SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - Dozens of Southwest Louisiana residents wrote in to share their Hurricane Rita memories. Here are their stories, in their own words.
"I was only 11 when Rita hit but I remember it like yesterday. I remember my mom being worried about it and tracking its path every single day.
When finally we heard the alert for Southwest Louisiana to start evacuating., my mom wanted to leave but my dad said we should just stick it out. He figured it would die down a lot by the time it got to DeRidder, which is where we lived.
We went ahead and started preparing for it. My dad boarded up our windows and tied things down outside, made sure the generator worked, hooked up to the well and made sure we had enough gas. Mom bought canned foods and water and even got some MREs. And we invited all our family to come hunker down with us at our house.
It was fun until the electricity went out. It got so hot in the house and everyone was too worried to sleep. We could hear things outside but weren't sure what it was.
The next morning it was rainy and still nasty, but my dad and brother went out to check on neighbors and other friends and family. Our neighbor's roof came off and hit the side of our house. Some trees were down. Lots of limbs were all around. The road was blocked by trees and high water, so dad got his chain saw and did what he could to clear the roads.
We were out of electricity for two weeks and in that time, my dad didn't have work because he worked in Lake Charles. Luckily, his best friend owned a tree service/ right of way company and he had plenty of work for those weeks.
We mostly ate at my Meme's house because she had a gas stove we could cook on and my dad hooked the well up so that it would act like a shower for us. We bathed outside and I got my first taste of what washing clothes with a washboard was like.
It was such an adventure for me and I enjoyed it so much. I was very much disappointed when the electricity finally came on because we were living the dream! I look back and I'm very thankful that we didn't have any serious damage to our property although my grandma's house was ruined. But FEMA helped her out with some money and my dad rebuilt her whole house. She had to live in a FEMA trailer for two years."
"We thought we could get out of Rita's way up in Rosepine, La. We packed up our families and stayed at my husband's sister house.
That night was so scary — the sounds the winds made and the rain! After a week with no electricity, we all had to split up and go our separate ways. My husband and I went up to Shreveport and stayed at a Hampton Inn. Everyone was so nice. After being there a few days, my husband was really anxious to get back to our house here in Lake Charles.
It was so amazing when we pulled up to see that not one tree had fallen on our house. They were all over the yard."
"We fled North on Thursday. We had four adults, two kids and two dogs in our caravan. We started looking for a place to stay that evening in Marshall, Texas.No luck. Texarkana. No luck. Little Rock, Ark. — no rooms. Exhausted, we all slept in a rest area. There were people all around just sleeping on the grass. Nobody seemed worried about security. We were all miserable together.
On Friday we were fortunate to meet some Lake Charles folks who were moving out of two rooms in Brinkley, Ark. We got their rooms and felt some relief. Can you believe that Rita caught up with us? It flooded us out of our hotel rooms. A giant Taco Bell sign blew down and squashed a General Nutrition truck in the motel parking lot. Score one for Taco Bell!
We weren't allowed into Calcasieu Parish when we tried to come back, so we continued to Houston to stay with relatives. We stayed out until the power came back in Vinton in a couple weeks.
Our house was a little battered, but still standing. Our biggest casualty was my husband's favorite truck, which was taken out by a giant pecan tree.
We were so grateful to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief group, who came with an army of workers and cleaned up our place. I hope we don't have to ever evacuate again."
"I headed north to West Monroe with sister and mom in car. The storm hit on my birthday, Sept. 24. My mom's name — Rita."
I lived in St. Louis, MO at the time emailed Jim Serra from KPLC and told him I would stay up during that night and try and stay connected with him, as I could, and report to him in case he got disconnected from all the bad weather — give him an 'outside looking in' update when I could.
During the evening and night, we communicated many times. I was watching your link on the Internet. All during the night, your connection from St. Pats stayed pretty steady. I had another connection in the media in New York, who I also updated on what was going on down in Southwest Louisiana. A little circle of communication, if I may. My connections in London and Australia were just completely fascinated at what was going on in Louisiana.
All night, on and off, I could see your reports online and chatted a few times with Jim. We discussed what the world was reporting and seeing and what Jim was experiencing right in the middle of it all. I would then hand this off to my friends in the Midwest and in New York, etc.
