Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Evacuation

The text is a partial repost from my LiveJournal in May of 2011, entry now locked from public view, with minor additions.

September, 2005
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. It was not just that it came mere weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans.

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:
  • photographs
  • 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.
Once we packed up, though, we didn't head north immediately.  First we went south, to check on a friend.  I'm afraid we weren't successful in our help, but we tried.

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.

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.
  • Our church did not have a great accountability plan ahead of time, to know how our members were doing, who was evacuating vs. who was riding the storm out. We somewhat developed one on the fly, over e-mail. Today's technology may make it easier.