Saturday, August 26, 2006

Katrina +1, Part II (Saturday)

Friday is a blank. It was a regular day. Katrina skittered into the Gulf, but all the forecasts had it being pushed towards Pensacola and Mobile. We didn't think about it much on Friday.

Saturday was a totally different feel. When I got up, my mom insisted that if I was going to use her car that I absolutely had to fill it up. I did. I hadn't seen gas lines like that since the 70s energy crisis when I was just a wee one. I waited in line for an hour or so just to pretty much top the tank off in case we decided that we were going evacuate. It still didn't seem like it was coming to New Orleans, but lots of people had the same idea at the same time - get ready just in case.

I picked up a friend to go to our annual fantasy football draft. One guy couldn't go because the baptism of his son, previously scheduled for Sunday, was being done on Saturday. Others missed the draft as they were preparing their homes and families in case they needed to leave on Sunday.

We watched the weather channel. But moods were upbeat. I remember thinking that it would be interesting to stay for a hurricane so I could say that I lived through it. I would have some stories for my students at school.

After the draft, people left quickly without much fanfare or without any long goodbyes. There was lots of work that needed to be done - plywood the windows, pack the car, and get the important stuff off the ground in case it rained really hard and the streets flooded a little.

While I was at the draft, my mom had begun bringing potted plants from all over the backyard into the screened-in porch. I turned on the TV. Ray Nagin was asking people to take heed of the storm and was asking for a voluntary evacuation. I immediately called airline and tried to get my flight moved up. The woman on the phone told me that they had ceased operations immediately and that they would resume as soon as possible after the storm had passed. So there are no flights leaving New Orleans today? I asked. Probably on Tuesday she told me. Planes were leaving the airport for safer ground. I wrote an email to the head of my school telling him about my situation. I was stuck in Metairie until the hurricane passed unless we decided to evacuate. But I couldn't possibly get back until at the earliest Tuesday. Unbelievably, I found the email and am posting it here:

I am in New Orleans this weekend, and it seems that a rather powerful hurricane
is headed this way. The city of New Orleans has announced a voluntary evacuation
for today and is expected to try to enforce a mandatory evacuation for tomorrow.
The hurricane is predicted to make landfall on the Louisiana coastline sometime
Monday which would probably mean that the airport and flights into and out of here
are cancelled. I have called the airline to see if I could get on a flight today
or tomorrow but I had no luck. I guess I am trying to say that, despite my attempts
and wishes, I may not be able to get back to New Jersey for a few days. While we
are not sure if we are evacuating just yet (it's highly likely), I just wanted
you to know what was going on here. (The highway system here has in place what
they call "contraflow" where both sides of the highway go in the same
direction. If we do leave, there is little chance of getting back until everything
has passed and the local and state governments give the ok.) I will try to keep
you posted as to what is going on regarding my return. I hope to be home sooner
rather than later.



PS - Please keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers. He is very ill, and the
prognosis for the defeat of the cancer is not very good at this point.

I helped in the yard and brought in the items that I thought could or would blow around as well as the glass topped tables which I carefully laid upside down.

I drove to a friends house to hang out for the evening. We sat in his kitchen drinking a few beers and talking. In the living room we watched the Weather Channel like hawks. The conversation waned every ten minutes or so as the next update came on. I told them that I might stay. It would be so inconvenient to evacuate, and I really wanted to see what it was like to live through a real hurricane. During Georges, my apartment on Prytania didn't even lose power. It was a non-event to me. But this was something that not so many people were going to be able to say they saw first-hand. I wanted to be one of those people. My friend told me that what I was saying was quite possibly the dumbest thing he had ever heard me say. Get the heck out, he said. Go get your mom and go. You can come back and see what it did. But if you're in a house and a tree falls on it, you won't be seeing anything else. And you have a wife now. It's not just about you. He was right.

We went outside a few times to see what was going on. Small, fluffy clouds were racing across the night skies, and little droplets of rain would quickly pass as well. It was interesting. I don't know if they were way outer bands of the storm or if this is a frequent occurence. I never noticed it before. And it was getting notably blustery.

After the 2AM update on the Weather Channel, Katrina was now a dangerous and catastrophic Category 5 hurricane. Complete destruction was forecast. On the weather underground or NOAA Hurricane Updates page or on the weather channel, there was a strangely worded advisory (not sure where I saw the advisory, just that I did see it when it first came out) - the fatalistic advisory essentially told everyone watching or reading that if they did not leave, they were going to die or that things would be very, very unpleasant for a very, very long time. It was shocking to read in such graphic detail the possibilities that all livestock exposed to storm force winds would probably die. It was odd and surreal.

We went outside, planned to all evacuate in the morning, and I headed home. The plan was to get up and 7 AM, pack my clothes, do the last minute things that needed to get done at my mom's house, and start heading to Jackson by 8 AM.

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