Run Away!


I have to admit that Hurricane Katrina caught us with flat feet.  Andrea and I had been revising our hurricane plan, and we didn't do anything with it for awhile, and things were kind of disorganized.  We did manage to pack up and were ready to go within 12 hours, but by that time it was 9:00 at night, and we decided to bug out the next morning at 4:00 AM.  

My father is a fundamentalist Christian, and I grew up with the book of Revelation.  When you grow up every day with the belief that Armageddon is probably going to happen today or tomorrow, you kind of get immune to the idea of The End of The World As We Know It.  (TEOTWAWKI).  

When Katrina showed up in the Gulf, Brian said, "This one is just going to drift up to Florida.  No problems."  and I said, "You fool!  This is the one that will kill us all!"  Of course, I always say that, figuring that one day I'd be right...  Alas...

Even so, making decisions about what to take and what to leave - and then trying to get all of that to fit in the car - is a little exhausting.  I wanted to take supplies, and Andrea wanted to take mementos.  We compromised by loading and taking both vehicles.  

My biggest concern was for money.  With two kids, we live hand to mouth - paycheck to paycheck.  My friend (and boss) Larry was good enough to give me a paycheck on Saturday and wish me luck.  He stayed in his home in Metairie, but evacuated his wife and daughter.  Even so, all the money I have is all the money I'm going to have for quite some time.  If you offered to sell me the world for $1,000, I'd be about $400 bucks short.  $600 dollars won't get you very far in this day and age, but the idea of being broke on the road was better than the idea of drowning in a disaster area.

We left at 6:46 AM on Sunday morning.  I wanted to leave earlier, but we also needed the rest for the long trip on the road.  As it turns out, we left in the nick of time.  As we drove out, the traffic was heavy, but moving.  We continually heard reports of gridlock just behind us.  It seemed like we were riding a wave that was slowly freezing behind us.  

It took us 15 1/2 hours to drive to Houston - a trip that normally takes just six hours.  I had both kids in the car with me, and I didn't know it was possible to feed an infant in the back seat while driving.  Strangely enough, I managed to pull it off several times...  Virginia blissfully watched videos for several hours, but then became bored.  We stopped a few times to get fuel and for bathroom breaks.  It was evident that the panic was rising, and every time we stopped and got back on the road, the traffic was worse and worse.  We had to keep moving, and we did.

I've done a lot of planning for this kind of thing, and a lot of thinking about it.  I read all the paranoid schizophrenic stuff on the various lists about bugging out during a disaster, war, invasion, or alien landing.  None of those 'plans' are really any good.  Reality is very different from imagination or what Hollywood shows.  Not being the kooky type, I noticed several things along the way.  

Most folks were polite, courteous, and helpful.  People who needed help were asking for help, and they were getting it.  Folks would break down, and other folks would stop and help them out.  There was some general shock, but there wasn't any overt panic - even if there was an urgency to the situation that was plain.  

A good measure of the mental condition of your fellow evacuees is litter.  The more panic people feel, the less they care about the niceties of society.  Litter is a direct correlation with the mental condition of the people.  The roadside, rest stops, and refueling stations were quickly full of litter.  Not a good sign.

Leaving everything you know behind isn't as disturbing as I thought it might be.  "It's just stuff.", everyone says.  That's real easy to say, though, when it's not YOUR stuff.  I don't really have nice stuff.  I do seem to have a lot of stuff, and I like my stuff.  I mean, my refrigerator is kind of old and crappy, but I know just how to tweak it for ice and water.  I know just how to load my old POS dishwasher.  I know that the detergent door is busted, and I know just how much to pour into the open cup to get clean dishes.  My shower is small, but I know just where to turn the knobs to make the water temperature just right.  In many ways we ARE our stuff, because our stuff tells a story about us, our personalities, and our lives.  I never really thought about the way I have to jiggle the back door key to get the lock to open as something that defined me as a person, but it's part of my story - a story that was changing radically behind me as I was driving.

Besides the stuff, there are places.  There are places I know and love.  Places I went as a kid.  My first this, or my first that.  I mean, we used to go to the pavilion in Lafreneire Park and say, "This is the place where we got married."  The places tell a story about us too, and now those stories were being erased in space if not in time.

