RAY SUAREZ: We begin in Beaumont, Texas, the unfortunate town that appears to have a bulls-eye painted on it as far as Rita is concerned. Late this afternoon I spoke with Washington Post reporter Doug Struck there.
Doug, I understand you have been patrolling the coastline between Beaumont and Port Arthur. What have you seen?
DOUG STRUCK: For the most part it is pretty much a deserted beat patrol; almost everyone has left the town. The authorities believe anybody who wanted to leave has gone. They spent all of Thursday night picking up people who made phone calls in and said they wanted transportation out. Thousands and thousands of people took the cars and headed out. So what you see right now is boarded up buildings, closed stores, a few, and I emphasize a few, police and fire and rescue personnel on the roads. And for the most part, it is pretty quiet.
There are, however, a few people who have remained. They are stubborn, they don't want to leave; they think for whatever -- their own calculations that they're not going to be in danger and they are still there.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there any kind of preparations you can make for a storm this size once you get the word that you are going to be in the thick of it?
DOUG STRUCK: Well, for the Beaumont authorities, they have made a very novel preparation. They have gone on board a ship, actually two ships. It seems rather counterintuitive but there are two huge troop transports that are parked in the Beaumont shipping canal and they have loaded police ambulances, fire trucks, dump trucks and all sorts of equipment along with crews of both police and fire.
And they are going to ride out the storm on these ships which are heavy and built to withstand pounding seas. And as soon as the winds die down, the theory is they will put down the ramp and they'll be good to go and they'll be out working.
As for anyone else, it is pretty tenuous to try to hope that a wood frame or a tin roof is going to withstand this kind of wind.
RAY SUAREZ: And that's what a lot of the architecture is like on that stretch of the Texas Gulf?
DOUG STRUCK: Well, there's a lot of poor areas here and a lot of fairly flimsy housing and mobile homes are quite frequent down here. And so a lot of people are sort of counting on structures to remain that really probably won't.
RAY SUAREZ: Well we're talking about an area that's south of Houston. Once people got a look at that legendary traffic jam, were they dissuaded from trying to get out or were there other routes they could take?
DOUG STRUCK: No. Unfortunately, the traffic jam from Houston extended east to Beaumont and the people from Beaumont, Orange County, Port Arthur area all sort of joined that yesterday into a giant gridlock going both east all the way to Baton Rouge and dozens and dozens of miles on the routes north.
But as of today, as of Friday, it was a large -- the highways were much more clear, and the authorities were saying, look, don't be dissuaded by what you saw on TV yesterday. If you have gas, the highways are moving, go. Some people didn't have gas. Some people can't buy the gas because they don't have credit cards. There are a few gas stations that have been abandoned but they are still working if you have a credit card.
But there are, unfortunately, poor people who just don't have transport out and are stuck and for whatever reason did not call the authorities to get that kind of help.
RAY SUAREZ: What's going to happen to you? Are you in effect, going to try to ride out the storm in that part of Texas as well?
DOUG STRUCK: Yeah, I am hunkered down in a concrete motel with a whole bunch of the utility energy workers who are waiting for the storm to pass. Then they will get out and fix the utility lines. I trust that being with them maybe we'll get electricity back sooner than anybody else, but I'll probably stay away from the windows.
RAY SUAREZ: Doug Struck of the Washington Post, be careful.
DOUG STRUCK: Thank you. I will.