Friday, October 7, 2016

Fireside Chat: Hurricanes and Evacuations

Morning, everyone.

As I mentioned yesterday, Erin is otherwise occupied with staying well out of the path of a major storm (and probably taking some well-deserved down-time with some friendly faces), so I'll fill in today. As it so happens, I have some experience with this sort of thing. I lived for nearly a decade in what the locals call Southeast Texas (in reality, there's no such thing. Texas has no south-east corner. It's the Gulf of Mexico. You people have to understand this). In that time, I lived in Beaumont and Port Arthur, two very economically depressed areas with nothing more notable to them than refineries, swamps, and mold. Damp enough and close enough to be part of Louisiana, with only a legal border and blue laws separating the two, and a cost of living unreasonably jacked up by the pay that the refinery workers received.

My first experience with a hurricane was Hurricane Rita. Rita is referred to as 'The Forgotten Storm" on account of it coming barely a month after Hurricane Katrina absolutely curbstomped New Orleans. The media coverage of Katrina was incredibly extensive, with images of stranded refugees camped out on bridges and people crammed into stadiums trying to make sure they had enough water to survive another day until the city's infrastructure came back online. Rita was barely a blip in the media, and the story goes that while we got a visit from the President, it was only to survey any damages to the oil pipelines.

I'd only been living in the area for a year or two so had no idea what to expect from it when it came to the weather. Before I'd moved there, I'd been drifting between Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL and had been lucky enough to dodge any major storms there, and was under the impression that Texas was mostly desert and prairie. As such, I was unprepared and undecided when the city advised people to evacuate. Should I stay? What would the repercussions be? How bad would the storm get, and what rebuilding would be necessary?

Rita, as it turns out, happened to be an absolute monster of a storm. Reaching Category 5 status before making landfall, it was the fourth most intense tropical storm ever recorded on the Atlantic side, and it made landfall near Sabine Pass and marched straight up Highway 365, where I shared an apartment with my ex-wife.  Her mother opted to stay behind, taking shelter in a school with other residents of that tiny city just outside of Beaumont. We finally made the decision to leave from her mother's house in Lumberton late Friday night, with the storm making landfall mere hours later. We reasoned waiting so long would mean less traffic, as everyone would have evacuated already.

We... were wrong. We made it as far as Jasper, smooth sailing along the highway, before traffic became a complete gridlock, with the opposite lanes occasionally opening for contraflow, as no one was allowed back in the area, but it took 9 hours to make the usual 90 minute drive to Nacogdoches. From there, we headed East, above and beyond the storm, but it took another 9 hours of driving before a hotel was found, due to them being occupied primarily by displaced New Orleans residents from Hurricane Katrina. At that time, I'd been awake for more than 24 hours, most of it on the road. It was nearly two weeks before we could head back home, only to find that our apartment complex had suffered major damage. Nearly every building had flooded on the first floor, and the majority of rooftops, including ours, had been ripped clean off. The entire facility was to be closed for at least six months (which ended up being closer to two years) for renovation. The place I worked at had closed as well, as an entire corner of the building had been destroyed, and had only just re-opened the other side of the building.

The second experience was much simpler. At that time, we were living much further inland, in Beaumont. I can't even remember the name of it, but I was off of work that day and slept through most of it, only remembering remarkably heavy rain.

The third time was Hurricane Ike. Ike was gearing up to be a monster, too, but this time I was prepared. I'd been divorced by this time, and had a group of friends. My little 25 year old Corolla was the real hero, as we packed 3 people and provisions into it and headed off early enough that we, balls firmly out, drove through New Orleans ahead of the storm, skirting the very edge of it and staying just ahead of the worst, at times nearly being blown off the road and into Lake Pontchartrain, and into a dry county of Alabama, where we worked for 2 weeks at a branch office my company had in Winfield, AL. Our company was kind enough to rent us hotel rooms, where much alcohol was consumed, and I was very nearly the meat of a sandwich of two women I was decidedly not interested in.

The moral of the story: If you hear that a hurricane is coming, be ready. Pack provisions, plan a route, and make accommodations ahead of time. Absolutely do not wait until the last moment. I'm not a prepper, unlike Erin and some of you, but I know how to pack a bag fast, and what to pack, so that I can survive on the road if need be.

I've spoken to Erin, both on the road and after she reached her destination, and I know she's ok, but I'm raising a glass in hopes that she's got something to go back home to. In the meantime, she's requested that I link you to this, an update to her status.

Regular programming will resume shortly. We appreciate your patience.

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