Perhaps this is another rambling account of a Katrina survivor but it’s my hope that instead I’m able to offer another viewpoint on preparations for a disaster and what we experienced and learned when it’s time to run away.
Initially, Katrina looked to us to just be another annoyance storm headed for the Gulf Coast. My wife was born and raised in the greater New Orleans area and I moved there in the early 1970’s. She had experienced Betsy in the 60’s as a youngster, then we both felt the impact of Camille, and numerous other named storms over the years. We just like many of our friends and local relatives had gotten into the routine of every storm season making sure we had batteries for the flashlights, plywood precut for the windows, food in the pantry and full tank of gas in the car, just in case. When we moved from our home in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, to a newer and bigger one in Covington, (about 30 miles north of the city known as the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain), as often happens when you move to a bigger place, we began to acquire more stuff. It’s our affinity for that kind of “Stuff” that makes it hard leave things behind if there is a threat that makes you leave your home, be it from a hurricane as in our geographic location, or any other type of natural disaster. You name it flooding, earthquake, ice storm or it could be more on a man made issue like a train wreck with a HAZMAT spill, a nuclear plant leak of some type and on and on. That hesitation to leave our “Stuff” almost got us caught improperly prepared for Katrina.
It’s Thursday morning; we check the weather channels and looks like it’s coming our way. I drive into work to help out with preparations for the storm at our offices and shop facilities. About half our work force is ready to wrap it up so they can go home and make their own preparations for staying or leaving. Many of them live in low-lying areas that have had flooding in the past so leaving is their best option. We shut the operations down on Friday and wish everyone good Luck.
Saturday morning’s check of the weather starts me to wonder, that thing’s getting bigger and stronger and it’s still heading in our general direction. I’m wondering now what’s our plan B? I get a call from my Dad, he’s decided to leave his home in Metairie and help a friend evacuate her 80 year old mother to a relative’s home just the other side of Dallas Texas. That’s a relief, I could never convince him to leave his “Stuff” during earlier storms. Then we get the phone call from my wife’s mother and stepfather, they are going to my brother in laws house in Ponchatoula to ride the storm out. That’s better than them remaining at their home in River Ridge, another further out suburb of New Orleans. Brother in laws house is only about 15 miles from us and he’s well stocked and has a big generator so that’s a good thing and one less worry about family being taken care of.
So here we are with our stuff and years of experience riding out hurricanes. Two 5 KW generator sets and 40 gallons of gasoline for them. The freezer and pantry are full of plenty of fresh food, we have a Coleman stove to cook on and plenty of firewood and charcoal. I’ve got a brand new chain saw and spare parts to keep it running. So what are the threats for us from this storm, what’s the worst that can happen? Well flooding won’t be a problem where we are, we’re well above sea level this far inland. Sure tornados do spring up during these weather events, shortly after we moved to the area one missed our subdivision by less than a quarter of a mile. To see the damaged it caused, all those huge pine trees uprooted and twisted like they were toothpicks. That’s going to be the big one for us, those big mature pine and oak trees that surround our house and the entire community. With enough high winds I can see them dropping and taking out power lines, blocking streets not to mention the possibility of one or more coming down on top of our house.
But we never had any of those problems with past storms, just and few tree limbs down here and there. Maybe we lost power for a couple of hours but still no big deal, of course we’re going to stay and ride this one out just like we did ones in the past.
Early Sunday morning, before the sun is up we’re flipping through the local news and weather channels, looking for that sign of a change in its path or a weakening of it. No such luck, the storm is now covering the entire Gulf of Mexico with its wind and rain bands. Even if it doesn’t hit us directly a near miss is still going to be bad with those high winds. So we wake up our two daughters and have a family meeting. Here’s the deal, if we stay, it’s not going to be pleasant, you can be sure that we will loose power for a few days at the least. (And by the way, it’s August and Southern Louisiana is Hot & Humid). We can load up the car and take a short vacation, pack your rolling suitcases with a weeks worth of stuff and we’ll find a hotel with a swimming pool somewhere north of here and out of harms way.