Communication with Southwest Louisiana for them was non-existent except for the link KPLC had up and what Jim was sharing with me (us). If I also may, damn good reporting. I felt like I was right there, living it.
To date it was one of the most exciting nights of my life. I came down months after, for a visit and was just shocked at everything I saw. My very favorite memories of the after visit was Russ Bordelon's mom, who has passed since — her name was Rita — and she wore a T-shirt that said: 'I survived Hurricane Rita.'"
"Craziness! When we finally decided it was time to go, myself, my father, my 85-year-old grandmother and another couple of close family friends tried to head north to Dallas. It was only after about 8 hours sitting in traffic in Kinder that we realized we were refugees unable to escape because of the traffic.
We decided to head east where I had friends at LSU. After a week in Baton Rouge, sleeping on couches and blow-up mattresses, we headed further east to family in Orlando. The worst thing about the return home was cleaning out the walk-in coolers and freezers at my restaurant, the Harlequin.
The smell was horrendous and the incident was humbling. Thank God we were the lucky ones; we had very little damage to our home and my business."
Brandy M. Trahan:
"We had to sleep on the hoods of our cars because all the hotels were sold out in the town where we stopped and it was too hot to sleep in the cars.We stood in lines to register our names with disaster relief teams and to search for family.
We had to come home early because we ran out of money for a place to stay and had to keep what we had left for food.The area was still evacuated, so we had to take back roads and find a way in that wasn't blocked by military.
Some roads we found had trees over them.Some roads had trailers over them. There were cars where a home once stood and entire trailer parks were empty.
When we got back to Lake Charles, we had no power for such a long time and the mosquitoes were terrible. We stood in line to receive MREs. We stood in lines to buy generators. We stood in lines to buy chainsaws to cut through the trees all over our yard and home. We stood in line for fresh water.
We didn't know how long it would last or how long the military would be able to give us food, so there were days the adults didn't eat to make sure the food was there for the kids. We slept with a gun next to our bed, in fear of someone hearing our generator and thinking about robbing us.
It was a very hard and scary time. I don't have photos because it was too surreal to even think about taking any."
"We left Lake Charles at approximately 4:30 p.m. that Thursday. It was a convoy of family — at least 10 vehicles.
After seeing people not being able to find family after Katrina, we promised each other to stay together as much as possible. It took us 9 hours to reach Oakdale and a cousin's house. We rested a couple hours and headed straight in to Vicksburg, Miss.
We stayed at a church Red Cross shelter for two days and headed to family's home in Baton Rouge. We stayed two days; some went to check on houses and some, including mine, were damaged. Mine was a total loss.
Some of us went to Little Rock for 10 days.The people were awesome and welcoming. Others stayed in cabins in Henderson, La and we all met up there until we were allowed to come back to Lake Charles.
We were blessed to not have to suffer the heat and lack of food. It has taken me this long to build back up what I had lost because I received no help besides a FEMA trailer (we all suffer from lung problems from staying in it). Lake Charles is so great to come back so strong. I am proud to be from here."
Loraine Zimmermann Suarez:
"Waking up at 5:30 a.m. is not my normal routine, but on this particular morning, with no alarm clock, or unusual noises, I opened my eyes and turned on the television. Ten years later, I still think about how lucky I was to wake up when I did.
Mayor Randy Roach was on the air calling for a mandatory evacuation because of the approaching storm. I had made no plans to leave, because my house was built in 1955, and survived Audrey in 1957 with no damage. However, my parents had decided that no matter what, they would leave with my aunt and go to her hometown of Sunset, La., just north of Lafayette.
I called my aunt to ask if there would be room for me with her family members, and she said someone would find a place for me. I hurriedly packed enough clothes for about three days, and loaded a Styrofoam ice chest with as much food from my freezer as would fit. A few packages of frozen vegetables and a whole chicken didn't make the cut, and stayed in the freezer.
I met up with my family on U.S. 90, just west of Iowa. Thank goodness for cell phones — ours really earned their keep over the next few weeks.
About 30 minutes into our journey, I received a phone call from my son. He and his eight-and-a-half month pregnant wife had decided to go to a cousin's house in LaPlace — 25 miles from New Orleans! It took a little persuasion, and another call to my aunt, but we convinced my son that he needed to follow us, and we would all be together for however long it took for this to pass.
