Saturday, October 29, 2005


Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Rogelio De Los Santos, Jr., 6, of Port Arthur (left) pops a fried cricket into his mouth as Almarie Green, 4, of Beaumont (right) considers her options during the Free Family Arts Day at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas on Saturday Oct. 29, 2005.

Athena Morgan, 4, of Beaumont watches and waits at a face-painting station during the Free Family Arts Day at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.

Recharging in Dallas

Fayrouz and I are evacuating to Dallas for a few days (I think the roads have cleared by now). The hurricane was rough on my truck, so I need to get some repairs. It makes more sense to be without a car there than here. Also, we need a break.

I'll continue posting Mark-O-Rita images when I return. I went to Cameron, La. this week, and it has yet another kind of destruction and sadness. Again, I'm thankful nobody lost their life in this horrible storm. It's truly amazing.

As always, there's plenty to keep y'all busy in the All PJ-related posts section.

Hopefully we'll return to Beaumont relaxed and refreshed.

Enough for now,

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Holly Beach drainage ditch

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Trucks remain buried in the sand in Holly Beach, La. on Thursday, October 27, 2005. The community was completely eliminated by Hurricane Rita's storm surge.

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

Johnson's Bayou, La.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic church remains damaged in Johnson's Bayou, La. on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005. The community is badly damaged, but Hurricane Rita's storm surge did not appear to leave as much as destruction as surrounding communities.

A classroom remains filled with debris at Johnson Bayou School in Johnson's Bayou. The walls of the school were rammed down and the classrooms filled with ocean water and debris.

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

Oak Grove, La.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Louetta Nunez walks through her living room in her Oak Grove, La. home on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005. Although their home was built on piers to withstand a lesser hurricane, it was ravaged by Hurricane Rita's storm surge and winds.

Boyd Nunez, 76, replaces the wooden cover on his father's grave in Oak Grove. His father's coffin was moved 300 yards by Hurricane Rita's storm surge. He recovered the coffin with a swamp buggy, and left it in his yard while he went to town. When he returned, the coffin was gone and replaced with a note from the coroners office. His father is currently at the coroners office until a new vault cap is made.

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

Cameron, La.

Towns along the Gulf Coast of Southwest Louisiana have suffered different shades of damage from Hurricane Rita. In Cameron, many buildings remain, but almost all are damaged beyond repair. Many homes were pushed off their foundations and the remaining shells block roadways. Demolition is a certainty for most of the city.

A doll remains trapped under a board in Cameron, La. on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005. The city was devastated by Hurricane Rita's storm surge.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

A dead alligator rots in a drainage ditch near Cameron Elementary School in Cameron. Only the framework of the auditorium remains.

The Cameron Parish Library remains completely destroyed in Cameron. Pieces of the city's elementary school gymnasium remain in the background.

A shrimp truck remains damaged and abandoned in Cameron. Similar trucks were strewn throughout the area.

The gymnasium of the First Baptist Church in Cameron remains damaged and filled with broken pews and other debris.

A statue seems to fend off the ocean at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic church.

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

Hit hard

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Nederland High School's Ryan Butler (No. 1, left) walks back to the huddle past Port Neches-Groves High School's Jacob Walker (No. 31, right) after taking a fierce hit during a football game at Pasadena Memorial Stadium in Pasadena on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Missed pass

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

West Orange-Stark's Jacoby Franks (No. 3, center) drops a pass during a football game against Hamshire-Fannett in Hamshire on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Lamar University volleyball

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Lamar's Nikki Perry (No. 1, right) hammers the ball into the block of McNeese State's Tiffany Baker (No. 11, left) during a volleyball game at the Montagne Center in Beaumont on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2005.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise
Port Arthur police S.W.A.T. teams prepare to secure the city after Hurricane Rita hit on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005.

When Hurricane Rita crashed into Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005, it was the third-strongest hurricane in recorded history. Damage estimates top $8 billion.

The proud people of this area immediately got to work repairing and replacing what they could. However, many hard-working folks lost homes, businesses or both. Some communities simply vanished and only memories and mortgages for toxic sand remain.

I suggest donating to The Salvation Army. It would do the most good. We're working to find a more efficient donation system for the folks in this area who will need help for many months.

The majority of Hurricane Rita images appear in the September and October 2005 archives. Below is a list of individual posts or viewers can see the entire months' work by clicking on the linked words in the previous sentence.

