First 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.

Vickie StewartWe 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 … Huntsville, Texas.

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 … all of 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.

Bob LawrenceTuesday 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 enough.

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.

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