Heading into Andrew's path
By JENNIFER L. STEVENSON, Times staff writer
Photo -- NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center.
Hurricane Andrew in the Gulf of Mexico. To download NASA Hurricane Andrew Fly-By movie, click here. (MPEG 370k)
CROSSING THE SABINE RIVER -- It's a sound you've heard all your life, shrill and fierce, the shriek of disaster: The Emergency Broadcast Signal.
This time it is no test. No reassuring words from the broadcaster that all is well in this part of the world, where the skies are deceptively blue.
The small town of Dickinson, Texas, is being evacuated.
Port Arthur is next. The mayor says so:
"We will not be able to evacuate all of Port Arthur if you don't leave now," Mayor Evelyn Lord says. "Hurry and get out! Now!"
This is a journey in search of a hurricane, a 210-mile trip on a flat road. From Houston, along Interstate 10, deep into the bayous of Louisiana, the central coastline that Hurricane Andrew was heading toward late Tuesday.
People with good sense are heading west toward the relative safety of Texas. I travel east.
As my Taurus crosses the Sabine River, separating Texas and Louisiana, a stream of cars pass in the other direction.
On this lonely road, the radio is the only companion. Weather updates are liberally planted in KTRH's popular morning garden show. The station, boasting 50,000 watts, broadcasts from Houston far into Louisiana.
Even the folksy hosts of the "Garden Line" -- a combination of gardening tips and generous plugs for local agriculture companies -- are worried about the hurricane.
"In the old days, we didn't used to prepare as much and folks down in Galveston used to end up in the trees with the critters -- possums, raccoons, almost anything," muses Bill Zak, one of the two hosts. "This time you make sure you get out early.
"And remember when you come back, if you see cockroaches, remember to call Big State Pest Control, for all your exterminating needs."
Eckerd drugstores have bought air time every 20 minutes, reminding people to stop by the store for all their hurricane supplies. "We'll stay open as long as we can," they promise.
A-1 Glass assures listeners that once the destruction is complete, they will cheerfully replace all windows. "First in the phone book, first in your disaster needs."
All afternoon, I drive through towns that are emptying out: Beaumont, Orange, Lake Charles.
As the miles go by, the safe signal of Houston crackles and fades. Now, KLVI comes in. Traffic reporter Jim Love has noticed something unusual.
"You know," he says, "there are some people heading east on I-10. That's odd."
In Beaumont, they're closing the McDonald's early because of the storm.
"I've lived through 10 hurricanes in my lifetime," says Janice Semien, the fry cook. "And this is going to be the worst. I'm scared. I won't lie to you. I am scared."
"Every time a storm comes through here, people get hurt," says cashier Nancy Robinson, 19. She shakes her head, too. "You're going where?"
She hands over four boxes of cookies. "Take these," she says. "Free."
Up the road at a gas station, Kevin and Dan exchange looks. People in these parts take storms seriously.
"Good God Almighty girlie, don't go there!" Dan says. "It'll find you. That storm will get you."
I tell them it's my job.
"Well, then, be careful," Kevin says, offering a complimentary pickled pigs foot for the road.
Lafayette, La., is straight ahead, the evacuation point for at least four rural parishes that hug the gulf. This will be my home tonight.
By the side of the road, fields of sugar cane start to sway with the wind and the sky darkens. The rain starts to fall.
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