Please use the Back button on your browser to return to this page.
20 Sept. - Tuesday
Pre-Rita run on Wal-Mart
Krogering for supplies

21 Sept. - Wednesday
Hurricane Rita (text)
Patience at Home Depot
Leaving home

22 Sept. - Thursday
Mini Rita update (text)
Police help evacuate
Special needs evacuation
The calm before the storm

23 Sept. - Friday
Braced for Hurricane Rita
Braced for Hurricane Rita continued
Watching Hurricane Rita

24 Sept. - Saturday
Hurricane Rita hits
Hurricane Rita aftermath: Beaumont
Hurricane Rita aftermath: Port Arthur
Vidor post-Rita
Mauriceville feed and grain

25 Sept. - Sunday
No mass after Rita
Trying to help his neighbors
Untangling after Rita
Crystal clear damage
Beaumont emergency center
Ford Park: formerly shelter from Katrina
Market Basket's conditional opening
O'Hare's helps after looted
Fuel arrives before power

26 Sept. - Monday
Fuel line wait
Tornado damage during hurricane
Airport heavy metal
Testing communication
Damage is clear from above
Orange hit hard
Clean and secure
Shrimp boats

Sept. 27 - Tuesday
Temporary communication
Mauriceville Red Cross shelter closes
Bridge City
Sunk shrimp boat
Port Neches
Nederland Windmolen

Sept. 28 - Wednesday
Salvation Army feeds Beaumont
Recovery continues in Beaumont
More Beaumont damage

Sept. 29 - Thursday
Parkdale Mall activity
Post office wait
Lake Charles, La. suffers storm surge
Vinton motel closed
Boomtown post-Rita
Port Arthur neighborhoods sealed
Port Arthur's "Best-kept lawn"

Sept. 30 - Friday
Self reliant
FEMA goes house-to-house
Free flat repairs
Clear Channel team coverage
Chainsaw sharpener
Looters sent to hell
Trash deposit center

Oct. 1 - Saturday
We're surviving, but tired (text)
Rebuilding Target
SBM chainsaw ministries
Park crew

Oct. 2 - Sunday
Still going... (text)
Hungry hummingbirds
Morning activities
Working despite losses
Elks Lodge fire

Oct. 3 - Monday
Hurricane Rita's aftermath - one day's work

Oct. 4 - Tuesday
Abundantly blessed
Mail returns to Silsbee
Brooks Brothers does its best
Rita survivor T-shirts

Oct. 5 - Wednesday
Bank's reopen
Lion's Carnival
Bayou ecological damage

Oct. 6 - Thursday
Buna VFD
Bleakwood: A Red Cross success
Bon Wier VFD: no immunity

Oct. 7 - Friday
After-Rita funeral

Oct. 8 - Saturday
Hamshire VFD survival celebration
Sabine Pass
Spraying into the night
Chainsaw sunset
Emergency food

Oct. 9 - Sunday
Taking a breather (text)

Oct. 11 - Tuesday
Working against two hazards

Oct. 12 - Wednesday
Log loader
Meat juice
Found dog
Beaumont evacuees return

Oct. 13 - Thursday

Oct. 20 - Thursday
How to cover hurricanes (text)

Oct. 21 - Friday
Holly Beach, La. is gone

Oct. 24
Holly Beach isn't there (text)

Oct. 27
Cameron, La.
Oak Grove, La.
Holly Beach drainage ditch
Johnson's Bayou, La.

Nov. 16
Texas Highway 87

Nov. 23
"Rita Captured" is available

Nov. 24
Displaced Thanksgiving

Nov. 26
Cameron two months later

Dec. 7
Silsbee library setback

Dec. 15
Bryan's 797 chefs

Dec. 20
Happy Birthday

Dec. 22
Forgotten Rita evacuees

Dec. 24
FEMA Christmas

Dec. 27
Cameron three months later

Jan. 6
Shangri La Gardents post Rita

Jan. 7
Cameron evac order lifted
Orange reshade

Jan. 10
Walker performs at home

Jan. 12
Baseball field repairs

Jan. 13
Reconstruction's benefit

Jan. 24
Getting some help

Feb. 2
Tillman's Bar-B-Q

Feb. 9
Bon Wier's new fire truck

March 14
Gingerbread Square

March 30
Holly Beach recovery
Creole recovery

April 6
West Side story

April 12
West Side story

April 22
Concrete canoe races

May 6

May 20
Johnson Bayou graduation 2006

June 24
Cameron Parish still faces insurance challenges

July 7
Texas Roadhouse completed

Aug. 18
Extreme fire engine

Sept. 24
Hurricane Rita:   Texas
Hurricane Rita:   Louisiana

Oct. 21
Cameron recovery celebration

Dec. 6
Sabine Pass Santa

Dec. 20
Cameron hospital reconstruction

Enough for now,

Holly Beach isn't there

A hurricane has a so-called "good side" and "bad side." Because of the hurricane's counterclockwise rotation, the forward-right quadrant is considered "bad." The right side not only suffers through the hurricane winds and accompanying tornadoes, it also gets assaulted by a powerful wall of ocean water called a storm surge.

Inversely, the left side of a hurricane is considered "good" because it doesn't get a wall of water. It still gets destroyed by hurricane-force winds and swarms of angry tornadoes along with blinding rain and flooding, but it's still "good" compared to "bad."

Holly Beach, La. was on the "bad side" of Hurricane Rita. The storm surge eliminated the community.

In Texas, we heard "Holly Beach isn't there." A logical mind would think it's still there, but temporarily (or permanently) underwater. Either way, it's still there.

NOAA satellite views of the area taken the day after Hurricane Rita hit showed a largely damaged area. It was underwater and debris was scattered throughout the area, but something was there.

