Hand Account of Rita's Impact, and the Help the Glass Industry Provided
by Vickie Stewart, Stewart Glass, Jasper, Texas
It was a bright, beautiful, hot Thursday morning with everything going as usual.
Everyone was watching hurricane Rita, as she was predicted to make landfall around
Galveston. Living one hundred miles from the coast we didn't have much concern,
other than realizing we would probably get some tornados afterwards.
scurried around trying to prepare for possible power outage. I bought a few extra
batteries for the couple of flashlights I had, along with a few non-perishable
items. As Friday morning approached, several family members began calling me to
tell me they were evacuating to my house-eighteen adults, seven children and nine
dogs to be exact. They began arriving Friday at noon, along with thousands of
evacuees from the southern counties who had evacuating to Jasper. Upon their arrival
in Jasper, they discovered that the Mayor of Jasper declared a mandatory evacuation
at 2:00 pm. Most people couldn't get out due to the huge influx of traffic into
our town. One person I know left Jasper at 2:45 p.m. and called at 6 p.m. to say
he had only moved two miles out of town in the traffic. Frustrated he turned around
and went home, fearing they would be stranded in their car in the storm.
As expected, the power went out around midnight. Winds in excess of 110 miles
per hour were howling and whistling outside, banging and thumping against the
brick walls and on the roof, sounds of heavy crashes of something hitting the
ground and vibrating the floors; we knew the storm was here. It was pitch black
outside, you couldn't see anything, not even the sky. There were only fierce scary
sounds coming through the windows for seven hours. We had a radio and a scanner
keeping us alerted to what was passing over us, everyone anxiously awaiting daylight
to get a glimpse of what all of the noises were.
Sometime around 10 a.m. Saturday morning Rita was officially gone, leaving
behind winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour for the next five hours. Late Saturday
we were able to get out and begin to assess the damage around us. As we walked
out the door we couldn't believe what we saw. Huge 60- to 70-foot tall pine trees
and oak trees were down everywhere, jerked up from the roots ground and all. Fences
were gone; some roofs missing, others crushed by trees. Lawn furniture was lodged
10 feet up tree trunks. Almost every utility pole within 75 miles of us was snapped
in two as though it were no larger than a toothpick. Electrical lines and trees
were on every highway and street. It was unbelievable what we were seeing. This
is a town to which the coast has always evacuated for safety.
As night began to fall on Saturday, the looters came in droves. Our town had
almost twenty-two break-ins by Monday morning. We boarded up a business not knowing
the looters were hiding in the attic. They had to knock the plywood out to get
out of the building. Our quiet little town turned into a very dark and scary place
to be. There weren't any lights anywhere and no businesses open. It was 105 degrees
outside with 100-percent humidity. In other words it was hotter than heck and
no lights means no air conditioning! We didn't have any water, any electricity
and very little food. Our limited supply was going quickly with the additional
family that had evacuated here. The only gas we had outside was in our vehicles
and two six gallon gas cans. I have learned a generator uses about one gallon
of gas an hour, so I knew immediately we were going to be in trouble. The radio
was saying that we would be without utilities for approximately six to eight weeks.
Without any businesses open, there wasn't anywhere to buy food or gas. Instinctively,
we quickly began to ration everything. Our business was closed and couldn't re-open
without gas to run the generator. The trucks were getting low on gas from all
of the emergencies through the weekend. News on the radio reported the closest
place to get gas was two hours away
I left Jasper at 2 p.m., headed to Huntsville to buy gas cans, gas and supplies.
I arrived in Huntsville at 11 p.m.-nine hours later. Guess what
Houston and Galveston decided to go home on Monday to assess their damages. We
didn't take anything with us, thinking we would be back home by at least 8 p.m.
