Man Rides Out Storm in Sabine Pass

9-30-05 - When the eye of Hurricane Rita made landfall over this Gulf Coast community, 81-year-old Amos Dondee was here, riding out the storm in a back room of the Boot Scoot Bar.

"It was something I had to do," said Dondee, whose raspy voice and white beard earned him the title of "old man and the sea" at the bar where he serves as the live-in security guard.

Rita roared into town with 120-mph winds last week, but most of the several hundred residents had cleared out by then. Longtime residents know Sabine Pass is vulnerable to hurricanes _ it was wiped out in 1886 by a storm that killed 86 people, and hit again in 1900 and 1915.

Dondee, a veteran skipper of shrimp boats, ignored warnings and slept on a pool table until flooding forced him to climb into the attic. He stayed there for two days until the Coast Guard found him.

"You get scared," he said Thursday, returning to the battered bar for the first time since the storm. "I do feel lucky to survive. You better believe it."

Bending down to avoid hitting the collapsed ceilings, Dondee fished around for important documents, including his Social Security card. Piles of wet shirts laid on a muddy floor next to a television and twin mattress.

Inside the bar were broken beer signs, waterlogged casino games and pool tables and toppled refrigerators. The whole place reeked of mold.

Dondee said he hopes Rita's fury hasn't ended the string of memories he has of seamen drinking beer, swapping tales and even testing out songs they wrote at sea during karaoke night.

"I know everybody who comes and goes," he said. "We have a lot of fun. It makes you feel at home."