EVENT - 12 Hours Till Doomsday

Track 9

According to the NOAA, Katrina officially made landfall in Louisiana 6:10 a.m. CDT on August 29 "with sustained winds of 140 mph (a strong category 4 hurricane) during landfall and possessing a minimum central pressure of 920 mb (third lowest on record) at landfall, Katrina caused hundreds of deaths, prolonged human suffering, and widespread devastation along portions of the US Gulf Coast."

The landfall time isn't the important time, because hurricane force winds extended out for 120 miles.  Anybody waiting landfall to start doing something proactive about their own survival has waited too long.  I have often wondered about the tourists who wound up 'trapped' here, because they obviously had enough warning to leave. 

Track 5Let's rewind time a few hours and begin again at 10:00 AM on August 27, 2005.  I made the decision to leave at 9:00 AM, and the NWS Advisory at 10:00 AM only served to support that decision.  My wife, Andrea, was really unhappy about having to leave, and so was I.  We both recognized, however, that we were standing on the tracks and it was time to move. 

Panic 1I have already told you that we did not Have Our Shit Together.  At one time, we very definitely did, but life circumstances had been rocky for a few years.  We moved into this house in 2004.  The year before that we were putting a lot of work into the old house in order to sell it.  After we moved here, Andrea had a miscarriage and then after a few months was pregnant again with Madeline.  Madeline was born in May of 2005, just 3 months before hurricane Katrina.  The time needs of young children, coupled with the sleep deprivation they cause, had caused us to become lazy. 

"Yes, yes, we'll get organized again soon..."  We had actually started taking some steps in 2005 to sort out some of our preps and to get at least SOME of our shit together.  I had all the house documents and the tax returns in one place.  I had no idea where things like my birth certificate or Social Security card were.  I was going to quickly learn that even things that I thought I had were actually not where I thought they were.  Continuously shoving things into the message cubbies at the end of the kitchen counter had spilled over onto the counter...into a drawer...and a couple of boxes.  I'm sure I could have lied to you and told you that I had a unique filing system and that I was actually well organized, but the truth is that I was using the Prayer filing method.  "God, I hope I can find this if I need it..."

Ya'll don't open those top cabinets, OK?  Could be dangerous...

Panic 2Wouldn't it have been nice to have had all of that crap organized neatly into a little file box that I could have just put in the car?  No such luck...

I took the task of setting up the cars.  I was very adamant about only taking one vehicle.  To me, this made the most sense.  It would take twice as much gas to take both cars, and money was tight enough as it was.  If we took one car, we could share the driving.  I knew that I could drive a lot longer than Andrea, and that she got sleepy when on the road too long.  I had a concern that she would be in trouble if we were on the road for many hours.  Andrea, on the other hand, was very adamant that we take both vehicles. 

Andreas ListI can now tell you beyond any doubt that Andrea was entirely right.  We carried more wealth out of the disaster area, but having both cars in Houston was a necessity.  I had failed to consider the vehicles as a resource of many colors - but I'm getting ahead of myself.  While I began preparing the vehicles, Andrea was furiously trying to find and assemble our documents.  Andrea likes to organize her thoughts in lists, and in the middle of trying to collect the documents jotted down her game plan in my notebook.  This is her list.  Yes, boys and girls, #1 actually says that the house and important papers are in a Styrofoam container.  One of those cheap Styrofoam ice chests that you buy at the dime store.  Even now, I am abjectly horrified...

The rest of the list reveals a woman's mind on the subject of what is considered critical to take under such circumstances.  Without Andrea and I having a clear and careful dialog on this subject, I would never have appreciated some of these things.  As it is, we had a quick and calm discussion about what we were going to take, and came to an easy agreement.

OK, OK....   That's total bullshit.  At some point, I was standing in the middle of the kitchen screaming, "I'M TRYING TO SAVE OUR LIVES!", and she screamed back, "I'M TRYING TO SAVE OUR MEMORIES!"  Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that emergencies are hard on marriages.  Figuring this shit out in advance can keep you out of divorce court.

Andrea and I certainly agreed on #1; critical documents.  She's got clothes as #2, but I could care less about clothes.  I can buy clothing anywhere, and the #1 most donated item after a disaster is clothing.  We are a  nation awash in clothing.  We must have powerful shame issues or something...  #3 on her list is toys.  Likewise, I could care less about toys.  #4 is food, etc.  Again, I'm assuming that I'm going somewhere that has food, so why should I bother?  Of course, you have to appreciate a woman who has 'cooler of meat' on the priority list. 

