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Preparations quicken Rita repairs

People in Williamson, Texas, unload a delivery truck filled with supplies for evacuees of Hurricane Rita.
People in Williamson, Texas, unload a delivery truck filled with supplies for evacuees of Hurricane Rita.
John Hart

BEAUMONT, Texas — Like an inoculation, Hurricane Rita excited this area's defense system to a high level, then weakened after leaving a path of destruction on both sides of the Texas-Louisiana border.

Significant damage was inflicted between the cities of Beaumont, Texas, on the west, Jasper, Texas, on the east, Port Arthur to the south and in the surrounding area. Even though the hurricane did not cause as much damage as expected, it still left a wide path of destruction.

Compared with Hurricane Katrina, however, Hurricane Rita caused more de-shingling of roofs rather than dismantling of walls — more damage than destruction. Rita littered yards and streets with thousands of trees with her 100 mph blasts, and raised a surge of water that swept over low-lying areas.

Hurricane Rita's most immediate damage included power outages that exiled thousands of homeowners for several weeks. To protect against looting, local and state police are blocking access to communities until power is restored.

LDS Humanitarian's emergency response has never worked better, from the source of supplies in Salt Lake City to local volunteers in the Houston area.

"Everybody was all poised and ready after Hurricane Katrina," said Benny Lillie of Salt Lake City, area welfare manager. "We were prepared for the worst and we have learned a lot of things that help us to be better prepared."

He said volunteers from the Houston area helping in response of Hurricane Katrina brought their experience back with them and implemented it in preparation for Hurricane Rita. For example, volunteers were ready mid-week to begin the extensive clean-up work. However, most of the effort was postponed because homeowners were away from the evacuated cities.

A semitrailer load from the Humanitarian Center of nearly 15,000 hygiene kits arrived at the Beaumont Emergency Operations Center at the Ford Arena in the early afternoon Sunday. National Guard, police and an estimated 600evacuees were staying there at the time.

This semitrailer truck and others were dispatched from Salt Lake City three and four days earlier, and waited out the storm in Dallas. Other delivery trucks left from Denver, Colo., Mesa, Ariz., and Slidell, La.

The hygiene kits are a small part of a well-oiled immediate relief effort that included supplying food for the evacuees and first-responders at the center.

While delivering the kits, Garry Flake, director of emergency response, was asked by the center to help supply food for the more than one thousand people at the center.

Capt. Dan Ford of the Beaumont Salvation Army, whose kitchen is feeding the evacuees, requested food that could be prepared immediately. A semitrailer load of canned goods was delivered to the Salvation Army's kitchen on 7th Street less than six hours later.

"We are so known and respected that they call us," Flake said.

Plans were also started to help provide clean-up services to first responders. Volunteers from many organizations and faiths worked together in the hurricane's aftermath.

In hard-hit Williamson, Texas, where power and fuel were not available, a shipment of generators, chain saws, tarps and roofing materials arrived Sunday night.

"We were surprised to get the truck this early," said Lynn Webb of Williamson. "They are talking on the news that it will take a few days to get (others) to this point, where there is food and generators, or anything else. The church really moved quickly. This was unexpected. This is a terrific response and we are ready to get to work building our lives back again."


E-mail: jhart@desnews.com