Golden Triangle Recovers From Rita

Many people who took refuge in East Texas came from the Golden Triangle area. Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, and surrounding towns were hit hard by Rita.

The region got its name from the oil industrial wealth. Supporting that wealth is a large, blue-collar workforce. They are the ones hardest hit by Hurricane Rita, but they work just as hard to recover.

On a sunny, fall day, Ray Nunez resumes the delivery of mail in the Beaumont neighborhood where he grew up. "For a while, you couldn't even hardly walk through the neighborhood. Trees were laying down. Wires were hanging down," Nunez said as he made his door to door deliveries.

The path is clear, but piles of storm debris remain as Rita reminders. So do the hundreds of blue tarps placed on damaged roofs by FEMA. You see people rebuilding. You see lots of people cleaning up from the storm, and then you see the really devastating damage. A large tree remains through the roof of a modest home. The occupants are still waiting for assistance.

Slowly, but surely, Beaumont recovers. Nunez, who worked on weekends and holidays to better serve his neighbors, said, "Most of these people have been here at least 30 years or more, but most everybody came back and things are getting back."

But, not for everyone in the neighborhood. A few blocks away, Natoski Hill enters his family's apartment. He uses a window because Rita shifted the building, making it difficult for him to unlock the front door from the outside.

Hill's apartment is vacant. He had to throw away the furniture. All of it was damaged when the door blew open in the storm. Hill pointed out to graying spots on the walls and ceiling. "As you can see, nothing here because of the mold." Hill is afraid the mold and mildew are health hazards for his children. The landlord argues it's not. "This isn't something you can just wipe and repaint over", said Hill as he pointed to a badly molded refrigerator and freezer. "That's nothing you want to put your food in. You don't want to just wipe it."

So, Hill is leaving Beaumont and moving to Nacogdoches, where he sought safety from Rita. Hill gave a distant look and said, "So, we're trying to start all over."

Fifteen miles south of Beaumont, there are thousands of Port Arthur residents starting over. The damage is much worse. An airport hanger is just a frame. Mom and pop businesses are closed. The busiest place in this temporary ghost town is the disaster relief site. The line for water, food, and FEMA debit cards forms daily.

Lt. Steve Brinson with the Port Arthur Police Department manages the site. "We still have people just now getting back into town. Some of the Sabine Pass residents who was hardest hit--they still haven't got in yet. We're doing what we can to provide for those who lost everything or [are] coming back with nothing."

Tiffany Thweatt stood in line. She said, "We went to San Augustine." As an evacuee there, Tiffany stood in FEMA lines. Now, home in Port-A, her routine hasn't changed much. "I'm looking for a job now. My husband--he's lost his job during this, too. He was doing concrete here. They're out right now."

Just two blocks away, at the Port Arthur levee, where Hurricane Rita first came ashore, everything appears back to normal. Seagulls basking along the Intracoastal Waterway, children finally back in school, roofers rebuilding, and a brush crew with stuffed animals nailed to their truck are all signs of recovery. One way or another, this Golden Triangle will find a way to keep Rita from getting the best of them.

Hurricane Rita Assessments

$2 billion - $7 billion
Source: FEMA

Damage to refineries lighter than expected
80 platforms destroyed, 20 platforms damaged

Sabine Pass, 80% damaged
Source: news accounts

Agriculture impact, $1 billion, including lost timber, sugarcane, and seafood
Source: LSU AgCenter