Since Sabine Pass took a direct hit from Hurricane Rita and some structures remained, we guessed more should be present along the coast in Louisiana.

We tried several times to get into the area, but were unsuccessful. Again, the satellite views showed the road was ... not there. Until this week - almost a month after Hurricane Rita hit - no PJs had transmitted images shot inside the Holly Beach community to AP.

I had never been to the community, so I was not certain where it was. I trekked along the broken highway around the area. I guessed it must be somewhere near the old piers. As I continued to look for the area, I realized the community must have been where the damaged piers remained.

Once I pulled into the area, the magnitude of the damage still eluded me. When I started walking around the area, I gathered some visual clues about what had been there. Homes, full of memories and dreams, had rested upon now-broken piers. However, the community simply was no longer there. It had vanished in gust of wind and a wall of water.

It was particularly difficult to tackle this problem visually. As PJs, we're trained to juxtapose normal items with damaged items as visual references of "one of these things is not like the others." In Holly Beach, it wasn't as simple. Holly Beach wasn't there.

The significance of the site was the lack of anything significant. How does a PJ show what isn't? I wandered around the reclaimed beach to find what was there, but now is not.

Only heavy items remained:   toilets, some bathtubs, two tractors, a few cars, a bicycle chained to a pile of debris and a few cement slabs with broken piers. All lighter items had floated miles inland or sunk into the salty water beyond the community. Throughout it all were new signs. Names, addresses and phone numbers of property owners were scrawled on boards.

Many signs had personal pleas to government officials such as "Please don't bulldoze this slab. We will rebuild." Other lots had sand-encrusted, damaged American flags. Between the flags, markers and occasional item emerging from the sand, the area began to resemble the veterans' section of a memorial park.

Luckily everyone escaped the area with their lives or it would have been too much for most to handle. No residents were present to reclaim the items that were no longer there. There was only a PJ on a beach of washed-away dreams trying to find a way to show the reality of the surreal. Holly Beach isn't there.

Enough for now,

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Holly Beach, La. is gone

(Left) A truck remains damaged and abandoned near the Holly Beach water tower in Holly Beach, La. on Friday, Oct. 21, 2005. Holly Beach was completely destroyed by storm surge and winds during Hurricane Rita.

(Below) A Pontiac Sunbird remains trapped in sand and other debris in Holly Beach, La.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

(Above) A tractor remains damaged and trapped in the sand.

(Below) A recreational trailer remains overturned and trapped in several feet of sand and a puddle of toxic soup.

Trucks remain damaged and trapped along with other heavy items.

(Right) A power company truck travels down a damaged section of Highway 82 in Holly Beach, La. Receding waters washed away the earth below the inland side of the road.

(Below) Southern Electric Company crews string power lines near Holly Beach, La.

Although some don't plan to return to Holly Beach others are already willing to buy more land in Holly Beach, La.

For additional coverage, please see Hurricane Rita's toll on SW Louisiana or Mark's Hurricane Rita visual timeline.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cover hurricanes

Since Hurricane Wilma is smashing all previous records, I suppose now would be a good time to post this entry.

I've covered a pair of hurricanes this year. They're never a cake walk and shouldn't be a destination to pad portfolios. However, when they happen close enough for a PJ to help the affected or their families, PJs better be prepared and know what to do.

Have a purpose
Let's be absolutely clear on the purpose of PJ work. Clips aren't a purpose. Portfolio isn't a purpose. In and of themselves, they are selfish and serve no greater good.

PJs are the eyes of a community. PJs go - at grave personal risk - where others don't want to go and sometimes can't go to tell the stories of survivors and emergency workers as well as relay visual information about damage to the displaced.

Why? To keep evacuees out of the way of the people trained to deal with this kind of danger and to motivate trained personnel to come to the area. Secondarily, we show the need of those affected to let others know what blessings they have and (hopefully) share some of their blessings (donations) with the folks most affected.

Therefore, PJs are the visual barometer of safety risk and need. We are often a de facto first responder and assume the responsibility of immediately helping as many people as we can.

Furthermore, we must continue to DELIVER images to the community when the entire infrastructure is destroyed. The images don't do any good trapped inside the crisis zone. The images don't help if they're only posted on someone's portfolio months later. They must be on the wire within hours.

This means folks with film cameras, two bottles of water and a tank of gas should stay home. They have no purpose, do no good and pose a potential hazard to others while absorbing limited supplies.

At its edge, PJ work is a series of calculated risks. There's a line of gravestones to attest to this fact. Some calculations are wrong, and PJs die. Dead PJs don't help the people they came to help. Dead PJs certainly don't turn out images by deadline. Dead PJs only create more problems for crisis-area emergency workers, forensic dentists, newspaper editors and family members (in order notification).

Therefore, PJs must ensure their own lives first. Then, PJs can work to help other survivors. This takes a huge amount of logistical planning, knowledge and support before, during and after the actual hurricane. Eventually, PJs' most precious items narrow to a camera, gasoline, bottled water, laptop, bug spray, communications, canned meat, dry socks, disinfectant and sleeping bag - in this order.

