Hurricane Rita, Five Years Later: What's Your Story? (Now With Prizes!!)

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As you sit in a bit of stalled traffic today or tomorrow, you can ease your annoyance a bit by remembering what was happening five years ago this week.

Just weeks after Houstonians watched horrified as Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans and spawned jaw-dropping scenes of just how bad things can be after a major hurricane, a major hurricane was aimed directly at Houston.

Hurricane Rita was a freakin' Category 5 storm, and it was headed our way.

Just a little to the left, and we're doomed

So Houstonians did what they know best: Got in a huge traffic jam.

People from Galveston County evacuated, of course, although they figured they had time so they left late.

People from Kingwood and The Woodlands and Cinco Ranch evacuated, too. And in style -- both family SUVs dragging Jet-Skis and anything else too valuable to leave in the storm.

With no planning in place for contraflow lanes, things went to hell. (They will also go to hell when the next major storm approaches Houston, contraflow lanes or not.)

We got this:

Which, as many, many, many Houstonians can tell you, is no fun. Not as tragic as what happened to New Orleans, to be sure, but definitely No Fun. (There were also some actual tragedies, of course, like the bus of nursing-home patients that went up in flames.)

For most of us, it was simply one of the most annoying experiences of our lives.

Me, I was staying in town, convinced a late-September storm would miss Houston as (almost) always.

But my wife and kid evacuated relatively early to Austin (still having a long, long trip) and, with her watching reports anxiously, she convinced me marital peace depended on me leaving.

So, at the height of the madness, I got on 59 South, hoping to eventually turn towards Austin after the traffic eased up. Like in Rosenberg, say.

After getting far enough to be on an elevated part of the road that offered no exit, I came to a complete stop. For four hours. With no a/c, of course, in the 100-degree heat.

The only thing to be glad about was I had no passenger, because one of us would have been dead.

Eventually -- oh so eventually -- we inched our way up to where I could take an exit. Which I gladly, gladly did.

Knowing I still had to leave Houston to placate my wife, and knowing the storm had already begun its turn to the north, I headed south, passing miles of cars on side streets trying to get on 59.

I eventually stopped at a convenience store to ask directions to the road that would take me to Corpus Christi, and I found I couldn't speak, my mouth was so dry. A gulped bottle of Gatorade later, I was headed in the right direction.

Absolutely no traffic, driving through abandoned towns. The only worry was running out of gas. A closed station had some people at the pumps, but as I pulled up one drove off in disgust, empty-handed. But he'd only tested the regular pump; the higher-octane "premium" gas still had plenty to offer.

So I cruised into Corpus, getting there early enough to snag a room before the other people who had the same idea. The city itself was deserted -- you may have forgotten just how terrifying the predictions and hype were -- so entertainment choices were limited but adequate.

And best of all, on Saturday, instead of watching Rita coverage 24/7, I was able to watch the Notre Dame game.

What's your Rita story?

Update: As the stories roll in, we've decided to hand out some prizes for the best. First place gets a $50 gift card to Kim Son; second place gets a $25 gift card to the Yard House brewpub. Judging will be strictly arbitrary, subjective and at the whim of our judge. Check back in the comments tomorrow to see if you've won.

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