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Big Easy Living: Welcome to the hurricane season

Here in New Orleans, there’s a certain irony to that old ice-breaker question: If your house caught on fire, what one thing would you grab on your way out? We’ve all thought a lot about that. Because next time, we’re going to put a lot more consideration into what we grab on our way out.

Katrina taught us that.

Last time, I left behind our passports (with one daughter scheduled to start a semester in Europe five days later), family photo albums, car titles, insurance policies, and two Oriental rugs (although we did roll them up and put them atop the sofa, where they damply survived).

I took three changes of clothing (outfits A, B and C, as they came to be known) and our one (at the time) good watercolor. Stewart, for some reason, threw a suitcase, a silver candelabra and two rolls of toilet paper in the trunk.

With hurricane season once again in session, I find myself pondering anew what to have handy should the evacuation order descend. The family SUV can’t accommodate my mother’s baby grand piano or much of our now-growing art collection. I do have a file folder ready to go, stuffed with Important Papers, like birth certificates and bank statements and titles to things.

And this time, I’m definitely taking my one pair of Jimmy Choos.

But I don’t over-think what possessions I’ll pack into my getaway car. Because one thing all of us learned after Katrina is that things are just, well, things. We care a lot more about getting parents and kids and pets out of danger.

Even the rarest crystal stemware can be replaced.

I’m always a little surprised when people from The Great Elsewhere ask me why I’d live in a city that’s vulnerable to hurricanes. At least we can see them coming, I think.

For me, the spontaneous combustion of an earthquake or tornado is terrifying. We got 800,000 people out of town before Katrina, even though it swerved at the last minute, giving us 48 hours instead of the usual week to plan. I’ll take those odds.

The other comment that needles me is the one about (re)building a city that’s prone to flooding. I just returned from Venice, Italy, a metropolis situated about as far under sea level as one can go. San Marcos square has already flooded 16 times this year.

Yet no one thinks we ought to deep-six Venice.

Of course, none of this means that we can take hurricanes or flooding nonchalantly. We certainly should give thought to what we’ll do in case a storm heads our way, and be prepared for the same. City planners need to give careful thought to wetlands and levees and flood protection, too.

In Venice, they’re building some kind of lock system to deal with the rising water. Even in a 1500-year-old city, it’s never too late to try new solutions.

Meanwhile, I’m comfortable living in a near-liquid environment. I understand that forecasters are predicting a busy hurricane season, with nine storms, five of them Category 3 or higher. So my Jimmy Choos and my passport are handy, ready for grab and go.

This time if we have to evacuate, instead of Houston, I think I’ll head for the south of France.


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