Before the storm
The following are items to handle before a PJ arrives in the strike zone or at least before the winds start increasing.

Take fuel
Fuel is vital to cover a hurricane. It's also most difficult to find after a hurricane. Before leaving to cover a hurricane, fill the tank and refill often along the way.

Additionally, carry extra fuel containers. Most PJs have SUVs. This makes it easier. Buy some shower mats (with suction cups) and place them on the roof to avoid scratching the paint or spilling. Put the full fuel containers on the roof and firmly strap them into place with a ratcheting web strap (moving supply companies have great ones).

Once the hurricane hits, it's important to fill the gas tank frequently with the fuel from these containers. If a looter steals empty containers, you're in trouble. If a looter steals your fuel and leaves your tank empty, you might die.

If no fuel is available, find the closest location and estimate the fuel required to get there. This is a PJ's time limit. If the closest fuel is half a tank away, PJs must leave the hurricane zone when they're down to a half tank. If there's room, help evacuate others.

PJs with cars aren't going to do well. Cars don't have clearance needed and have nowhere to store extra gear and fuel. DON'T put fuel containers inside a car or car trunk. Consider buying a detatchable roof rack or tow caddy to carry fuel or plan to limit time and/or depth into the hurricane zone.

Research the suspected strike zone
PJs need to know much before the hurricane's eye passes overhead. This knowledge becomes critical as the clock ticks between disaster and recovery.

Learn about the topography (terrain) of the area (first for survival, then for coverage). Understand the demographics of an area to know where survivors are most likely to be found (poor parts of a town have more survivors/casualties). Learn about iconic landmarks, historical sites, key infrastructure facilities as well as potential rally points.

Most of this information can be found on the Internet. However, get plenty of updated waterproof maps to assist with navigation. Since most roadways are blocked with debris and obscured by flooding, it's important to find alternate routes to all destinations. These maps are available at truck stops on the way into the strike zone.

Be in place
To have immediate access to a hurricane zone, PJs must be SAFELY in the path. This doesn't mean standing on the beach waiting on a 50-foot wave or 130 MPH flying truck or shrimp boat. Instead, PJs should be located within the strike zone - preferably on the "good side" (west) - before it hits.

Furthermore, be in place with ample supplies (see the list) and a shooting plan (to come) days before the hurricane hits. The story begins at least a week before a hurricane and everything becomes more difficult by the minute.

The days before a hurricane are typically sunny, dry, hot and calm because all moisture is sucked into the low-pressure zone. These nights can be spent at a local hotel or camping out (car or tent). Use this time to locate and confirm access to real shelter when the clouds appear.

Shelter takes on a new meaning during hurricanes. A tent won't do. A car won't do either. Shelter must meet the following criteria:
* Poured cement support around a steel structure.
* Windowless areas or hurricane-resistant windows (very expensive and rare).
* Sufficient elevation to avoid flooding problems caused by rain or storm surge.
* Upper level evacuation doors (flooding).
* Cross ventilation to handle rapid pressure changes.
* Broad enough base structure to tolerate winds without falling.
* Protection provided by similar large buildings without a possibility of domino effect.
* Adequately clear surroundings (no large trees, boats or other large flying debris).
* Similarly constructed and protected parking garage with upper floors.

It's best to find a hurricane-safe structure about 30 to 60 miles inland. It's common for large newspapers to meet hurricane-safe building standards. The building itself may need to be torn down afterward, but everyone should survive the actual hurricane.

It's also common for working pro PJs to request a section of floor at large newspapers during a hurricane. This professional courtesy is eventually returned. Similarly, the host newspaper is likely to maintain high-speed internet connections for image transmission after the hurricane. As other alternative means of transmission fail, it's an additional back-up plan.

Since hurricanes are unpredictable, they can land anywhere along a thousand miles of shoreline. Front line, national PJs need to have a list of newspapers, addresses, contact names and numbers for the entire potential strike zone. It's best to make arrangements for the most likely location, but adapt to the situation and make contingency plans for other locations (a call to the photo department normally works).

The Baton Rouge Advocate allowed us and other national media to transmit from their office after Katrina. Our paper hosted at least eight other brand-name PJs as well as various reporters during Rita and into its aftermath. Unfortunately, our newsroom was badly damaged, so we lost our ability to help folks transmit during the first few days.

Clear access issues
After really major catastrophes, the common reaction by authorities is to clamp down a city and keep order. This is fine. However, media aren't looters. We're doing a legitimate, Constitutionally-guaranteed service. We must be free to do our jobs without prior restraint. We take responsibility for our own safety.

If time allows, have higher authorities in the media organization talk to state and local leaders before everything goes crazy. Get assurances that legitimate, credentialed media representatives will continue to have freedom to do our job without interference. Demand nothing more and nothing less.

Because we may be covering news outside a major urban area, we'll also need authorization to travel past curfew. If it requires a paper from the state police or whatever, secure it to keep freedom of movement after dark. It's far easier to secure the paperwork before the crisis than after.

