Some in Texas Still Reeling From Rita
Sunday, April 16, 2006
SABINE PASS, Tex. -- Nestled among some of the nation's largest petrochemical plants and gas refineries sits this tiny blue-collar community that thinks of itself as the forgotten victim of a forgotten storm.
Almost half of the 253 homes are gone; the other half are heavily damaged. The post office lies in splinters, and mounds of debris still dot the town. Small travel trailers cover the landscape, making this look like a campground instead of the permanent home to 750 residents, many of them roughnecks on offshore oil rigs or shrimpers on the Gulf Coast.
The Sabine Pass School reopened its doors 5 1/2 months ago, and ABC's "Extreme Makeover" crew rehabbed the local firehouse and the school auditorium. But the only grocery store, the only convenience store, the only gas station and the only hardware store remain closed. Just eight houses are occupied.
The good news: One of the two diners in town finally reopened last week.
"Rita Who?" reads the marquee outside Skeeter's Bar and Grill. Rita who, indeed.
This was ground zero for Hurricane Rita when it came ashore on Sept. 24 as a Category 3 storm with winds of almost 120 miles per hour. At the time, the area was described in some national media reports as "sparsely populated and insignificant." It wasn't Houston, the country's fourth-largest city, just west of here, and it wasn't New Orleans, the city to the east completely devastated nearly four weeks earlier when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina.
"Well, we believe we're significant," said Scottie Berg, the local school secretary, who has been living since Dec. 5 with her two children in a 24-by-14-foot trailer issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
She and her neighbors in southeast Texas believe that they have been neglected by the Bush administration and by Congress, which have doled out billions of dollars in recovery aid largely to Louisiana and Mississippi. They also believe they have been overlooked by the country at large.
Many of the regional officials say that their resources were already depleted when Hurricane Rita hit, because the area had housed and cared for more than 30,000 Katrina evacuees.
"I'm hiring a consultant to come in and help us manage people's lives after so much stress and change, and I told him it's Hurricane Rita," said Verna Rutherford, president of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce.
"He's still sending me e-mails saying it's so unfortunate what happened about Hurricane Katrina."
With Congress once again negotiating a supplemental appropriation that could send $11 billion to $20 billion more to the storm-damaged Gulf Coast region, southeast Texas officials and residents are working overtime to get a fair share of the aid. Texas officials, who received $74.5 million, or less than 1 percent, of the previous $11.5 billion allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for hurricane housing recovery, are hoping to get $600 million to $1 billion this round.