And Then Came Rita

Of the two monsters that slithered from the Gulf, through the swamps and into our lives during the summer of 2005, one was bigger, meaner, uglier and traveled farther than the other – but it was the other that the world would know better.

Though Hurricane Katrina, which would cause the levees that protected the global city of New Orleans, would rank as the sixth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever, a few weeks later, Hurricane Rita plowed across coastal Louisiana and then up the state’s west coast. Rita rated even higher in the all-time intensity level as No. 4.

Rita stepped on already damaged land before delivering her own wrath. On Sept. 20, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared the southwest part of Louisiana to be in a state of emergency. Low- lying Cameron Parish would be a bullseye, followed by Calcasieu and, one by one, the parishes that topped it. Born in the Bahamas, Rita packed a punch so great that the mayor of Houston (to where many Louisianians had fled) urged residents to evacuate.

Already too fragile to hold together, New Orleans could not withstand the torrents of rain that predictions said Rita would dump on the city. Mercifully the estimates were not reached; the tender levees held and the city survived the prospect of facing two disasters within a month.

Everyone who experienced Rita has a story, and each story is worth recalling. The major story, though, was that of recovery. Cameron Parish is not the beach community it once wanted to be, but still it has a rustic charm. The sea’s waves of green are most often friendly; the sunset presents a palette of reds and oranges. Many Louisianians discovered other parts of the state during the summer on 2005; some never returned.

In many ways Louisiana is a better state than it was before that tropical season. We are constructing our buildings with more thought, and if there is another major storm in our path we will know better how to handle it. It is to the state’s credit that despite the storm’s savagery there was only one known death. Rita gradually weakened into a low-pressure system somewhere over the Mississippi Valley. Weather watchers list the date of demise as Sept. 26.

As fall approached, Louisianians could return to the more anticipated business of boucheries and watching football. The greatest satisfaction from disaster is not just in having survived it, but in being able to move ahead.