Initially, we need to show citizens' properties are secure and police are still doing their job. This allows evacuees to stay out of the way until it's safe to return. Otherwise, evacuees may return with a truckload of guns to protect their property. This isn't what the police or emergency workers need. Consequently, it benefits law enforcement officials to allow us to do our job.

Get a buddy
PJs are completely alone on the streets after the hurricane. Unless they have satellite communications, they're often without communication as well. It's important to find a buddy before the storm and keep each other updated on daily plans.

Shooting buddies make sure everyone gets to go home alive when the crisis ends.

Each morning, the buddies should check with each other and exchange plans. Part of this is to avoid duplicity of coverage. Most importantly, it's to ensure survival of both shooters. If one isn't around for the morning meeting, the other should try to contact or locate the missing shooter.

Flat tires and low gas are common in hurricane zones. So are alligators, snakes, armed looters and all kinds of other nastiness. Either way, there isn't an infrastructure to provide help when immediately needed. Consequently, it's good for everyone to have someone watching their back and coming to the rescue if needed.

During the storm
Don't be stupid. Smart people aren't on the street - they wait until the winds die down. Furthermore, blowing rain and water on filters makes everything appear out of focus. Lastly, if the hurricane comes ashore at night and the power is off, what is there to shoot? There are only Weather Channel people showing how windy it is. If they die, everyone will see it live. Take advantage of the time to prepare and rest.

Protect self and equipment
Again, a dead PJ is useless. Similarly, damaged cameras, trucks and kayaks are equally useless. Protect yourself and equipment during the storm. There's ample opportunity to destroy any of the above within the next few days. At least get an image or two onto the wire before it happens.

Electric-powered devices
Electricity fails during a storm. This is preferred for our safety later. However, it causes huge problems the second it happens and the second it returns. Anticipate these problems and avoid them.

Do NOT use elevators once the storm starts. A PJ trapped on an elevator isn't going to do much during the first few days and creates extra work for others.

Make sure all electrically-powered exit gates are chained open. A blocked exit is unacceptable and possibly deadly.

Unplug everything, turn lights off and cover equipment with plastic sheeting.

Everything should be charged long before the peak of the storm. When the power does come back, electrical surges are highly probable. Yes, surge protectors help, but the surge could be too much and destroy the equipment or cause a fire (or charge the water standing in a room full of people).

Prepare equipment
Use the time during the storm to prepare equipment for the upcoming shoot.

Securely chain or tie kayaks and/or canoes to support posts inside the parking garage. Get the truck interior ready for immediate needs (first aid, rescue equipment, etc...).

Weatherproof cameras with sheet plastic and gaffer's tape. Since it would be crazy to try to change lenses in the storm, put a wide-angle zoom on one camera and seal it and a telephoto zoom on the other camera and seal it.

Check all camera straps and other fasteners. Tape everything into place. Make sure waders are ready and have no holes.

Mark vehicles
Clearly mark the vehicle with "NEWS MEDIA" signs. Often video folks duct tape "TV" on unmarked trucks. On normal days, these same signs are an invitation for broken windows and missing equipment, but nothing is normal after a hurricane.

Police and military folks still want to see credentials at each roadblock, but it speeds things along occasionally as they begin to recognize the same vehicles and drivers. The markings also help slightly after curfew.

Be ready to move
Hurricanes love to point out flaws to architects. A roof can vaporize in a second. Windows can break. A wall of water can easily destroy a heavy support wall. A swarm of tornados can take turns smashing into a building. Nothing is certain during a hurricane.

Consequently, if there's a structural flaw, it'll be immediately evident. Only keep essential items in the building and have everything ready to move without notice on one trip.

Know where to go next. Know how to get there without lights (headlamps are invaluable after power is cut). Know where the most dangerous areas are before windows break. Know the location of every protected exit.

Use the same planning techniques as in a combat zone. Instead of taking cannon rounds, a building might take Volkswagons. Cover is cover. Understand the best movement routes before required. Know if hallways are brick or dry wall.

Stay calm and focused through each move. Although seasoned PJs understand moves are often precautionary, neophyte hurricane PJs and reporters might overreact if they see one of the veterans moving too quickly.

Try not to shout unless danger is high. People at the edge of the shouting distance don't know what is said, they only hear shouting through the staircase and freak out.

Everyone looks to the veterans for appropriate stress levels. Stay calm and keep everyone moving smoothly to the next evacuation location.

Test communications
If possible, test communications a few times throughout the night. Have as many back-up systems as possible. As different systems go down, test back-ups systems to make sure there's some way to get images out.

If all communications fail, plan enough time to pull back far enough to find a way to transmit before deadline.

Obviously, the ideal communication method is satellite. It works regardless of ground damage. Next would be broadband cellular cards. These are followed by WiFi, high-speed Internet, cellular modem and finally standard telephone modem. Configure computer software and be prepared to use all these methods as situations dictate. Each city inside an affected zone may require a different means of transmission.

