Beaumont residents Kimberly Wrighting (from left) Matthew Bowman and Hidei Foster wait to board buses as they evacuate the city on Thursday from Willie Ray Smith middle school.
Edward A. Ornelas  /  San Antonio Express via Zuma Pre
Beaumont residents Kimberly Wrighting (from left) Matthew Bowman and Hidei Foster wait to board buses as they evacuate the city on Thursday from Willie Ray Smith middle school.
By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/23/2005 3:05:52 PM ET 2005-09-23T19:05:52

Beaumont, Texas, a port city just inland from coastal of Port Arthur, is right in the the projected path of Hurricane Rita.

NBC News’ Don Teague reports that residents there appear to have evacuated, that many left their homes virtually unprotected.

What is the current situation in Beaumont, Texas? 
Most of the residents have left already. Right now and for the next hour at least, there are buses at the civic center. They are taking out anyone who can’t get out on their own. There are actually more buses than people there right now. So, there is clearly the infrastructure to get people out.

But at the same time, I just spoke to a couple of gentlemen who say they are not leaving. One said he wants to stay to protect his mother’s house and her belongings. The other says that he just doesn’t think that the storm is going to hit and he thinks the storm is going to miss. 

That of course flies in the face of what the forecast calls for, which is for a major hurricane to hit directly on Beaumont.

Meanwhile, a lot of emergency medical services — the ambulances, fire trucks — have been moved onto a big ship that is sitting in the harbor here in Beaumont.  I guess they figure that ship is a safe place to store all of those things during the height of the storm and they’ll able to roll off the ship and into the downtown area after the storm passes.

What kind of specific preparations have been taken by the community?
Well, it’s odd actually. After having been through many of these hurricanes to see how many people have not boarded up their houses here.

I don’t know what they are thinking. If they are fatalistic about it and figure they don’t have a chance anyway. Or if they are being optimistic and think they are not going to be hit.

But, just block after block, the majority of the houses are not boarded up. Although, people are hard to find, we think most of the people have left the city. 

But, preparations, in my view, appear to be sort of lacking.

The city is doing what it can. Officials have been actively and aggressively out there, finding senior citizens, the ill and indigent and getting them to buses and getting them out. I witnessed that about an hour ago. So, they are doing everything they can to force the evacuations and then to be pre-positioned to come in once the storm is over.

But most preparations happen one house and one business at a time, and so many of those businesses and houses haven’t done it.

There is a Dunkin’ Donuts across from our hotel and it looks like it’s open. It’s not, but all they’ve done is lock the door and leave the place. If we actually get hit by the storm that they are predicting, that particular business is going to be in really bad shape.

How badly is the storm expected to hit Beaumont?
We expect here, in the Beaumont area, to get some of the highest winds of this storm.

Beaumont is about 20 miles away from Port Arthur, but people think of them almost as one city. But, the difference is that Port Arthur sits right on the water. Beaumont, despite the fact that it has a port, it is served by a deep river that comes up an inlet, if you will, from the ocean. So, it doesn’t have the massive amount of water surrounding it that Port Arthur does.

For Port Arthur, which sits on the Gulf, there is a bigger risk of flooding there. It’s protected by a sea wall, but I spoke to residents there yesterday and after watching New Orleans, they anticipate their sea wall to fail. They expect to be inundated with water if that sea wall fails. And if the storm surge is high enough, it will go over the sea wall anyway. So, there is a serious risk of flooding there.

You’ve covered many of hurricanes, how different is the attitude towards this one than other ones in the past?
Well, region-wide, they’ve been taking this incredibly seriously. People here in large numbers, by the millions, have left, as we’ve all seen on the highways.

They all look at the example of New Orleans and point to that as the reason why they are doing it.

But when I look at the number of individual houses that are not boarded up, I’m surprised. I’m driving down the street right now and I have seen one house boarded up and other 30 not boarded up and these houses are right in the path of this hurricane, but no precautions are being taken. It’s not a particularly high-income area that I am in at the moment, but I’ve gone down more affluent street, and it has been more or less the same.

I’m not sure what that means. People are obviously taking the threat seriously, because they are evacuating, but for whatever reason, I can’t believe that so many of these houses are sitting here unprotected. 

Where will you wait out the storm?
We are going to stay at a hospital that is relatively new, the Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital. It has large parking structures, concrete walls, its own power plant, a helipad — so if you were stuck there and surrounded by water, you could get off of it.

Don Teague is an NBC News Correspondent. You can watch more of his reports on Hurricane Rita on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams on Friday night and over the weekend.

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