The next day, we took all the meat from my ice chest, and added some from a local grocery store, and began to cook. In my son's profession, he cooks for large numbers of hungry men, and he said he would quickly teach me how to cook for a crowd. That day at lunch, we fed 14 people with a chicken, round steak and pork chop stew. Along with rice and some canned vegetables, everyone had plenty to eat.
For the duration, our family was housed with my aunt's brother, her cousin, and a niece. Friday night, when the storm hit, I lay on the floor of a 100-year- old house and watched curtains blow as the wind came through the unsealed cracks in the window casing.
When the reports of tornadoes came over my weather radio, I quickly got my parents into a closet. In retrospect, we laugh about two elderly adults crammed into a small closet with jackets on and sitting on pillows! There was no power at this time, but we were all safe and grateful for the hospitality of my aunt's family.
Over the next few days, we ate, played games, ate, took naps, ate, picked up debris in the yard and ate some more! All in all, we, as the Cajuns say, 'passed a good time.' However, we all had one major concern — my son's very pregnant wife. Just to be safe, she was seen by an OB/GYN in Opelousas, and registered at Doctor's Hospital just in case.
On the Tuesday after the storm, my parents left with my nephew to go to my sister's in Houston. I waited until they were around the corner, and then announced to the remaining family that I was going home the next day to check on my house. There was some opposition, but I stood my ground and left early Wednesday morning.
I will never forget the eerie feeling of entering my University Place neighborhood, and seeing all our beautiful oak trees stripped of every single leaf. There was absolutely no sound — no birds, traffic noise, lawn mowers — nothing. I didn't know what I would find on my property.
I carefully peeked around the corner of the back of the house. There was a 40-foot tallow tree in the backyard, and I had visions of the back of my house being split down the middle. There was a large limb about 10 feet long and loaded with small branches. It fell between the tree and the back wall of the house without so much as a scratched gutter!
The old, rusty shed had blown over, but all the lawn chairs, flower pots and barbecue equipment were exactly where I had put it before leaving — not one flower pot was even cracked. Inside, the house was still cool, and fresh smelling. Since some dishes were still in the sink (we, like most people, expected to be gone for three days at most), and since we didn't have running water, I threw the worst stuff in the trash, and put it in the garbage can outside. After packing a few more clothes, I headed back to Sunset, confident that my house now had survived two major storms with minimal damage.
The next week, my best friend and her husband returned home for his job with the city. I asked her to check my house, and make sure the main electrical breaker was tripped so the house wouldn't catch on fire when the power came back on. She called me from her cell phone to say that something must have died in the house because there was a horrible smell. She told me where it was coming from, and I realized that the freezer was behind the door she indicated. The whole chicken I couldn't get in the ice chest had been in that freezer with no power for almost two weeks! I won't describe what I had to do over the next couple of months to get rid of that smell.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, two weeks after the storm hit, my son returned home to check his nearly-new house. While in Lake Charles, he checked with the hospital and found that it was open and the doctors were in their offices. As he was returning to Sunset, he called me and said to get all our stuff together — he was on his way to get us and we were going home. I followed them all the way home, just in case our baby decided she had had enough and was ready to be born.
Six days later, our beautiful baby girl was born happy and healthy. She has become a lovely 10-year-old and a wonderful big sister to her 6-year-old sister. It was suggested that she be named Rita, or Katrina, or even Rita Katrina, but Sydney is the name she was given and we tell her often about how she was almost born in Opelousas!"
By Judy Conley
We had to leave our house behind
Because of Hurricane Rita
Packed up the RV and headed north
Plan to fish some at Toledo
We got some money from FEMA
Direct deposit to the bank
With the price of oil being so high
Now we will have gas for our tank
The Office of Family Support
Is where we signed up for free food
An officer seemed to be stressed out
He was yelling at people, how rude
After a week, the mayor announced
We could go back to look and then leave
I guess he got tired of people asking
Can we see our home in L.C. please
We threw away all of our food
That was in our refrigerator
Ole Rita sure did make a mess
I have come to really hate her
Lord, you know that I am hurting
And trying hard to be real grateful
Rita has caused much destruction
Don't you think she was oh, so hateful
Lord, you want me to love again
There will be more storms even quakes
At least we have homeowners
Thank God you're in good hands with Allstate