Thursday, September 22

Holly Beach: 'Banking on coming back to nothing'

By Yancey Roy
Gannett News Service

HOLLY BEACH -- Without warning, the breeze off
the Gulf of Mexico stiffened. The normally gentle surf
rolled in on six-to-nine foot waves as monster
Hurricane Rita churned offshore.

Ricky Romero’s clan had strapped dining room
furniture, a sofa, ladders, hunting and fishing gear
and a boat on to its four-vehicle caravan. And a dog
and six rabbits.

“We’re banking on coming back to nothing,’’
said Ricky Romero, standing on his deck, a golf shot
from the water, “or not coming back at all.’’

Even though Rita was probably 48 hours away from
landfall, no one in this hamlet of ramshackle fishing
camps and weather-worn beach houses wanted to chance
anything. A mass exodus was well under way. Few
residents remained seven hours before a 6 p.m.
evacuation order took effect.

Cars and motor homes speed north, with ice chests,
pillows and furniture tied on top. Pickup trucks rode
low, their beds weighted down with lawn mowers,
all-terrain vehicles and boat trailers. Projections
had Rita landing in Galveston, Texas, more than 100
miles west. But that moved east with every weather

“You just don’t play with the Gulf,’’ said Romero,
a Holly Beach resident for nearly 20 years. Yet Romero
was sending his family ahead of him to Lafayette about
100 miles away; he and his 15-year-old son, Casey,
would stay for another 24 hours to help parish
emergency operations.

Eight miles east, the last ferry out of the town
of Cameron revved up shortly before noon. It idled
while a stream of boats carrying oil-rig workers and
fishermen steamed north up the Calcasieu River and
about 15 cars loaded.

Jay, Patti and Cybil Menard of Houston were lucky
to be here.

They left home at 4:45 a.m. but got stuck dead in
gridlock on Interstate 10 in Beaumont, Texas. Jay
gambled on a detour that would double their trip to
Lafayette: head for the Texas coast then cut across
the bottom of Louisiana.

“I knew about (Route) 82 from crabbing with my
daddy down here,’’ Menard said.

What he didn’t know: if he’d arrived in Cameron
five minutes later, the plan would be shot. When he
pulled up his Nissan compact onto the ferry, a worker
told him it was the last boat. Menard let out a hoot.

In seven hours of traveling, they had gone about
180 miles. But unlike thousands on the interstate,
they were moving.

The six-member Hebert family of Johnson Bayou,
about 15 miles west down the coast, counted on making
the noon crossing. Packing the night before, Presley
Hebert’s granddaughter began crying and said she was
worried about losing their house -- the family just
poured a pile of money into a new addition.

“I tol’ her: Honey, don’t worry, there’s nothing
you can do,’’ said Hebert, a youngster when Hurricane
Audrey tore through. “As long as we’ve got each other,
we’ll be all right.’’

Twenty miles north in Hackberry, urgency filled in
the air at an Exxon station not far from the local
green-and-white water tower.

“We’re getting’ out of Dodge,’’ said John
Youngblood, filling up his Chevy SUV. His family’s
three SUV caravan, carrying 10 people, was headed for

“You don’t mess around here,’’ Youngblood said.
“It’s sea level.’’

At an adjacent pump, Connie Welch was so nervous
she couldn’t get it to work. It took her three tries
to remove her gas cap.

“I’m nervous,’’ she said when a reporter came to
assist. “I don’t like what’s coming.’’

Back at Holly Beach, Romero had a hard time getting
his wife, Susan, to leave. She paced the stairs,
looking for more stuff to take. She left, then
returned to ask about spare keys.

Then whether the truck needed an oil change.

She said “I love you’’ about 10 times.

Their 10-year-old, Dustin, “was having a hard time
with this,’’ Ricky Romero said.

“He’s nervous. He can’t stop talking,’’ Romero said
as he looked at the blond, buzz cut kid. “Normally,
he’s very quiet.’’

As they loaded up, Ricky and Casey remained on the
porch on the second deck.

“Cody, make sure you watch Travis on the road,’’
Romero commanded. “He hasn’t been on the road in that

“I’ve been here 19 years,’’ said Romero who works
at a nearby plant that processes a fish called
menhaden or pogies, “and this is the first time it
feels like disaster. And it hasn’t even hit yet.’’

He watched them leave, looked out at the
thickening seas and choked back tears.

“It doesn’t hit you until you got to leave,’’ he said.

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