Although some folks get nervous and won't be able to sleep, sleep is the best way to wait out a storm. Once the storm passes, it's unlikely PJs will get much sleep for the next few days. Rest now for what's about to come. If the ceiling caves in, someone is awake and tells everyone else to move.

After the storm - in position
Once the eye passes, every minute gets a little better. As soon as it's relatively safe, PJs can tentatively venture into the chaos and try to make images.

If PJs were on the "bad side" expect to launch a canoe or kayak. If PJs were on the "good side" and have a high enough truck, they might make better progress.

Either way, it's still very dangerous. Furthermore, it'll be hours if not days before someone can come to the rescue if something goes wrong. Lastly, don't count on the cell phone working to call for help if the poop hits the propeller.

Ensure the power is off
Electrical lines and water are everywhere after a hurricane. Make sure the power is off, or it's a quick end to any PJ's day. Although some folks insist cars are grounded, don't count on it.

Personally, I don't want to see any working lights near a fallen power line. If there's light, there's power and possible death. Better safe than sorry on this issue. I can find a different street.

Canoes and kayaks aren't grounded.

Power lines on the ground aren't the big danger. The dangerous lines are neck-high or barely under the water level. They're the hardest to spot (particularly at night and during the storm) and cause the most damage. If the wire is live, it can be deadly.

Look for warnings
Immediately after a hurricane, nothing looks right. Most landmarks are gone and other landmarks are gnarled and plopped in the middle of the road about five miles away from where they belong.

Even on the "good side" of the hurricane, the streets are flooded because the city pumps were probably shut down. Consequently there's no certainty about the road depth, direction or dangers.

Drive slowly and cautiously down known streets toward a specific destination. The first outing after a hurricane should be toward a predetermined location. There's probably no traffic or people around, so take time to arrive alive.

Pay particular attention to signs and building heights. If the signs or buildings look too small, they are probably in low spots and could indicate a flooded area. Make a U-turn or back up to safety.

Follow other vehicles
If PJs are lucky, they find an emergency vehicle to follow. Don't ride their butt, but watch carefully how much water they're traveling through and compare it to the PJ's vehicle. If the vehicles have about the same clearance, it's probably OK to continue. If there's a foot difference, be extra careful.

If water is flowing rapidly across the road, consider finding a new route - particularly if the PJ's vehicle is lighter than the lead truck.

Breakin' the law
Immediately after a hurricane, most standard rules are placed on hold. PJs need to drive unlike they normally do. The police are doing the same (it's legal for them by the way), but they have bigger worries than which way a marked media vehicle is going down a freeway covered in power lines, trees and whatever else.

Since most fences have blown away and security is lax, it's possible to walk to places not normally accessible for PJs. Since everything is a news scene for the first day or two, go where the news leads the PJ. If someone has a problem, they'll let PJs know. Say, "Oops," and go somewhere else.

Typically, if security is posted at a commercial location with massive damage, show security the camera and an ID if necessary. They'll often let the PJ work without problems. However, don't touch anything. PJs are people of honor. We don't need someone messing up our reputation. Get the shots, go away and leave everything as it was found. This is how we work every day. When everyone is jumpy and looter crazy, it's not the time to do something strange.

Conserve fuel
When the rain stops, open the windows and turn off the air conditioner. Gas mileage is better, and PJs can travel farther each day. Fuel is a precious commodity and the gas cans strapped onto the roof get more attention than a steak dinner.

Expect flats
As mentioned, everything from roof tacks to shards of metal and glass litter the roadways. Consequently, everyone gets flat tires.

Make sure everything is ready to change a tire. It's best to carry more than one full-size spare tire, but at least carry a small direct current (DC) air compressor and a can of Fix-A-Flat in addition to the standard spare tire.

After the storm - moving in
Often newspapers can't afford a major news expedition. Consequently, PJs need to drive in after the hurricane, hook up with local story angles, catch some of the larger overall story and return to the daily grind at home. AP images round out the whole story.

It's not the best way to cover a major catastrophe, but it allows us to motivate our readers to help folks who need the help most.

This approach requires the same research and preparation as riding out the storm. However, gaining access may be more difficult. If an area is completely closed, the local connections (usually power or volunteer organizations) often provide access inside the affected area. Once in, access is relatively open again.

Bring supplies
Bring twice as many supplies as expected. Ask folks if they need food and water. If they need some, give them some. If they need medical attention, take them to the hospital (it might provide a way inside as well).

Be ready to rough it
Arriving late means those who rode out the storm are unlikely to make extra room for the stragglers. Near-death situations make folks bond and "outsiders" aren't immediately welcomed with open arms.

Ask around for a piece of floor and a bed might become available. In any case, bring a sleeping bag to provide ground cover (it'll be too hot for the bag, but a layer of padding on a tile floor is better than snuggling with a wet floormat.

Have contact info
When moving in after a hurricane, have contact names, numbers and locations before hitting the road. Don't waste any time on location. Make every second count.

If possible, avoid getting tied to a reporter. Their mission is the opposite of a PJ's. They need folks to stop working and talk to them. PJs need to shoot what's actually happening. A series of folks talking to a reporter doesn't tell the story. Get the action and collect cell numbers for the reporter.

