Summer 2005 was known for its powerful hurricane season, as Hurricane Katrina stormed through New Orleans on Aug. 23, 2005, just one month later Hurricane Rita roared through Southeast Texas on Sept. 18, leaving thousands homeless.
Southeast Texas evacuee Jeanne Blacksher said she remembered, along with hundreds of others, handing out sandwiches to lines of cars as families evacuated from South Louisiana to escape the destruction of Katrina.
“Never would I have imagined, we would be the ones in line evacuating just a month later,” she said.
Jeanne, along with her husband, Danny, and six-year-old daughter, Jenna, evacuated to Nacogdoches when Rita bombarded their hometown of Bridge City, 30 minutes east of Beaumont.
Before the storm, Jeanne said “life was nice.” She worked at Lamar State College, Danny had his own development company, and life revolved around their young daughter. They enjoyed spending time with their friends and were involved with their church.
With a hometown close to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Jeanne said they had many weather and evacuation threats before but never left home, yet with a young daughter in tow they decided to evacuate this time after hearing warnings of a strong hurricane headed their way. Jeanne and Jenna left first, and then Danny followed a few days after. They evacuated to their aunt’s house in Nacogdoches.
After the storm passed, Jeanne described the following days as stressful because the family of three didn’t know what happened to their home in Bridge City.
“I will never forget waking up and Danny saying, ‘I don’t know if we are going to have a home to go back to.’ We were just praying everything was okay,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on at home. We didn’t know what to expect; to not know was really stressful. We only had so much stuff with us; mainly I grabbed all of the pictures when we left.”
Danny first went back to Bridge City to check on their church and home. Jeanne and Jenna didn’t follow until the storm was completely gone and when rebuilding began a few weeks later. The first time Jeanne saw their home, she described it as a sad situation and “everything was a mess.”
“Trees were knocked over. Danny’s shop building got knocked down; the entire fence in the backyard got knocked down. We had a huge back patio and the whole thing was wiped out,” she said. “It was overwhelming; it was just nasty weather. It was ugly everywhere you went.”
The family knew they didn’t want to stay long, Jeanne said. They decided to return to Nacogdoches, because “we loved Nacogdoches and the beauty of it.” So, they got to work to make the move north. Danny repaired the house, cleared the trees, and prepared the house to be sold. He soon found a job in Nacogdoches, and Jenna quickly started second grade in Douglas.
“It was pretty stressful,” Jeanne said of rebuilding their lives. “I just knew we were coming here, so that kept me sane. Knowing there was light at the end of the tunnel helped a lot.”
Eleven years later, Jeanne said she is grateful they moved to Nacogdoches County and added that “good things can come from difficult times.” Life has continued to move forward for the Blacksher family. Jeanne currently owns Sparkle Boutique in Nacogdoches, Danny is getting his appraisal license, and Jenna is living in Tyler enrolled at Tyler Junior College.
Even though there were difficult days following Rita, Jeanne recalled, with fondness in her voice, the special memories the family of three created during their evacuation to Nacogdoches.
“One of the things that we did while we were here is we would get in the car and it would be Jenna, Danny, and I. We would call it ‘Riding the Hills,’” she said. “We would just ride through the back roads with the windows down and listen to music. That really was one of the things that helped us relax from the stress of everything – we just rode the hills. We did it a ton of times; it was just so beautiful.”
Jeanne said her faith is what got her through those difficult times of leaving her home after Rita and rebuilding a new life in Nacogdoches. She advises those going through difficult times simply to pray.
“Just be flexible and open to what God has in store because his plan is so much better than what our plan will be,” she said. “Just enjoy the moments and make it the best, and know that something good will come.”