Sunday, August 27, 2006

Katrina +1 Part III (Sunday)

Katrina +1, Part III (Sunday)

At 7 AM, I immediately turned on the Weather Channel to see what Katrina was doing while I slept. What she had been doing was continue to grow into a monster and head straight for New Orleans. There was no time to dally; it was time to pack up the car and go. Since I was only in town for the weekend, it didn’t take me long to throw my clothes into my bag and throw that into the car. Mom, on the other hand, had much more to do. She grabbed a plastic bin and began throwing pictures, financial records, bills, and whatever else she thought was going to be important in case this was the big one. At 8 AM, I was ready to go – coffee had been made, a small breakfast was prepared, and I thought the car was packed.

I grabbed the coolers from the top of the fridge in the garage and loaded them up with all the frozen foods in both refrigerators and all the ice in the freezer. Everything else we pretty much threw out. Just in case, you know. The coolers were placed in the car. Still, mom was not done loading her little plastic bin nor was she done packing clothes her bag of clothes that would just have to last for a few days. She seemed flustered and hurried. But she plugged ahead slowly and methodically. She didn’t want to forget anything. I watched Nagin make the mandatory evacuation announcement, and I watched as people drove their vehicles up to the Superdome, got out, and went in. I sent a second email to the head of my school to let him know that I was evacuating with my mom and that I would call with updates as the weather permitted.

After she finally finished taking care of her chores, mom and I walked through the house to see if there was anything else that needed to or could be done in case the worst happened. We took the oriental rugs from the living room and dining room, rolled them up and placed them on the couch in the living room. I turned off the computer and placed it up on a desk in the garage just in case water blew in under the garage door, an unlikely scenario but one whose damage could be limited. At 10 AM, we loaded the car up and headed for I-10 West and then onto I-55 toward my uncle’s house in Jackson, MS.

It was a hot August day (aren’t they all?) and the air conditioning in mom’s car was on the fritz. We opened all the windows and the sun roof so that we could get some air moving, but it proved to be ineffective at 10 MPH. All along I-10 in Kenner there were cars parked on both sides – people waiting for family members or broken down or some other bad luck. Traffic was backed up for miles and miles.

We stayed in the normal traffic lanes north as we approached the Bonne Carre spillway so we could get onto I-55. I am not sure when it happened, but at some point traffic started moving pretty well. We were going 35 and then 50. The radio was tuned in to WWL, and Garland Robinette, at some point, had mentioned that the birds were missing from the trees. What an interesting observation, I thought. I had noticed something was different that morning, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Garland figured out what it was for me.

One of my mom’s friends was working at the Red Cross shelter in Mount Vernon in Tangipahoa Parish. This woman’s sister, also a friend of my mom, had stayed there on Saturday night, but she had had enough of living in a shelter after one night and wanted to follow us up to Jackson. We turned off I-55 and pulled into a jammed gas station to wait for her. It was a scene from the apocalypse. The store had set up a make shift counter to sell water, there were lines for gas into the highway, and everyone was talking on cell phones out front. I called my brother to find out how he and his wife and kids were making out. They had headed east and were going to Atlanta to stay with his sister-in-law. I can’t remember if they had both cars or not, but he was well on his way.

I don’t know how far the shelter was from the exit on the interstate, but it took mom’s friend the better part of 45 minutes to meet us. When she got there, she and my mom ran in to go to the bathroom and get something to drink. When they were ready to go, my mom got into her friends car and left me in the hot car without A/C. That was fine by me because I was calling all my friends up north and telling them of my odyssey to escape Katrina. It’s hard to explain all of the things that we from New Orleans understand about weather and evacuation and to detail and repeat the details that we were hearing on the radio. Things looked bad for New Orleans, but we were evacuating and would return home in a few days to pick up the broken branches and to clean the refrigerators.

Somewhere along the way, I remember noticing dark, ugly, menacing clouds rolling in from the south every time I looked in the rearview mirror. That has to be the first squalls of the storm, I thought. And north we drove.

At some point the bumper to bumper traffic eased, and I pulled away from my mom and her friend. I was hot, and I wanted out of the car. As we approached Jackson, the contra flow ended. It was getting to be evening now. I hadn’t been to my uncle’s house in several years, so I couldn’t remember the exact directions to his house. I pulled off at the exit, called for directions, and arrived at the house just before dusk. What I did not do, and what turned out to be a mistake in retrospect, was stop to fill the car up with gas. I drove to the house, and I unloaded all the coolers and my bag.

My uncle and I visited for a while until the vehicle with my mom arrived. After a nice dinner, we settled in to watch the Weather Channel and any local news that was talking about hurricane, evacuations, wind speed, or rain. I was starting school soon, so I tried to get some of the work that I had brought with me done. I charged my cell phone and computer battery that night. We all went to bed hoping it would make a slight “wobble,” but we felt quite certain that we would be able to go back Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.

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