MOTHER NATURE IN A HURRY
Posted: Sunday, September 25 at 04:57 pm CT by Bob Sullivan
Accompany Dave Sankey as he returns to his Beaumont, Tx. home for the first time since hurricane Rita blew in. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)
BEAUMONT, Texas -- We left Houston wondering if there were hidden damage and victims from Hurricane Rita that were really getting the world's attention. It didn't take long to find.
As we approach Beaumont, an hour north and east of Houston, we see our first signs of destruction. Trees snapped at the roots. A 30-foot Jack-in-the-Box sign toppled over; when it did, it fell through the roof of an SUV, cutting it in half. And when we hit the city, the roads are closed. Residents can't get in, and for good reason.
Video: Bob Sullivan talks about Beaumont destruction on MSNBC-TV.
At the first city block we find, there are hundreds of towering trees thrown about. Every other house, it seems, has a trunk tilted into the roof. It feels a bit like a hike through an old growth forest, with trees scattered about, roots sticking in the air like a man who’s tripped over, decades of Mother Nature’s work on display.
Only this all happened in a single night. A hurricane is Mother Nature in a hurry.
It's here we meet Dave Sankey, looking for his house, which is about two blocks away.
He got through the police checkpoints with an emergency services card, and now he's hoping to see what's become of his home. We walk with him on the way there.
"I'm doing a remodel on it. I just spent $6,000 on new windows," he tells us. "It was almost done, almost to the point where it's livable.”
Our trip down the block has us crawling over fallen trees and power lines bent low to the ground. There isn't a soul in sight; everyone on the street evacuated, Sankey said.
We pass one home where a tree has punched a huge hole in the roof; in the front yard, there's a grotesque kind of fountain. A broken water line right under a snapped 30-foot tree shoots a steady stream into the air. Outside the sound of locusts, the water is the only thing we hear. But another house, across the street was passed over, it seems, two trees having fallen on either side, like a wishbone fitted around the structure.
"Wow. No one who's not a professional should be in here," Sankey says. "This is dangerous."
We turn a corner, and Sankey sees his house in the distance. The two trees in his front yard still stand. There's hope his remodel can continue.
Even with pictures, the damage a storm like this can do is hard to imagine until you see it in person, in 360 degrees. All around, everything is twisted -- the gutters, the signs, the power poles. Everything is in the wrong place. It assaults your senses.
"This is unbelievable," Sankey says. He's lived in Beaumont 15 years. "I have never seen anyting like this."
But, for reasons only Mother Nature knows, some homes largely escape the fury. Sankey is in that lucky group. There's a mess in his backyard, litter and chairs thrown about; power lines that run across his back yard porch are bent almost to the ground. But his brand-new windows survived, and his roof is only missing a shingle or two.
"I can't believe I still have trees," he said.
Beaumont is a good 40 miles from the Gulf Coast. Life here is not meant to be the trade-off of a beautiful beach existence with the hovering chance of a terrible sea-landing storm. But here it is, a typical small town that could be anywhere, wrecked by Rita.
Still, Sankey says he knew the chances when he bought into Beaumont 15 years ago. "I've lived on the Gulf Coast for 30 years," he says. "You always take that chance.”
He's headed back to Houston now to be with family. He'll return whenever they let him, with a chainsaw to get to work on the cleanup.
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