The girls go for it but the wife’s not crazy about it, after all, all our stuff is here. What do we, what can we take and what do we leave behind? Honey, I say, its stuff and we have good insurance so if we loose anything most of it’s covered and can be replaced. We need to take personal keepsakes and the things insurance cannot replace. OK, got it, well the 3 dogs and 2 cats have to come with us, no way around that, but the 10 chickens are going to have to fend for themselves as best they can. We’ll put out plenty of food that should hold them for a week if we have to be gone that long and they free range most of the time on our 2 fenced acres. We have three crates for the dogs and cats, so a couple of them will have to share some space.
Our Ford Expedition has a little over 100,000 miles but it’s got new tires and both the transmission and rear end fluids were recently changed so our biggest vehicle should do the job. We got a tank full of gas that should get us at least 300 miles away. Should I take a couple of extra cans of gas? I don’t have a rear rack for the trailer hitch so I’d either have to tie them to the roof or what? No I decide to leave them behind, there should be plenty of gas between here and wherever we end up. I keep a car emergency box with a set of hand tools, tire-plugging kit, and 12-volt air compressor in every car. We also have AAA but in an evacuation of this scale I don’t know if it would have helped until we got out of the immediate area.
So we start the load out, the suit cases and animals are easy enough, the question becomes how much more of our “Stuff” can we fit and try and take along? Got to get the fire proof box that has all the important papers in it, there’s a couple of old family photo albums we need to grab, both of our personal pistols, one shotgun and one rifle from the safe. What about the computers, we don’t have the files backed up on either of them and we both have been running our Ebay businesses and income tax files are on them. Yup, unplug them, leave the monitors and keyboards behind, and just take the two towers. In the back of our minds is the possibility of thieves & looters making they way through the abandoned neighborhoods. She has a few pieces of jewelry that were handed down to her, I’ve got a small stamp and coin collection that we gather up. No room for the gun safe or all the woodworking and auto mechanic tools in the garage or the inventory from that last auction we just bought. Since I didn’t add that on that’s probably not on our insurance coverage. Then there’s our extensive collection of books on our interests, no room for them. Cell phones and car chargers, check.
It’s 11:00 AM before we say a brief prayer and head out for the interstate.
So where is it that we are headed for?
End of Part one.
Lessons learned so far:
1. Have a plan B and a C, we really didn’t, staying in place was our only real plan. A bug out / evacuation plan did eventually evolve over a 12 hour period.
2. Think about elder parents or other relatives that might need help. We lucked out that both were able to get out on their own. If we would have had to go in and get them, our limited space in the vehicle would have been severely impacted for our important “Stuff”.
3. Have an inventory of your homes furnishings and all those things that insurance can replace if the worst happens. There are extensive lists on the internet, I’ll include one or more as a link to help get you started thinking. Everyone should have access to some sort of digital camera these days so include photos.
4. Have Insurance with a reputable company, it came in handy when we got back for repairs that had to be done, and keep it up to date as you acquire new stuff.
5. We didn’t have a GPS at the time, and no Smart phones. GPS would have sure been nice for planning alternative routes while we on the road. But we had a two year old road atlas that had all the major roads for every state, and it got used.
6. A car emergency kit is also cheap insurance, we didn’t need it on this trip but it was one less thing to worry about if we had had trouble on the road.
7. Have some cash on hand so if the banks are closed or credit card machines are down you can still buy things at some places. We kept $500.00 in the fire proof box just for emergencies.
8. If you have important files and photos on your computer, have a portable back up hard drive or jump drive, even if you have a laptop, back up your files regularly.
9. Take the time to walk through your home and make a list of what you would need/want to take with you if you had the time to gather it up. It’s difficult to think straight in a time of stress and time pressure to remember all the things that are near and dear to you. I think about the people out west that had to evacuate because of the wild fires, not knowing if there would be anything to come back to or not. We felt sure that something would be left behind to salvage even if we had a tree fall on the house.