathered their equipment and packed their cars. The two chasers from U.TX Arlington left first, Reed and Joel left second, and Tim (after sleeping many hours was now back to his oldself, no longer in his 'panic attack' state from earlier) made his way around the hotel locking and securing all the rooms that could be locked, because some of the rooms/doors were heavily damaged. Simon, Lela, and Shawn then began their journey through Orange transporting Tim to the local Hospital (Tim went with them after he finished securing the hotel). They dropped Tim off at the emergency room; Tim gave the chasers many thanks for unexpectedly showing up and then helping him through the night, and he said, "Never again, I'm going to get out of here the next time a hurricane comes, I'm never going to ride another one out!" They said their goodbys and they set out on I-10 for Houston, then to I-45, then to Norman,OK.

Strange Site: It was rather odd to see I-45 turned into a parking lot Thursday night, and then again it was odd to see it a parking lot going south during the day Saturday. All those people evacuated and now going back, but there is the fear that they will not take the same precautions again since Rita moved more northward sparing Houston from almost all damage. Hopefully people will still heed evacuation warnings in the future if another strong hurricane threatens the Houston area, because nobody wants to see another disaster like Katrina (Note: the disaster Katrina caused was more geography based, but still a substantial amount of damage and loss of life might occur in a different way if a CAT 4/5 Hurricane were to hit the Galveston/Houston area).

After Thoughts (Simon): The whole experience was incredible on many levels: I never expected to chase 3 major hurricanes this fall. After chasing Hurricane Katrina I knew there might be a small possiblility of chasing another Hurricane this fall, but not another once powerful CAT 5 like Rita. Also, Rita was full of surprises; I never expected to witness frequent lightning in the eyewall! A flash or two of lightning is not too uncommon in the eyewall of landfalling hurricanes, but frequent lightning with some visible cloud-to-ground strokes and thunder the overcame the roar of the winds!!!! And it also seems the most dramatic impacts of any hurricane chase to the chase and chaser are the people involved; Katrina and Rita chases were both determined by people other than the chasers involved. I never expected the security guard to lose his wit and flip out on us during the hurricane, but then again a majority of people (including some meteorologists and stormchasers) break down mentally when disastrous events of this magnitude affect them. Everything that occurs during a tornado or hurricane seem completely logical to me before, during, and after I witness the event, but to another person it seems logical until they actually see it happen, and then they completely "lose it"!

So a word of warning to aspiring storm chasers/hurricane chasers; don't merely worry about the weather, but worry about the people you may meet along the way and worry about your own piece of mind, because you never know when you might see something incredibe, but instead it terrifies you more than you can ever imagine and then you become just like Tim above; wandering the street rambling to yourself maybe even injure yourself and risk your own life in your own 'craziness' (not really crazy, but not metally there either).





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