Evacuation Road Trip - Evacuating with kids / children

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Road Trip Evacuation
My Family's Experience Evacuating for Katrina

by Laurel Smith (Road Trip Mom)

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. 

It 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.

Car Inventory:

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
3 pillows
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
2 dogs
3 kids

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
It 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.

Dogs on Board
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.

Happy Ending
The 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 again. 

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.

Laurel Smith 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

This article is copyright ©2005 Momsminivan.com and may not be republished in whole or in part on other websites or print media without permission. If you would like an article to use on your website, please see the articles available for reprint here.


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