My wife finally shows some logical sense with #5; non-replaceable items.  She lists a few specifics.  Singing bowls, the moon staircase her grandfather made, some little figurines we have, pictures, and our 'artsy' stuff, which all fits in a box.  #6 was for Sapphire, our 23 year old Siamese cat. 

Well, I'm not going to continue to embarrass myself, but Andrea was mostly right on these items as well.  The 12 Hour Plan is a mixture of the male and female ideas of disaster packing.  Before I actually get to that, though, I want to talk about the timeline.  I would like to tell you that once the decision was made to leave that I sucked it up and got down to workin' hard.  The truth is that I was a whiny biatch for a few hours.  That and the fact that I did not Have My Shit Together cost me time.  How much time?  Well, let's talk generally about the timeline.  The timeline is valuable because it teaches us a few things about Having Your Shit Together.

We've already noted that hurricanes are a very unique kind of disaster in that they are the one of the few kinds of disasters that you can see coming a long way off.  If you *know* that a nuclear bomb is going to detonate in your city in 72 hours, that's a tremendous advantage.  Most disasters happen any time of day or night, suddenly, with little or no warning.  Katrina, though, was kind.  The warning started on Friday night, and the writing was on the wall early on Saturday morning. 

Track 5So, it's 10:00 AM, and it's obvious that the timer on the bomb reads 48 hours and counting.  If you HYST, you can easily run your one hour plan and take the family on a little visit to some family some safe distance away.  (Like my friend Billy.)  You could even just go on a little vacation out of the path of danger.  See some sights.  Catch an amusement park.  Go camping.  It's the weekend, after all, and we Have Our Shit Together.  Put the kids in the car and go.  We can even take extra time and we don't have to rush.  We can stretch our one hour plan to a two or three hour plan.  A good number of people did just that.  They got out early, and they had easy traffic, short lines at the gas pumps, and could travel at their leisure among other people who also Had Their Shit Together.  The police, firemen, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and other 'critical' personnel who either cannot or chose not to leave for storms have prepared their families to leave, and leave they will.  People who do not Have Their Shit Together are running around like idiots trying to find their birth certificate, Social Security card, and the GPS unit that was supposed to be somewhere that it isn't...

Track 6If you weren't convinced at 10:00 AM, you should definitely have a clue at 4:00 PM.  It's still not too late to have decent traffic and travel with people who have a sense of urgency.  If you HYST, it just takes you an hour to pack the car. 

The people who do not Have Their Shit Together are tired.  Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted from trying to manage the kids, find crap that they should have ready to go in the first place, and snipe at their spouse. 

The people who never think about this stuff in the first place are all at the supermarket trying to buy bottled water that hasn't been in stock for the last few hours.  They have to content themselves with whatever is left on the shelves at this point, which isn't likely to be much.

Track 7

The timer on the bomb reads 36 hours and counting.  By now, everyone who Has Their Shit Together is gone.  People who did not HTST and who have managed to put it together are leaving in larger and larger numbers. 

But...  It's getting late.  Putting yourself on the road after a long, exhausting day is a recipe for disaster.  Still, some people do it.  We decided to get a few hours of sleep (HA!) and leave in the morning.

There are some people who follow the old school method at this point and pack a small bag.  Three days worth of clothes and a few things which they throw in the car and drive away, leaving everything of value in their home.  Expecting, evidently, to return in a few days to find everything like it was.  If you are going to assume that it's going to be bad enough that you need to leave, why would you assume that you're going to come home to find everything where you left it? 

Track 8

When you can feel the heat of the train's headlight on the back of your neck, it's time to GET OFF THE TRACKS!  We left right after 6:00 AM on Sunday - along with everyone else who decided to leave at the last minute. 

At this point there are a number of people who are only now starting to get a CLUE, but it's a little late to do anything much about it.  I call these people the Hopeful.  Some of these people ended up spending a few days camped on their rooftops...others ended up dead.

Katrina Sattelite 2My lack of readiness cost me 18 hours.  If I had Had My Shit Together, I would have just packed up the car in an hour and had an easy drive.  As it is, my failure to properly prepare cost me a lot more than just those 18 hours, because I put my family on the road late, with many other desperate, unprepared people just 12 hours before Katrina would start the show in earnest.  The nightmare of that drive is another story in and of itself. 

Behind us, though, there were three kinds of people that remained.  The Hopeful kept hoping.  Those who hadn't been paying enough attention to have a CLUE were suddenly faced with the option to stay home or move to the government camp in the superdome.  The police, firemen, paramedics, hospital staff, and other people who out of choice or duty stood ready on the front line did not sleep that night.  The lights went out, the dawn did not come, and Katrina swallowed them all in the darkness.



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