|I woke up Saturday Morning just like I left it: wind blown, wet and in the middle of a hurricane. I slept all of two hours in the Chevy Blazer which was somewhat safely tucked under the overhang of the ENT Global office building.
Most of the rain was gone when I climbed out of the Blazer at 7am, but the morning wind was still strong, gusting 50-60mph from the southwest. With daylight making the landscape visible now, I was able to see the affects of the hurricane beyond the parking lot... we had a big mess.
The small forest to our south was missing about half of its trees, some of them now resting in our parking lot. A Dodge sedan and a Jaguar had shattered windows. And our office building had taken a huge hit as the top floors were completely shredded. Wind whistled through large holes in the walls.
The remains of the upper windows were now large piles of broken glass spread across the parking area. Sheetrock and metal supports were everywhere. (pictures shown to the right are still images from my foggy video camera. My still camera did not work in the high humidity)
Walking around the building, we observed larger piles of damage on the structure's west side where the upper facade ripped off and crashed to the ground. Office papers and small supplies were blowing across the grass. Insulation, wood and metal whatevers created walking hazards. All of this damage and the winds were "only" 100mph...what would Orange look like where the winds were likely stronger?
A national TV crew from CBS showed up. Dave Price, the morning weather guy quickly walked past me with a rude "get outta my way" remark. A member of his crew griped at me for standing near the building as he said I was messing up his camera shot.
Walking back to the south side of the building my crew flagged me down as I was needed for TV. I would be live on national TV for CNN's American Morning show in less than 10 minutes. CNN asked for me as they watched video of me measuring the wind, and the producers asked for the guy in the "yellow jacket and camo pants." And I looked really good for national TV too... No food, no shave, no teeth brushing or hair combing. I also had not seen my Mother yet.
I've done live shots for multiple TV markets before, but this was my first time on national TV. I didn't know who was anchoring, what they would be asking or what.
The satellite operator dialed me in as I put in my earpiece. John Gibson did his best to uncondensate his camera.
Within minutes I had CNN in my ear with Solidad O'Brien talking to me, "Let's go live to our affiliate, KOKI's George Flickinger..."
In the interview (part of the broadcast can be downloaded here), I rambled on about the night's events describing the damage, the wind and the story of rescuing my Mother from Orange. CNN interviewed me live for about five minutes. I later received nearly one hundred emails from old friends and folks with interest in Southeast Texas, many cheering that I mentioned Orange. I was also contacted about job opportunities in coastal TV markets...no thanks, I like the Plains...
After my CNN live shot, my morning TV duties were done...let's go see Mom.
I walked back the hotel as roads were not driveable due to storm debris. Broken glass crunched under my thick boots. Electricity, cellular and land line communications were down.
From my view the Courtyard Marriot hotel faired well as the building didn't show any obvious structural issues. Walking Inside, the carpet smelled like an overdose of humidity and several north-facing windows had blown in. The building was dark and I had to feel my way down the hall and up the stairs.
Mom's room and Mom did fine. She hugged me and said she slept through most of the storm despite the scary sounding wind.
The room smelled damp, but the windows held up. I could see some minor damage and sign damage from the window. A few roof shingles had moved or were missing...The Courtyard Marriot was very well built.
I changed clothes, took a cold shower in the dark and loaded up Mom's car for the drive to Orange. Anderson Cooper from CNN was outside near my Mother's car talking to his producers.
Not knowing what to expect in Orange, I extended our stay another night at the hotel's front desk. The manager worked under candlelight and provided some cookies to whomever wandered the lobby...
Mom and I needed to go home to view the bad news.
Driving through and leaving Beaumont, the hurricane appeared to be mostly a sign and pine tree destroyer. From Interstate 10 we saw several large homes with pine trees stuck in their roofs. Most wind damage was blown N to S and NW to SE which indicates the eye of the hurricane passed to our east.
Vidor, Texas is about mid way between Beaumont and Orange, and the damage worsened with several wrecked churches. Large roof holes and missing roofs were highly visible from the Interstate. We changed freeway lanes despite the lack of traffic as we avoided road garbage. Predominate wind damage in Vidor was N to S.
Pine tree damage increased toward Orange as full forests were thinned out. I could see the horizon through some of the usual tree lines. Flooding was not a huge problem in this area.
Approaching Orange, more damage was observed at the Chrysler car dealership as the large front glass windows shattered into the cars inside the showroom.
Now time to exit Interstate 10 and take the main street into town. The "16th Street, Highway 87" sign was missing. Turning southward into Orange, we observed the worst wind damage we would see.
Looking at the tree damage, almost all of the pines fell from NE to SW and E to W, meaning the strongest hurricane winds occurred here in my hometown. The right side of the eyewall passed directly over Orange with the eye traveling just miles west of town. The highest wind gusts reported here were a confirmed 109mph and an unofficial reading of 117mph. As winds increase with height and pines are thin and top heavy, the tall trees didn't have much of a chance. The whole area resembled an F2 tornado passing, except the damage was uni-directional, like straight-line winds.
Pine trees and oak limbs were everywhere. My familiar sight lines were permanently altered. Power lines, signs, parts of roofs and pieces of metal covered 16th street.
Homes were still standing, but almost all of them had some sort of injury. Talking to county judge Carl Thibodeaux, he said 85% of the Orange homes suffered damage.
We pulled up to Mom's insurance office, and it fared well.
She needed fresh shingles, a new sign, and a new glass door, but her low-profile roof stayed nailed down. Damage to the office was later deemed at $8,000....not bad. My Mom could file an insurance claim on herself!
Now for Mom's house. I was worried about the high profile roof and higher pines. We proceeded one mile south to the house. Traffic narrowed from five lanes to one lane near the McDonalds as a pine tree blocked traffic. The satellite truck carefully navigated around the dangling power lines.
We turned on to Hart, but couldn't drive anymore. There were so many trees and roof parts in the road that we couldn't see five feet in front of us! I parked instead at the nearby Blockbuster Video store, which looked like it suffered an internal explosion.
The roof and front doors of the Blockbuster remained and little else survived. Glass, videos and games were everywhere. The store appeared looted, but much of the merchandise had simply blown out of the store instead. A rain-soaked Blockbuster employee shirt plopped in Hart, covered in glass and fire ants.
From here, I put on my boots for a walk home down Hart. Mom would stay with the car for now until I could clear a path.