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Hurricane Rita: Eight years ago today

September 24, 2018

In the early morning of Sept. 24, 2005, a “sea monster” as The Enterprise’s big-type headline called it swirled onshore from the Gulf of Mexico, overwhelming Sabine Pass and setting a course almost directly up the Neches River as it churned, counterclockwise, toward Beaumont.

It was the fourth-most intense hurricane to form in the Atlantic on record, the most-intense recorded in the Gulf, the 18th named storm of the 2005 season, the 10th hurricane and the fifth major hurricane of that season.

It followed Hurricane Katrina by a month, which had engulfed New Orleans, leaving it a virtually drowned city.

Katrina had attracted thousands of utility repair workers from much of the central and eastern United States to restore power, many from Entergy Texas.

Workers from Entergy Texas had to head home to respond to Rita, followed by the utility repair army that had fanned across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

By the time they had deployed in the Beaumont area and got to work, almost three weeks would pass before power was restored to people whose homes and buildings could take it.

That meant contractors had to restore the weatherheads on buildings, ripped away by Rita’s Category 2 winds, to receive the power from the estimated 9,000 new poles and wires Entergy had to reinstall across its service territory.

Wind had knocked trees into the utility’s right-of-ways, crashing into lines, pulling down poles, smashing to bits about 98 percent of the utility’s physical framework.

As the hurricane passed the extent of the damage was clear — one major transmission line remained somewhat in service, a thready pulse of a lifeline from which to rebuild.

Millions of people — the largest evacuation in U.S. history from a natural disaster — from the Houston area and then from Southeast Texas, clogged northbound roads, which could not accommodate the traffic, slowing it to a crawl.

Rita provided valuable lessons on how not to react to a storm that everyone can see coming, but none could predict its actual landfall as Rita first threatened the Texas Coastal Bend and rotated ever northward, then crashed into narrow gap between Texas and Louisiana.

Right before landfall, Rita skipped eastward, putting Southeast Texas on its western and therefore weaker side.

Thousands of Louisianans had fled Katrina a month earlier and occupied shelters from Beaumont to Houston as Rita bore down, adding to demand for the scant emergency supplies.

Officials predicted that recovery could take as long as five years.

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