Even better, while covering a crisis, PJs should be able to wear two hats and carry a cassette recorder in the camera bag. Ask pointed, intelligent questions to get a story and background information for a shoot. The resulting package is unified and coherent.

Keep focused
Readers need to know about the human condition of survivors and the valiant efforts of emergency workers. Hurricanes are like a Tour de France. It's a sprint during daylight hours and then transmission of images at dark. A quick nap and off again before sunrise - for at least two weeks.

There's no power, so there's no light at night. Believe me, the folks who are working, sweating and bleeding all day don't sit around a campfire and sing cowboy songs. They eat and crash because they'll be up before sunrise too.

Enough for now,

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I'll post-post

We completely lost cable yesterday (still gone), and lost power for a while today. Isn't post-apocalyptic life grand. :-)

However, we think the DSL problem was resolved today. If so, I'll be able to get back to posting as normal.

To make up for the dead space on this blog and keep images in relative order, I'm going to post to their accurate dates with each new post. I typically do this after the images roll off the front of the blog. Since I'll be posting an unusually high volume of images, it makes more sense to post Hurricane Rita photos this way. However, I'll leave the newest image at the top and immediately move the next oldest into place.

Consequently, it might be wise to browse the images again at the end of the week. I still haven't found some of the images I've seen run on the Web from the first few days.

I explain the post-Rita experience as a blurry, two-week-long day with a nap or two in the middle. In actuality, it took three weeks, but I got normal sleep during most of the week leading into it. Hopefully, y'all can appreciate my definition by the time I find and post everything.

For reference, the hurricane hit September 24. I'll be posting into September's and October's archives.

Enough for now,

Thursday, October 13, 2005


(Above) Pat Butler with M.J. Electric of Chicago selects a cowboy hat for himself at Cavendar's Boot City in Beaumont on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2005. Many emergency workers are purchasing Texas-themed souvenirs to take home after working in Southeast Texas following Hurricane Rita. .

(Right) Pat Butler considers a cowboy hat for his wife.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

(Above) Edwardsburg, Mich. resident Gary Leonard, a general foreman of utility services with Davey tree service, (top) selects boots for his daughters.

(Below) Gary Leonard (right) gets help selecting boots for his daughters from Cavendar's Boot City sales associate Jolene Monse (left) at the Beaumont store.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Happy to be home

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Faleata Sigarst (left) makes arrangements to stay with a friend for the night as her daughter Briteny Kemp, 6, (right) rejoices at their home in Beaumont on Wednesday, October 12, 2005. The Beaumont residents were evacuated to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio during Hurricane Rita.

Found dog

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Bethany Jewell poses for a portrait with Nick, a 3-year-old Lhaso Apso, and her twins Abbie and Brice, both 4, in the Northwest Forest subdivision of Beaumont on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005. When the family returned home after Hurricane Rita, Nick jumped out of a window and escaped while the fence had blown over. Because he had a tag with a telephone number, he was returned to the family without involving animal control.

Before anyone asks, I returned Nick (technically, Nick found me). Consequently, the image isn't as good as I would normally like because they weren't exactly excited about making a portrait at a highway intersection.

What's important is the need for pets to have a current telephone number on their collar. If it hadn't been for the number, this story would have been much more complicated.

Log loader

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Richard Luce with Artron of Beaumont uses a log loader to remove organic debris from a private home in Beaumont on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005. Beaumont residents are encouraged to use local, bonded contractors to ensure quality reconstruction work.

Meat juice

Entire refrigerators and their contents remain abandoned on the side of Tram Road in Beaumont on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005. Following Hurricane Rita, many residents chose to discard refrigerators and freezers rather than trying to clean and repair the water damaged appliances.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

The smell of rotting meat and sour milk has become familiar to all area PJs. We lovingly refer to the aroma as "meat juice." Although by itself the term leaves a lingering impression, when the word "spew" is added to the sentence, it paints vivid mental images.

Jennifer said, "I was trapped behind a garbage truck, and it started spewing meat juice onto my car." This small sentence affects all the senses and emotions for any who have had the pleasure of experiencing "meat juice."

Beaumont evacuees return

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Kashyra Spearman, 3, moves from a charter bus to Ford Park with her personal possessions in Beaumont on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005. Some Beaumont residents were evacuated to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio during Hurricane Rita.

Beaumont firefighters assist returning evacuees with their personal possessions at Ford Park in Beaumont. The Beaumont evacuees transferred from charter busses to municipal busses and were taken home. The firefighters issued donated cleaning supplies to each household and carried luggage to evacuees' doors at their homes.

Nadine Washington waits with her personal possessions for a bus ride home at Ford Park in Beaumont. The returning Beaumont residents were seated by zip code until each bus was loaded.

DSL problems

Hopefully y'all have guessed our DSL isn't working. I'd love to post more images each night, but the thought of long transmission times isn't a motivator.