We couldn't run the air conditioner in the truck out of fear it would overheat
in the slow moving traffic. Believe me it was the worst sauna I have ever been
in! I filled up our truck, which was now on empty, and set off to Wal-Mart for
gas cans. I was stopped at the door with an announcement they would be closing
in twelve minutes because they had sold out of everything and needed to re-stock
the store. I kicked into power shopping mode and, running through the store, I
was able to grab a loaf of bread, case of water, a flashlight and a bottle of
propane. Leaving Wal-Mart disappointed, without any gas cans, we set out to locate
somewhere to eat. We spotted a McDonald's, pulled up to the drive-thru and waited
in a long line only be told they had sold out of food. We left there and found
a Taco Bell open and were able to get something to drink. I made it back home
by 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.
We didn't get much sleep due to the heat. Everyone was up by 6:30 a.m., hoping
we had returned home with gas. We realized we would have to siphon gas from the
boat, cars, four wheelers and anything else we had filled with gas in order to
keep our freezer and refrigerator operable. Rationing the gas as long as we could,
we were only running the generator an hour and half, turning it off for three
hours. We resorted to utilizing the water in the swimming pool for bathing. Although,
with the heat as it was, the first few days it was quite refreshing to get in
the pool, after a few days we decided it would no longer be sanitary. But, we
had to continue to use it to carry water to the toilets in order to flush them.
It's amazing how quickly we learn how to improvise.
Most of my family went home to find their homes heavily damaged. My mother
had three trees on her house; my sister has one laying in her bed and no roof.
My niece had her French doors blown open with water and debris blown throughout
her house and trees down everywhere; my brother cannot live in his home either.
Feeling blessed that our lives were spared and we were safe I had begun to feel
somewhat panicked about the situation. I couldn't have ever imagined we would
find ourselves in this situation. No food, no water, no air-conditioning, no phone
and most important, no gas. The town was filled with the National Guard, Army,
police from everywhere, ambulances, Red Cross, and FEMA personnel. Triage centers
were opened all over town because the hospitals were closed. We were under a curfew
from sun up to sun down.
morning the phone rang. I answered to hear Virginia Lee say she had heard from
several glass companies that they wanted to help fellow companies affected by
the hurricane. I told her the most pressing need was gas, water and ice. Within
an hour I received a call from Bob Lawrence with Craftsman Glass and Glass Wholesalers.
He said he and his employees wanted to run a truck to us if they could get through
to us. He asked me to think about what kind of supplies we needed and he would
try to bring them to us. He also said to check with my employees, friends, family
and neighbors for any supplies they may need. Around 6 p.m., his truck arrived.
For two weeks Bob ran trucks to us with all of the supplies we could possibly
need and many, many more. My house quickly began to look like the neighborhood
food bank. Everyone would come with a shopping bag or a box and fill it up with
their needs and be on their way for a day or two and then come back for more.
With Bob's generosity and help, we were able to get our home and business up and
functioning relatively quickly. My family, employees, friends and neighbors were
taken care of. I am so lucky to be involved in an industry with men as kind and
caring as Bob Lawrence.
Monday, October 10, 2005 we had electricity for the first time since Rita visited
us. Believe me, without Bob's kindness and thoughtfulness I truly don't know how
we would have survived this. I wish I could express with more than words to him
how much his kindness has meant to us. He and his employees took care of us as
though we were a part of their own family. A thank you just doesn't feel like
I know there are some that will read this and say yea he's a supplier and it
was just good business, but I want to share something with those of you: Bob Lawrence
is a great man of honor. He is one of the most generous and kindest men I know
and a true friend. Bob took care of us with the full knowledge he is not our flat
glass supplier. Bob doesn't even run a truck into my area. When I said to Bob
"I don't know how I will ever re-pay you," he responded with "I
don't know how I can ever re-pay you for what you have done for the industry."
Every trip he made to us was a special run for him and was completely made unselfishly.
I hope everyone within this industry recognizes him for the person he is compassionate,
kind, caring and generous. I am so proud to know such a man and that he is such
an intricate part of our industry.
Finally, I'd like to say to Bob ... thank you so much! You are a friend in
the truest sense. I want you to know, I am not sure which we were more excited-about
the air conditioner or the ice cream. Bob, Oscar, Cindy and everyone else at Glass
Wholesalers and Craftsman Glass you were truly a godsend to those of us hit by
Hurricane Rita! From the deepest part of my heart and soul I thank you.