I have been through hurricanes and storms before.  Widespread destruction isn't anything new to me, but it has never actually happened to me before.  As I drove along, getting past Baton Rouge in bumper to bumper traffic, it was apparent to me that a hurricane is a special kind of tragic play.  Terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and other kinds of natural disasters happen fairly quickly.  BOOM, and it's done.  A hurricane, though, is like a nuclear bomb that explodes very slowly over the span of a whole day.  You can watch it all unfold very neatly into chaos, and there really isn't anything to do about it but to try to exit the stage, the theatre, and get as far away as you can before you become a participant in the play rather than a spectator.

In the end though, I have become a character on the stage.  As I was exiting the stage, Katrina made her grand entrance and I went from being an evacuee to being a refugee.  As we passed Lafayette, I slid a new CD into the player and sang along...

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Thinkin' 'bout my baby and my happy home

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
And all these people have no place to stay

Now look here mama what am I to do
Now look here mama what am I to do
I ain't got nobody to tell my troubles to

I works on the levee mama both night and day
I works on the levee mama both night and day
I ain't got nobody, keep the water away

Oh cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do no good
Oh cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do no good
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to lose

I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works so hard, to keep the water away

I said to myself, "Ain't no more good, momma.  No more good.", and I slid down the highway thinking about how I was going to explain all of this to Virginia when she stopped laughing at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, took her headphones off, and started asking me hard questions.  

When she did finally start asking questions, the question was, "Daddy!  When are we going to eat!?", which was a much easier question than I thought it might be. We stopped at McDonalds and got her something to eat.  While there we met two elderly ladies accompanied in the same car by a daughter and son.  They had nowhere to go, and nothing but the clothes on their back and the car they were in.  We drove away feeling very fortunate.  

We took another break in Texas somewhere past Beaumont.  It was kind of a rough neighborhood, but I needed to take a break and feed Madeline.  Not wanting to sit down anymore because my behind was pretty sore, I leaned against the truck and fed Madeline her bottle while Andrea took Virginia to the bathroom.  While I was standing there with her in my arms, sucking gently on her bottle, an older man came up from behind the truck and observed my Louisiana license plate.  

He asked, "Ya'll runnin' from the storm?"  He was looking at Madeline.

"Yes sir.  Trying to make it to Houston."

"Ya'll got a place to live?  Ya'll can come live with me.  I live alone in a big ranch and ya'll can come live with me."  

I was really moved by that.  I told him that we were going to family, but there were plenty of folks coming up behind us that had no place to go.  I hope he found a family that needed the help.

The kindness and generosity offered by friends and strangers is quite overwhelming.  We are now staying with Ken and Aggie, and they have welcomed us with open arms.  We are living in an average sized bedroom upstairs, but we have the run of the house, showers, laundry, and regular meals.  

We are, in all of this, very thankful.  I know that there are a lot of people not as fortunate as we are.  


I have talked to several people who stayed, and Bob, who spoke with the mayor of Harahan. (Helps to have friends in high places...) 

Many houses in and around New Orleans have water in them. Some up to the ceiling. A lot of roofs were damaged, and there is a lot of debris. It is in some ways worse than what the national media is showing, and in some ways better. Some neighborhoods did better than others, some didn't. My grandmother's house, my parent's house, my bosses house, Billy & Paulette's house, and a few other houses of people I know took no water, but everyone sustained roof damage to some degree. Some damage worse than others, but the roofs are still there. Some roofs of some houses did come off, but not many as far as I can tell. Metairie and Harahan weren't hit as bad as some.  

The Airline Highway sandbag levee let go, and Kenner took some water. There was water in homes as far south as the Harahan Recreation Center, but that area is low. It's a little ways from my house and Bob's house, which is a little higher. I have an expectation from all reports that my house did not take water. 

As far as wind damage, I just don't know. The asbestos tiles on my roof are very strong. The structure of my house is very good, and shaped in such a way that it can withstand high winds. The problem is that the attachment of the roof isn't very good, and having settled, isn't entirely sound. The other problem is that I have two large trees that I don't expect survived the winds, and I expect that one (or both) may have struck the house. I expect the metal carport to be gone... 

There are various horror stories not being reported by the national media. A car was crushed by something falling near Airline and Clearview, trapping the occupants. Nobody could get to them, and the expectation is that they were killed. Two people were rescued off a floating mattress. There are reports of a number of people on the roofs of their houses. There are reports of bodies floating in the 9th ward. 

That's all I know for now. As soon as I can put a few things together, I'll be going back in.



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