Although this DSL problem should be fixed soon, it has given me time to work on a "how to shoot hurricanes" entry. I should post it this weekend.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Working against two hazards

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

A backhoe moves logs as a military c-130 aircraft sprays insecticide over a second organic debris pile on Keith Road north of Hwy. 105 outside the Beaumont city limits on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005. The location is a receptacle for trees, limbs and other organic debris cleared from the Golden Triangle area in the wake of Hurricane Rita.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Taking a breather

As much as I'd like to keep working like a machine, I can't. I took today off and crashed. I think sleep is a complete waste of time, but I understand it's eventually required.

Again, I'm pleased and amazed nobody died during Hurricane Rita. This says a lot about state and local emergency planners. They did a great job getting everyone out of here. It also says much about housing construction and most city ordinances around here. Finally, it says Texans are smart (those who left) and/or tough (those who stayed). :-)

My posts may be irregular until the infrastructure is more stable. They're doing a great job with power and communications here, but both are dropped from time to time as line work continues. It's not a complaint; it's a fact.

I'm preparing images for a massive post frenzy. I'll break the images down by story or area and make a "master links" post. I've covered most of Southeast Texas and some of Southwest Louisiana in the last two weeks (as gas and time allowed).

How many images am I talking about? AP carried more than 100 of my images in the last month. This doesn't include the days when we weren't able to transmit, or I came in too late for the cutoff. So, there's plenty.

Regular readers can also expect a few hurricane/emergency preparation posts in the near future. I was planning to write one after covering Katrina, but I suppose the wind spirits didn't think I had enough information and decided to give me more material.

Umm, thanks?

Nonetheless, it'll be good info for any PJ (and non-PJs as well). I hope nobody needs to use it in their own backyard.

Since I mentioned it, it's far better to go into a disaster area than to have it come to you. After visiting PJs had their fill of this, they were only a few hours away from freedom. When a PJ's hometown gets hit, there's no end in sight.

This is why I've decided to catch up rather than spread the images over time as is normal on PhotoJournalism. There are more recovery images coming. It's inevitable.

Although our disaster is sandwiched between other major catastrophes (hurricanes Katrina and Stan as well as the earthquake in Pakistan), it doesn't lessen the need for assistance in this region. If Southeast Texans ever needed help, it's now.

I like to coax readers to donate to charities and help the folks I cover. Unlike other events, nobody seems to be helping here. The Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Men Chainsaw Ministries are the only active national charitable groups I've seen regularly. Otherwise, the only non-commercial help this area has gotten is from their neighbors, local churches, local municipalities, school districts as well as the national government.

Fayrouz wrote a post about this topic tonight, it's a good starting point. I've donatated to the American Red Cross many times in the past, but its response has been substandard. The few volunteers they have on the ground are doing a fine job. I have no issue with the volunteers. However, I've seen how the national administration is handling this crisis, and it reinforces my belief that it's time for another secular non-governmental organization to rise and care for Americans in emergencies.

I guess since nobody died, everyone thinks this wasn't a big deal. Trust me, I still can't wrap my brain around the damage I've seen. The destruction in Sabine Pass alone was so immense that I had no idea how to shoot it. It was beyond any scale I'd ever encountered or imagined.

Stay tuned for a surge of images and thanks again for all the support while I've been offline.

Enough for now,

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Emergency food

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Emergency workers get food at Ford Park in Beaumont on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005. Ford Park has become a meeting and distribution point for everyone from FEMA to the military and EMS technicians since Hurricane Rita hit two weeks ago.

Chainsaw sunset

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Ambrocio Cuellar chainsaws trees in his yard in Beaumont on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005.

Spraying into the night

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

A C-130 military aircraft sprays for mosquitoes over the Southeast Texas Regional Airport in Nederland on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005. Mosquito populations have grown to dangerous levels since Hurricane Rita hit two weeks ago.

Sabine Pass

Of everything I've seen so far, Sabine Pass was the hardest hit. It got the brunt of Hurricane Rita's winds and storm surge. Much of the town is destroyed and more homes are damaged beyond repair and will be removed.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

(Above) The Sabine Pass Post Office remains destroyed in Sabine Pass on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005. The orange spray paint indicates the building has been searched for survivors. Hurricane Rita came ashore with category three winds and a storm surge near the pass on Sept. 24, 2005.

(Above and below) Ships on Fisherman's Wharf in Sabine Pass remain stacked on one another and tangled together.

(Above) Shrimping ships on Fisherman's Wharf in Sabine Pass remain smashed into one another.

(Below) A home and its contents remain destroyed in Sabine Pass. The storm surge slammed into the walls of homes and left the roof to collapse.

(Above) A home and its contents remains destroyed in Sabine Pass. The pink notice indicates the home has been deemed uninhabitable.

(Below) John Jamroz (left) and Mike Guillot (right) remove part of a tree at the Welch Homestead in Sabine Pass. Insurance adjusters deemed the homestead a complete loss. It will be demolished. The boat in the yard belongs to a neighbor whose home was several blocks away.

Please read more about Sabine Pass' historic past during the Civil War.