My grandfather had a medical issue, so that he was temporarily moved to a nursing home. I flew up to spend some time with him. The itinerary north included a layover in New Orleans, so I looked around the airport for a chance to try some of the local food. I had a strange feeling, that I should see what I could while I was there.
Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit.
We had been living on the Gulf Coast for five years. Every time a hurricane entered the Gulf, we'd waited and watched to see what would happen. Usually with concern, prayers for the region. For Katrina, with horror.
So far, all of the hurricanes were far enough away that we continued living a normal life, watching the news north, east, south, wherever away from us the storm hit.
Hurricane Rita was different.
As before, we watched and waited for a few days. Tuesday night, I closed out class at the Dojang, and it occurred to me to say something to the few youth who were present, about being patient if their family evacuated.
By this time we were well aware that we were supposed to evacuate for even a Level 1 hurricane. We knew our evacuation route. It went the wrong direction for where we thought we would go. What that meant was that, in order to take the route we wanted, we had to leave before evacuation became mandatory.
Wednesday, I think, I woke up with the urge to GO, get out of town NOW.
So we called in "evacuating, using leave" to work, and we packed up.
If you ever want to know what you care about most, try packing to evacuate.
Things that made the list:
- Grandma's quilts
- clothing for several days. I think I packed for both casual/family and work
- toiletries (though really, these could be purchased afterwards)
- pets, and supplies for their needs.
It was about lunchtime when we began to inch our way back north... and we actually stopped for a late lunch back in Clear Lake, maybe 30 minutes before the restaurant was about to close.
The youth group at our church in small town Indiana had raised the money to travel to Denver for World Youth Day, to see Pope John Paul II. We were traveling through Denver to one of the MAJOR events of the week. There were youth from all over the world there for the event. The route we were taking had a bottleneck at a footbridge.
I was in the lead, and I found the crowd energizing. I kept seeing spaces ahead, and inching further and further towards our destination within the mass of people. I think we might have been nearly across the bridge when our chaperones called me back, and we retreated to a slightly less crowded space. Another of the youth, local to that small town (I had only lived in the small town for 1 year) started having a panic attack from so many people, so close. They'd never seen anything like it before.
We had to go around, find a different route, maybe even wait for most of the people to get in before we could continue on.
It wasn't for several more years, well into adulthood, that I realized my dad might be like that youth who panicked. That both my parents were from small towns in Indiana, whereas we had grown up around cities.
We finally left Clear Lake, TX, on the south side of Houston, about 1 pm. It normally takes about 60 - 90 minutes to reach The Woodlands on the north side of Houston. For the Rita evacuation, it took us 5 or 6 hours.
This was while my sister was in Iraq. In addition to our 2 cats, we were watching 3 for her (2 of her own, one for our brother). So we almost had to take both cars, splitting the cats between us. We managed to stay together, through it all.
Somewhere towards the north of town, my husband held up a sign in the back window that said "Cat 5". I saw it and got very confused. Yes, we're transporting our 5 cats... what do you mean?
It wasn't until later that I heard on the radio that Rita had been upgraded to Category 5.
Somewhere on the north side of town we stopped at a Joann's fabrics to use the restroom. I picked up some thread to make friendship bracelets after we had reached our shelter.
Farther north, we fueled up at a gas station / barbeque restaurant. And there we saw a car we recognized, and stopped to greet our fellow evacuees. Kind of a "You're out? Good. We're out too. If you see someone we know, you can pass the word along." I probably shouldn't have been surprised, we were all heading to the same state. In point of fact, if some of my relatives had not moved back to Indiana before then, we could even have ended up in the exact same town. But since they had left before I ever visited, there doesn't seem to be any point in mentioning connections to a town I've never seen.
We made it to Dallas about 11 pm, and started looking for a hotel to stop for the night. At first we went looking for one that would accept cats. But by 1 am on the north side of Dallas, we settled for a room for just us. The night manager gave us a "no show" room. I only asked for a couple of hours, standard checkout time, but he gave us until 1 pm.
We got the cats out a couple at a time, for food, water, and a chance to 'walk' on a leash, and then left them in the car overnight.
