An exciting story from today's Times Herald-Record. While the story is about one woman's adventure and has a happy ending, in the background you can see how lucky Texas was this time and that, no matter how much officials are going to congratulate themselves after this, just telling every one to leave town is not much of a plan.
Local family to the rescue
By Tony Lystra
As Hurricane Rita barreled toward the Gulf Coast last week, Amy Estrada wondered what to do.
The 33-year-old Middletown High School graduate, now a manager at a Houston executive search firm, had never experienced such a storm.
Should she board up her windows? Should she evacuate? If so, how should she get out?
Her brother, Ed Estrada, a 39-year-old commercial lender who sits on the Middletown School Board, knew his younger sister needed help.
He hatched a plan to fly into Houston with his father, Antonio Estrada, 62, also of Middletown, just to make sure that Amy didn't have to endure the swirling monster of a storm alone.
What followed was a sleepless, 24-hour adventure along dusty, Texas back roads and a highway crammed with hopeless, stranded motorists.
"It was probably the saddest sight I've ever seen," Ed Estrada said yesterday from an in-law's home near Dallas where he was relaxing after the ordeal.
"There were literally hundreds of cars by the side of the road that had run out of gas."
The effort to help Amy involved much of the Estrada family. Ed and his father left Middletown at 3:30 a.m. Thursday and flew from Newark into Houston.
At the airport, they met Richard Hamilton, 39, the husband of Amy and Ed's sister, Arlene, who lives in Plano, Texas.
Hamilton brought with him a load of plywood to board up Amy's home. Stores in Houston had run out.
For two hours, the threesome battled a slog of evacuating cars until they reached Amy's house, just outside the city in a town called Katy.
Then, with little sleep, in unbearable heat, they began to nail plywood over Amy's windows.
Amy, meanwhile, gathered her most precious belongings: photos, clothing, her computer, a few documents.
Shortly after 9 p.m., the family set out, Amy and her father driving her Honda, Ed and his brother-in-law driving a truck.
They meandered along back roads, searching for a place to cross Interstate 10. But each time they neared the thoroughfare they found chaos: A sea of red brake lights, empty gas tanks, furrowed brows.
Yesterday, Amy Estrada recalled surveying the situation from an overpass. "God forbid, if this hurricane hits," she remembered thinking. "What are they going to do on the side of the road?"
Hamilton found a dirt road. It was around midnight. He had little idea where it went.
But the family decided to chance it. The cars kicked up dust in the darkness as they passed signs marked, "cattle crossing." All the drivers knew was that they were headed north.
More than 24 hours after Ed Estrada and his father left Middletown, shortly before Rita mounted her attack on the coast, the family arrived in Plano and found safety in the Hamilton home.
While Rita had ravaged eastern portions of the state, she showed Houston her mercy. Yes, branches had fallen. Windows had broken. The power spiked and died in short intervals.
But, as Amy said yesterday with all the optimism she could muster, "Everything's pretty much fine."
Authorities have urged the millions who fled Rita to wait before returning.
But Amy wants to go home.
Today, she plans to return to Houston, to assess the damage, to spend yet another night in her house, which, for reasons known only to Rita, had been spared.
Coverage of Rita I've seen this morning seems to boil down to a giant collective "Phew!" as if no matter how much damage a hurricane does, no matter how many people die, and no matter how inadequate local and Federal planning and their response were, as long as we didn't suffer another New Orleans, everything's fine.
Things aren't fine. Rita killed people and destroyed homes and ruined lives, and New Orleans is in even more trouble. Amy Estrada can stay with her sister as long as she needs to and when it's time she can return home to an intact house and a good job. A lot of people didn't have her luck.
You can donate to the Red Cross here.
AmeriCares' donation page is here.
And I expect that the shelters are feeling even more overwhelmed. Here's a good way to help them.