Evacuating New Orleans, Part 2 #Katrina10
This is Part Two of a series of reflections on my evacuation story. If you haven’t already, read Part One.
As the radio warned residents to begin making evacuation plans, I could sense tension mounting among the staff. Half the staff paid little mind to the warnings. This was as typical of New Orleans culture as Mardi Gras. Every year, some storm sits in the Gulf and threatens to be the ‘The Big One,’ and every year it ain’t. So, they carried on, business as usual. For the out-of-town staff members though, this was much scarier. I started imagining what it would be like to be stuck in our second-floor apartment with six feet or more of water downstairs trapping us. I started imagining what it would be like to try to get to safety with my 3 year old son and 8-months-pregnant wife.
“Nope. Not going through that!” I thought.
But, I wasn’t entirely sold on the threat of Katrina. They said all the same things about Ivan. We evacuated, and nothing happened. What if this was just another false alarm? Between what I made from my pathetic Americorps stipend and the few church websites I’d designed recently, we really couldn’t afford to take another mini vacation. But the cons far outweighed the pros of staying. I left work early and went home to talk with Osheta. We were going to need to pack up quickly and prepare to get on the road.
A couple who were friends of ours had recently begun attending the same Presbyterian church as us. They were from the New Orleans suburbs and were now living in Mid-city, not far from Hollygrove. The husband of the couple had been a volunteer at the community center for several years and had been a part of a book study group I led for the church. We knew they didn’t own a vehicle, and we had room enough in our minivan for the two of them. So we called and they politely declined our offer to bring them with us. But we insisted, and eventually they accepted.
That night we packed up only the essentials we thought we’d need for a two-to-three day stay in southeast Texas, where my wife is from. We took a few changes of clothes, paperwork we thought might be important like birth certificates, and the tower of my kit-built PC I used to design websites. (I had just recently installed a message board on the website of the Presbyterian church we attended. Getting the 50 and over members of the church to login and create a profile was like pulling teeth!).
We thought to ourselves, “We’ll be smart. We’ll get up at 5AM and beat the traffic.” LOL!!! So did half of New Orleans! Sunday, Mayor Nagin order the first mandatory evacuation in New Orleans’s history. Traffic on Interstate 10 heading East was redirected West in an effort called “Contraflow.” So, as we ascended the onramp at 5AM Sunday, August 28th, 2005, we ran right into a line of vehicles exiting the city as far as the eye could see.
The drive to southeast Texas, that we’d made several times before, took no more than seven hours. But this time, with hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents evacuating the city at once, we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 20 hours!
Whenever I describe the scene of our family evacuating New Orleans, it sounds like the set up for a joke. But, it’s entirely true. Crammed in our small Plymouth Voyager minivan were myself, my wife (8-months pregnant), our three-year-old son, our two friends from church, their pet “fancy rat,” and our pet cat.
Two of my most distinct memories of that 20 hour drive were: 1) people getting out of their cars on the interstate and walking their dogs. 2) walking to a convenience store for snacks and to use the restroom. Then returning to the van which had barely moved an inch!
In part three, I’ll pick up the story from when we arrived in southeast Texas and Katrina made landfall.