Road Trip Evacuation
My Family's Experience Evacuating for
by Laurel Smith (Road Trip
Deciding What to Bring
Saturday, August 27, 2005,
two days day before the storm. We spent the afternoon boarding up our house.
By that evening Katrina was headed right for us, but it was still only
a category 3 storm we were actually discussing staying home to ride it
out. We filled the cars up with gas that evening anyway and got some cash
out of the ATM - just in case. I called a few hotel companies and tried
to find a room anywhere. It was hopeless. They were booked for three states
away, so we decided that if we needed to leave, we would have to head to
my sister's house in Tennessee, 500 miles away.
I went to bed disappointed
that our Girl Scout camping trip Friday night had been cut short, and upset
that we had to listen to hysterical media sensationalists again. It just
seems like they are always crying wolf, but I guess they were finally right
this time. By morning it was a category 5 storm and we got a phone call
from the St. Tammany Parish president that had a recorded message telling
us to evacuate immediately.
While my husband rushed to
install more plywood on the house, I got the kids to pack some clothes
and we started loading the car.
was hard to decide what to bring. There just wasn't that much that was
important to me other than my family. I grabbed some photo albums and made
some backups of important files from my computer. I grabbed some food out
of the fridge. (In hindsight, I wished I'd emptied the freezer because
it was a huge disgusting mess when we finally returned).
Then there were the dogs.
We have two silly dogs. One is a pug and the other a small Welsh terrier.
I packed the crate for the terrier, along with her muzzle, some dog leashes
and dog food, and then the big portable dog kennel.
1 bag for each person
with enough clothing for a week
2 coolers with some food
from the fridge, drinks for the road, water, and a few frozen items
1 box photo albums
1 large dog crate
1 small dog kennel
1 box of dry goods (peanut
butter, bread, cereal, pretzels)
1 bag of important papers
and computer files
2 cell phones and camera
We threw it all in the
cars and hit the road for Tennessee. Before we left, I stopped and took
a "before" photo of our house. I hoped the "after" photo wouldn't
be too horrible.
Hitting the Road
was the scariest road trip I'd ever taken. People were polite and orderly,
but it was terrifying knowing that we were literally running to save our
lives and may not have anything left when we returned. When we pulled away
from the house, I really thought we'd be back in a couple of days. As we
drove out of our neighborhood subdivision onto the main road, there were
cars backed up for over a mile waiting to get onto Interstate-10. We would
have been there waiting for over an hour, but we really didn't have time
for that. We definitely wanted to put some distance between us and the
approaching storm quickly, so we took some back roads for about 8 miles
and got on the interstate at the next exit.
Traffic was not to bad at
first, but then it slowed down to 15 mph on and off for the first 3 hours.
The strangest part was seeing the "contra flow" in action. Both sides of
the interstate were leading outbound. Seeing all cars going the same direction
on both sides of the interstate was like watching some Hollywood disaster
movie, only worse, because I was in it.
That's when I really lost
it. Tears started flowing silently down my face and it all became so real.
This time those hyper media fanatics really meant what they said. I had
two of my three kids in my car while my husband followed in his car with
our third. I didn't let them see me cry. They are such good kids. I just
reassurred them that we were going to be perfectly safe because we
were leaving just as we were told to do by the authorities. I told them
that if our house gets damaged, that we can probably fix it and that the
important thing is that we are all safe and sound.
About three hours and 60
miles away, the contraflow traffic funneled back onto the right side of
the interstate and the speed finally picked up to about 60-70 mph. Occasionally
we had interruptions, but for the most part, everyone kept moving. As far
as evacuations go, it went very well. Apparently Louisiana learned a lot
from it's experiences last year with the Ivan evacuation.
It seemed like every car
we passed on the highway had a dog riding in it. The kids kept checking
each car for a dog. This was definitely a new road trip game that we had
never played before, and we have played them all. Unfortunately this was
not like any other road trip we have ever taken. There was no singing to
the radio this time, only quiet. The only station we played was the news
on the storm and evacuation information.
As my tears dried, I tried
to keep the mood light - both for my own sanity as well as the kids. We
joked about calling the radio station with tips for evacuating with dogs.
The kids wanted me to tell people to be sure to bring clothes-pins for
your nose for when your dog starts farting in the car. Our dog Lulu was
hitting us frequently those silent-but-deadly gas bombs.
We stopped at a rest stop
in Mississippi about a hundred miles from home to make sandwiches and give
the dogs a potty break. There must have been 20 other people there walking
their dogs. Another car pulled in behind us and I heard someone call my
name. It was my friend Chris and her family. Her daughter is in my Brownie
troop. They were headed to Tennessee as well.
The rest of the drive was
pretty uneventful. The kids were great little travelers as usual. We pulled
into my sister's driveway about 10 hours later, and I've never been so
happy to see my sister.
next day we were glued to the tv as we watched the eye of the storm pass
right over our home in Slidell, LA. It was over a week before we had any
news of our neighborhood, and more than two weeks before we could go home
More than half of our town
of Slidell had been flooded, but somehow we got lucky and our house was
on the other half. Our house sustained a lot of wind damage, but fortunately
it is all repairable. We need a new roof, a new fence, a lot of new siding,
and insulation from our attic that got sucked out.
It has now been six weeks
since we evacuated. We're home and the kids are back in school after missing
more than a month of classes. My husband will hopefully be able return
to work in New Orleans soon, and people in Slidell have been working hard
to get the town back on it's feet.
We know several people who
lost loved ones in the flood, and even more who lost their homes. Our hearts
break for them. We feel very fortunate and have been doing what we can
to help others around us who are not so lucky. The whole ordeal has been
one of those experiences that will be with me for a lifetime. It will be
a long time before things feel normal again here in Slidell, but it's good
to be home. If you would like to read the day by day activites our family
I hope I never have to take
a road trip like that again.
is a former schoolteacher and mother of three who has logged thousands
of road trip miles both as a kid and a mom. Visit her website for
more than 101 travel games and activities for kids at MomsMinivan.com
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