My husband was much more alert and thinking than I. We woke up in the morning, and went to check on the cats, they were starting to overheat. It was a good thing we had both sets of keys, we ended up purposely locking ourselves out of the cars, leaving them running with the A/C, while we got brunch.
And later that day, we arrived where we were going.
Things we learned from Hurricane Rita:
- Evacuations are not fun for anyone. It's important to find the right balance of patience and creativity.
- When the power goes off, gas stations can't pump gas.
- By the time the emergency is upon you, it's usually too late to go buy supplies.
I was at work when the power went out. That's not unusual during a storm, often we just wait it out and it's back on pretty soon. I was going to work late, but when the power didn't come back I decided to go.
It wasn't until I turned on the car that I learned the power was off for half the state.
I made it home safe, but we knew it was going to be a rough night. A few weeks ago when we took shelter from a storm, it woke our small child & he wouldn't go back to sleep. So we decided to make pallets and sleep in the closets.
April 28, 2011
We woke up late in the morning. We figured out that I (we) wouldn't be working the next two days, and that our weekend commitments were canceled. I checked with the neighbors to see if anyone else needed supplies, and made a short run.
Many stores were taking cash only. I heard from other people which groceries were open and taking plastic, made a list, and tried a short supply run. There was plenty of dry cereal. No bread. Not much peanut butter, but several of the natural kind we try to use. And no propane for our grill.
Brunch was a slice of bread with peanut butter. DS had crackers and cereal. We didn't want to open the fridge or freezer, that would let all the cold out. It was later I heard over the car radio that the fridge was lost already. They say refrigerated food can keep for about 6 hours with the power off. By then it had been 18. So we emptied the fridge.
We tried to get DS to nap, but he was resisting. It was such a weird day, so silent. Peaceful, in a way. I halfway wanted to just camp out at home, work on the lawn, playing games, getting organized. But:
- We couldn't cook our food. We didn't have charcoal, or a charcoal grill. We didn't have propane, and we didn't have electricity. I did have supplies for some cold meals, mostly peanut butter. But not enough for four days of well-rounded cold meals.
- We had to conserve water, so doing dishes, scrubbing floors, taking baths & showers were limited.
- We were under a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Which while quite sensible for the situation... chafes. I don't usually go out later in the evening, but I like to be able to.
- Emergency services (ambulence, fire, police) were strained near-to-breaking. If we stayed, and if we had another problem, we would be on our own. If we left, there would be fewer people for these services to worry about.
- We could reach relatives, in a reasonable time, where we could get hot food, hot showers, and reasonably-priced, readily-available supplies for returning to a powerless house.
Not too far out of the county, we even saw electricity on again. But we kept going at that point. When we stopped at a restaurant for food, we saw someone we recognized leaving as we were going in, so we chatted a bit. Small world.
This evacuation was NOTHING like evacuating Houston for Hurricane Rita. Well, it had a few parallels, but not much.
|Hurricane Rita||April Tornadoes|
|Timing||Before the storm (relatively early)||After the storm.|
|Pace||Painfully slow traffic jam||A little bit of "rush hour" slow traffic, mostly fine|
|Going out||No damage.||Saw considerable damage.|
|Stores||Beginning to close|
|Coming Back||Saw considerable damage||Saw considerable damage and progress on repairs|
|Our Property||A lot of fallen branches||Only damage was spoiled food|
|Money||Like usual.||Cash is king in town|
Like usual out of town.
|Civil Government||I didn't see a lot of police cars, exits weren't blocked yet.||I think we saw a few police officers directing traffic in the county|
When we stopped for food in Tennessee, they also had police out to help with evacuee traffic.
|Pets||Evacuated with us.||Provided food & water to stay at home.|
Note: The subject of the post comes from a fiction series I've been reading. It occurred to me, even as I was evacuating, that I might be overreacting based on the stories. S.M. Stirling's Change series is an alternate reality fiction. It has as it's premise an event called "the Change," in which high-technology (electricity, guns, pneumatics, explosives, etc.) stop working, suddenly, worldwide. "Dies the Fire" is the first book of the series, describing the event and the immediate responses/repercussions.